Jul 26, 2014
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Community Group Files Lawsuit to Gain Access to City Park

The city owns a 270 acre parcel of open space that many want to see turned into a park. But a dispute over the entrance to the property has kept it off limits for years, something advocates hope to now change.

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For years, a dispute over a 30 by 30 foot patch of dirt at the base of Sonoma Mountain, has kept the public out of city-owned Lafferty Park, a 270-acre parcel of open space with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and Mountain Diablo.

But a lawsuit filed Thursday morning in Sonoma County Superior Court seeks to resolve the decades-long battle and finally grant the public access to Lafferty Park.

“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 Larry Modell, a member of Friends of Lafferty Park, a community group formed to advocate for access to the property, in an issued statement.

The city purchased Lafferty in 1959 for a water supply. After new earthquake standards forced the city to abandon the water works, Petaluma looked to turn Lafferty into a city park, complete with trails and educational programs.

But residents living next to the property opposed the plan, arguing that the space between Sonoma Mountain Road to the park’s gate was their property, meaning public access was denied.

Although the dispute is not new, Lafferty Park proponents are pinning their hopes on a similar "quiet title" lawsuit over disputed land ownership, and argue that since Sonoma County never relinquished rights to the road, that they still remain.

Proponents of opening the property up for recreational uses says they have tried to reach an agreement with neighboring property owners—the Pfendler Family, who own Pfendler Vineyards, and the Tavernetti family, but have been consistently met with an unwillingness to compromise.

A call to Pfendler Vineyards owner Kimblery Pfendler was not immediately returned.

The lawsuit does not obligate any action or spending by either the city, county, or state.

“It's the door to take us to the next step,” said Bruce Hagen, another member of Friends of Lafferty Park. “What the public decides to do with the Lafferty Park property will still remain to be resolved.”

The last time any organized outing were taken to Lafferty was in 1995, when an estimated 500 people visited the open space. Since then, intrepid hikers have ventured out to enjoy the rolling hills, dense groves of oak bay woodland and a perennial stream, although any access to the parcel is considered trespassing because of the dispute over the entryway.

What do you think? Would you like to see access to Lafferty Park opened up?

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