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PD Editorial: New map, new hope for Lafferty

  • Matt McGuire and Petaluma City Councilman Mike Healy standing on Sonoma Mountain Road near the entrance to Lafferty Ranch. (KENT PORTER / The Press Democrat)

For more than 20 years, neighbors of Petaluma's Lafferty Ranch have prevailed in their claim that the public has no right to hike on this beautiful oak-studded land — because there's no legal way for them to get there.

The late Peter Pfendler led the opposition, arguing that he owns the patch of unpaved land — no bigger than two parking spots — that separates Sonoma Mountain Road from Lafferty Ranch, and he wasn't willing to give it up or allow people to cross.

But that may be about to change.

After years of open hostilities, a renewed legal battle over the issue may be moving toward a settlement. And it could begin with a closed-door meeting of the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Why the change of heart? Call it a combination of new thinking and old maps.

First, the pro-park group known as Friends of Lafferty Park dug up some game-changing evidence. They found a county map, approved by the Board of Supervisors in May 1877, that shows Sonoma Mountain Road's width reaching all the way to Lafferty Ranch. Moreover, the map shows clear, direct access from the road to the property.

As if that wasn't enough, researchers have dug up an even older map — this one from 1866 — that not only indicates clear public access to the Lafferty property but shows the county had designated a 60-foot road right through the area. What's interesting is the map shows the 1866 thoroughfare following Sonoma Mountain Road up to the point where it makes a 90-degree turn to the northwest, near the entrance to Lafferty Ranch. But from there, the historic right-of-way leads straight up the mountain — directly through the the Pfendler property.

Given that there's no record of this road ever having been abandoned, it would appear that it's the county, not the neighbors, that holds most of the access cards in the area.

Supervisors on Tuesday are expected to talk about this situation in closed session. A settlement could be in the works if the county is willing to abandon most of this historic right-of-way in exchange for a concession from neighbors acknowledging once and for all that the city has legal access to Lafferty Ranch.

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