This op-ed is in response to a about why Lafferty Ranch remains closed to the public despite being owned by the city for more than 50 years.
By David Keller
I was on the city council when we struggled with approving the environmental impact report and finally getting to opening Lafferty Ranch Park. The City's 1961 General Plan had called for Lafferty Ranch to become a full use park - including camping, horseback riding, nature labs, etc. even while it was still our water supply property with the headwaters of Adobe Creek. Recognizing the incredible value of this site, we gave it all we could to open it after the city ended its use of Adobe Creek for its water supply.
In 1999 we were still proposing opening Lafferty as a passive use recreational park, just like thousands of acres of public open space surrounding the entire Bay Area's hillsides and peaks. However, Mr. Pfendler had tried to buy the property secretly from the city, failed, and got very possessive instead.
Due to Mr. Pfendler's determined and extremely well-funded opposition, we were forced to produce a full - and very expensive - EIR, which no other open space project in the Bay Area had ever had to do. This was a terrible precedent for other open space and park districts, who were worried that Petaluma's example would become a model for use by other wealthy NIMBY's to keep the public away from adjacent open spaces.
There was also a growing trend around the country of the Wise Use and "private stewardship" philosophies which declared that private ownership and restricted public access to parklands and natural resources was the superior management for sensitive lands. Mr. Pfendler embodied that argument.
As part of our thorough review, we did a full survey of the park entrance, and to our satisfaction we found that the access to Laffety Ranch was indeed publicly owned, and also within the Sonoma Mountain Road public easement. However, we got no support from Supervisor Kerns and the county.
They also threw unachievable roadway improvement standards at Petaluma, even though the county itself didn't meet those standards for other parks and open space access. We also realized that producing a very thorough EIR to address impacts of opening public open space would not be enough. We did not have the funds to be able to go to court, and so to avoid litigation the EIR was not certified.
Mr. Pfendler created and funded a 4-party legal agreement that compelled the four neighbors surrounding Lafferty Ranch to battle any attempt to allow public access to or from the property. And so it sits, unavailable to the public which owns the property.
Parking? the plans called for it to be onsite, not on the road. It even would have a wheelchair (ADA) accessible trail, as well as hiking and viewing spots. It's our land, and it's long past time for it to be available for all of us, not just the angry and possessive wealthy who can enjoy the top of Sonoma Mountain. It's the only publicly owned space at the top of Sonoma Mountain, and we can't get there - yet.
David Keller is the Director of Petaluma River Council, on the board of directors for Sonoma County Conservation Action and served on the city council from 1997-2001. The opinions expressed in this letter are of the writer and not necessarily those of Petaluma Patch.