Lawsuit seeks access to Petaluma's Lafferty Ranch

  • Bruce Hagen,a Petaluma parks commissioner and activist working to expand access to largely inaccessible Lafferty Ranch park, walks along rolling grassland and wooded slopes along proposed route of easement offered by ranch owner atop Sonoma Mountain that would provide park access from Jack London State Park to Lafferty Ranch park. Background is view toward Kenwood and Sugarloaf State Park.

A lawsuit seeking public access to Lafferty Ranch on Sonoma Mountain was filed Thursday, rekindling one of the most contentious political issues in Petaluma history.

Disputes over public access to the 270 acres of wooded, rolling hills the city has owned since 1959 polarized Petaluma politics in the '90s, when council meetings played host to overflow crowds and angry shouting matches.

An effort to put the issue before voters failed, and four opponents to public access to the property were convicted of election fraud related to forged signatures on two proposed 1996 ballot initiatives.

Lawyers filed suit Thursday in Sonoma County Superior Court on behalf of Friends of Lafferty Park, Bill Kortum, Larry Modell and other longtime advocates for a park on the site, just east of Petaluma.

It names adjacent landowners Kimberly Pfendler and the Bettman-Tavernetti family, among others, as defendants.

At issue is a 905-square-foot triangular piece of land at a curve in Sonoma Mountain Road where the property lines converge. Just beyond it lies a gate to Lafferty Ranch, the undeveloped property's only entrance.

The suit contends that an 1877 official county map "clearly shows the entire width of Sonoma Mountain Road on Lafferty Ranch." Because the county never abandoned any portion of the road easement, nor have the property lines moved, the suit asserts, Lafferty Ranch continues to have access to Sonoma Mountain Road.

Access to the site was a key issue for opponents, who argued in a decade-long battle that the city property was landlocked and therefore inaccessible. They argued that the grass and dirt patch between the county road and the Lafferty gate was their private property, and they blocked access.

"This action will resolve once and for all that the public has a clear right of access to this publicly owned treasure at the top of the mountain that defines us," said Modell, a longtime advocate for public access to Lafferty.

Representatives for Pfendler and the Tavernetti family didn't return phone calls Thursday.

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