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PD Editorial: Petaluma joins Lafferty suit

  • 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.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that if the public owned an open space area and paid for city officials to maintain and plan the eventual opening of the area as a nature preserve, they would have standing to legally defend access to that park.

But, apparently, conventional wisdom would be wrong. A Sonoma County judge ruled this month that a lawsuit brought by a coalition of longtime local environmentalists to determine once and for all whether Petaluma residents have a right to access Lafferty Ranch don't have the right to file a lawsuit on the city's behalf.

But worry not. The Petaluma City Council did the right thing. On a vote of 4-1 this past week, the council voted to join the Friends of Lafferty Park in pressing the case.

Thus, it appears a resolution to this age-old dispute will finally be forthcoming. We look forward to it. It's long since past this issue should have been settled — in the public's favor.

More than a half-century has passed since Petaluma began making plans to open this oak-studded property to hikers, picnickers and others. But to no avail.

Neighbors have blocked access on the contention that they not only own the rights to part of Sonoma Mountain Road but they own a key patch of unpaved land — about the size of a tarp — between the road and Lafferty Ranch. And they have no plans of allowing the public to cross, no matter how passive a use of their land is intended.

Of course, the only thing the neighbors — led primarily by the late Peter Pfendler — have proven so far is that they have good attorneys and the legal resources to drag this out. And that's been enough, as over the years, city officials have waffled in their resolve to see the issue settled.

But now, thanks to the work of Friends of Lafferty Park, pro-park advocates are back, with better evidence than before. They come armed with a county map, approved by the Board of Supervisors in May 1877, that shows the entire width of Sonoma Mountain Road as part of Lafferty Ranch. Moreover, it shows clear access to the property.

They also come armed with the full backing of the city of Petaluma. Let's see this through. Let's get it done.


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