LAW OFFICES OF
CLEMENT, FITZPATRICK & KENWORTHY
POST OFFICE BOX 1494
Santa Rosa, California 95402
Stephen K. Butler
January 28, 2002
VIA FACSIMILE AND U.S. MAIL
City Attorney, City of Petaluma
P.O. Box 61
Petaluma, CA 94953
Re: Public Hikes to Lafferty
Dear Mr. Rudnansky:
I am writing this letter on behalf of my clients, Dr. Bettman and Mrs. Bettman. The purpose of this letter is to express our opinion that the City of Petaluma is responsible for the trespasses that occurred on their property on January 13, 2002, will be responsible for further trespasses and will be liable for any injuries that occur during upcoming events being promoted by City officials. It is our understanding that the plan is to make public hikes to Lafferty a monthly event.
l. The City is Responsible and Liable.
While we recognize that it is not part of the City's Lafferty Ranch park project,. the event of January 13, 2002, was clearly sponsored by the City, or at least would be deemed to be so sponsored because of the substantial involvement of City officials. The purpose of the event was to encourage the opening of Laf'ferty Park, a City project. The announcements referred to it as a effort to gain support for the park. The hike was sponsored by a City Parks Commissioner, Bruce Hagen. The City's park commissioner was listed as the contact in public announcements. At least two City Council members were in attendance, with Councilman Maguire clearly taking a leadership role, including directing the activity and speaking to the participants. Both the Park Commissioner and the City Councilman invited the participants to irespass onto property owned by Dr. and Mrs. Bertman and both gave speeches. I further bring to your attention that on December 3l, just two weeks before this event, Bruce Hagen was parked on the property owned by the Bettmans, with a sign on his car announcing his presence on "official City business."
Based on the foregoing facts, it is clear to us that the City will be responsible for further trespasses on the Bettmans' property and liable for any personal injuries associated with upcoming events. While we have noted that the City is apparently tryng to distance itself from future events by now making Mr. Larry Modell the primary contact person, as opposed to Mr. Hagen, this will not. insulate the City from responsibility and liability. The next event scheduled for February 24, 2002, has already been advertised in local newspapers which reported Mr. Hagen's active sponsorship.
January 28, 2002
2. A Trespass Occurred on the Bettmans' Property.
Although newspaper reports and statements made to law enforcement officers by event participants either claim that the City owns the property between Sonoma Mountain Road and ths City's Lafferty gate or that title is in substantial question, this is not the case. The access problem has been known for years. In June of 1998, the City brought litigation against neighbors of the Lafferty Ranch, including Dr. end Mrs. Bettman, seeking public access to the Lafferty Ranch for purposes of conducting public tours (Sonoma County Superior Court Case No. 219212). After a hearing on the merits of the City's request for access for public tours, the Sonoma County Superior Court rendered its judgment in favor of the surrounding property owners and refused the City's request for public access. Had the City had sufficient title to the intervening private property between Sonoma Mountain Road and its Lafferty Ranch gate, the City would not have needed to bring litigation against surrounding properby owners in an attempt to secure public access.
The January 13, 2002, Lafferty demonstration was held on property owned by the Bettmans. The actions of City officials exhorting trespass on the Bettmans' land, without permission or valid court order, contravene the Bettmans' legal rights.
3. The Event Violated.the Good Neighbor Agreement.
The "events" expressly violate the "good neighbor" agreement between the City and Dr. Bettman as outlined in our reciprocal correspondence of December 3, 1996, copies of which are enclosed. That agreement was approved by the City Council and, in so far as we know, has not been subsequently modified nor abrogated by any action taken by the Council. At all times Dr. aad Mrs. Bettman have complied with all terms and conditions of the agreement by allowing City officials and agents to traverse their property in connection with environmental studies of the Lafferty Ranch. At this time, we would expect that the City and its agents would continue to comply with the "good neighbor" agreement.
The action of Mr. Hagen and Councilman Maguire are particularly disturbing. Their recent efforts to exhort trespass across Dr. Bettman's property are a repetition of the "tours" of last January conducted by Councilman Maguire and Mr. Hagen. As you may recall, we took objection to their actions at that time by way of our correspondence of February 8, 2001, a copy of which is also enclosed. The most recent violation of the "good neighbor" agreement by City officials is particularly disturbing given Dr. Bettman's physical condition. You should know that Dr. Bettman recently shattered his femur and is totally incapacitated. Advertised public events on the Bettmans' private property are troublesome in any event, but are particularly distressing given Dr. Bettman's injury and condition.
January 28, 2002
4. TheEvents Constitute a Safety Problem.
The Janua.13, 2002, "event", conducted without appropriate permits, constituted a safety hazard. The City's EIR demonstrates the many safety issues related to the use of an unimproved Sonoma Mountain Road. The EIR details the facts that there are virtually no shoulders for pedestrians, the travel lanes are below standards and there are many critical site [sic] distance hazards. The "event" participants were staggered, due perhaps to the narrowness of the road or varied hiking abilities, over several miles of the roadway making it impossible for police officers to monitor and ensure the safety of the "event" participants. Neighbors driving up the road reported that due to the presence of pedestrians on both sides of the road, their vehicle was forced to drive in the middle of the roadway at places with inadequate site [sic] distance. You should also be aware that just last weekend time was another vehicular rollover near the bottom of Dr. Bettman's property which could have had disastrous consequences if it were to have occurred during one of: the Ciry's "events".
The City's actions have created an unacceptable liability situation for property owners bordering Sonoma Mountain Road. Because adjoining property owners own the underlying fee of the roadway surface, it is inescapable that they would be named in any litigation brought for personal injuries associated with the City's "events". Please be advised that the property owners will not be left holding the bag for City sponsored events. If an accident or fatality occurs, you can expect that cross-complaints for indemnification will be filed against the City based on the involvement of its agents and elected officials.
On a final note, I would like to also underscore that the actions of Councilman Maguire and Mr. Hagen exhortng trespass do nothing to alleviate the fears and concerns of neighbors surrounding Lafferty that the City does not have the will nor the means to regulate unauthorized and dangerous actions associated with the use of Lafferty Park. Please find enclosed documents supporting the conclusion that the City actively participated in the organization and orchesztration of the Lafferty "event".
Very truly yours,
Stephen K. Butler
cc: Dr. and Mrs. Bettman