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.


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?

Robert Goetzinger January 31, 2013 at 10:29 PM
why hasn't the city used its power of eminent domain to obtain the required easement?
Bookworm January 31, 2013 at 10:42 PM
I hope Lafferty is opened up for public enjoyment at last.
Neal Fishman January 31, 2013 at 10:52 PM
Due to the purchase several years ago of the top of Sonoma Mountain, and the development of a trail from the north side and the possibility of a link to Jack London State Park, there is every chance that there will soon be a grand trail linkage between Sonoma Valley and Cotati/Sonoma State, over the mountain. But there will be nothing from Petaluma. It is time to open Lafferty and then connect it to this other developing trail system. This should be done even if access must be taken through eminent domain both at the bottom and the top.
Darris January 31, 2013 at 10:52 PM
It sounds like poor planning on the city's end. If taxpayers paid for access, it should be free and clear, period. As a hiker I'd love more access to open space for everyone. Let's make sure that everyone is considered in these transactions. If I were the adjoining landowner I would have concerns about public access. On the surface it doesn't sound that cut and dry.
Steven Kirk January 31, 2013 at 11:10 PM
It has been 54 years since the citizens of the city of Petaluma purchased Lafferty Park. The chronicled history that illuminates how a few individuals have kept the park from our community is grist for an interesting movie -- either drama or documentary. Friends of Lafferty Park certainly deserves our deep gratitude for reasserting the seemingly never-ending push to open this publicly-owned space to the public.
Katie C. January 31, 2013 at 11:31 PM
Please, no more houses...
John.Maher January 31, 2013 at 11:51 PM
Virgin land? We want in! Click here: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=4485775096527&set=a.1347216514524.2049948.1054638093&type=1&theater
Jerry Price February 01, 2013 at 02:26 AM
Lafferty Park should absolutely be open to the public. It is a beautiful place. The public needs this space to find inpiration, solitude and peace. Sincerely, Jerry Price
Frank Simpson February 01, 2013 at 02:54 AM
If the public is denied access how does CIty Staff get there?
Jennifer February 01, 2013 at 05:46 AM
Not only would I like to see Lafferty opened up but why the county doesn't designate Sonoma Mountain a county park is beyond me. The county purchased Tolay park which very few can utilize. Petaluma needs an easily accessible recreational area and there is this absolutely beautiful area right next to us that, with a vision, could become a county park.
Barry Bussewitz February 01, 2013 at 09:39 PM
This is great news! How can I help? You go, Friends of Lafferty!!
Patrick M. February 02, 2013 at 01:05 AM
Didn't voters just turn down a tax for the parks system? How will the City pay to run the park?
Petaluma Seer February 02, 2013 at 03:31 AM
I say go for it. Open the access. Petaluma needs to open up more of these types of opportunities. It would bring tourists in also. Why is our City Council not pursuing this? We could use the business from these visitors downtown, after their hike they can visit our resturants, our river, and our local merchants. What is our Chamber of Commerce doing about this? They should be promoting this, rather than allowing it to become a golden opportunity LOST.
David Keller February 03, 2013 at 03:44 AM
Congratulations to all friends of Lafferty for helping to move our access to public lands forward. This has been in the making since at least the 1962 City General Plan, which called for the conversion of this water system property to an active park, including horseback riding, camping and nature trails. The plans have been scaled back since then, of course, and the hiking and views are spectacular. The County has failed to provide south county with our share of parks, open space and public trails. It has received more of the proceeds from the 1/4% Open Space and Ag Preservation from Petaluma than it has spent in this area. I hope that Supervisor Rabbitt and County Counsel will provide a robust voice in support of our park, and an eventual trail over the top to Jack London State Park!


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