Press Coverage of the Over the Mountain Trail (Mitsui-Lafferty) Proposal
(most recent first)

 

Press Democrat column, Sunday, June 29, 2003

A gift, a view we'd hate to pass up

By CHRIS SMITH

I'd never seen a more glorious hilltop panorama.

From a strip of land 2,300 feet up Sonoma Mountain, a strip offered to the public for free, I took in the Pacific, the San Francisco skyline, the Carquinez Straits, the hills of Sonoma Valley and Geyser Peak.

Just as stunning as the view from Bonnie Mitsui's ranch east of Petaluma is her offer to donate a hiking trail across it to link Petaluma's Lafferty Ranch and Glen Ellen's Jack London State Park.

Imagine it, a spectacular trail connecting the Petaluma and Sonoma valleys. The obstacle is the sad saga of Lafferty Ranch.

Petaluma owns the 270-ranch, but can't let anybody set foot on it. The city's efforts to make Lafferty a park are stymied by the vehement opposition of neighboring landowners.

Bonnie Mitsui's offer of a Lafferty-London trail link is an incentive to get Lafferty opened as a park, perhaps a state park. Imagine the view from up there and drop your favorite lawmaker a line.

[Chris Smith's column continues on an unrelated topic]
Contact Chris Smith at 521-5211 or
csmith@pressdemocrat.com


Press Democrat, Friday, June 20, 2003

Backers of Lafferty Ranch
lobby for access to park

County officials given scenic tour to demonstrate need

By JOSE L. SANCHEZ, JR.
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

It's beautiful up there, and that's what proponents of a Lafferty Ranch park want elected officials and other influential people to see.

If they could see the views, the reasoning goes, the powers that be would be more motivated to support a long-frustrated effort to open the 270-acre city-owned ranch atop Sonoma Mountain to the public.

So, for the past few weeks, Bruce Hagen and other members of Friends of Lafferty, have been taking important folks up to the mountain.

Among those who have made the trip have been Assemblyman Joe Nation, Supervisor Mike Reilly, council members from Petaluma and Sonoma, and a member of the state Parks Commission, Hagen said.

Proponents are working on two tracks to get some momentum on opening the park, a goal that has been blocked for at least 11 yearas by political battles and the possibility of lawsuits from adjoining property owners.

Starting in 1992, Petaluma spent $900,000 on environmental reports and legal fees trying to overcome objections to the park. But last year the council decided enough was enough.

Now park proponents like Hagen want the state to consider buying the land and assuming the burden of possible litigation. They also have prepared plans for improvements to county-owned Sonoma Mountain Road they hope will alleviate the concerns of mountain property owners and county officials about the traffic impacts of opening the park.

People taken on the tours are being shown the path of a 1.45-mile easement offered to the state in November by landowner Bonnie Mitsui.

The easement would go from the northwest corner of Lafferty Ranch to within 500 feet of Jack London State Park on the Sonoma Side of the mountain. If a few more feet of easement could be obtained, the dream of one continuous trail between Petaluma and Sonoma could be realized, Hagen said.

But those few more feet could cost a great deal of money in litigation. And there are other obstacles that would have to be overcome.

Ranch owner Peter Pfendler, who has opposed the park, owns potential choke points at the other end of Lafferty.

One is one of the two potential links between the Mitsui easement and the ranch. The other is some 30 feet of land between what would be the Petaluma-side entrance to the proposed park and Sonoma Mountain Road.

Petaluma disputes his claim to that strip of land, which is about 15 minutes by car from downtown, and is marked by a gate and a "no trepassing" sign.

Neither Pfendler or the representative of a group of mountain property owners could be reached for comment.

Friends of Lafferty has yet to approach the owners of another small parcel between the Mitsui property and Jack London State Park to find out whether they would be willing to sell or donate an easement.

State officials say they don't have the money to manage a new park the size of Lafferty, even if the Coastal Conservancy were to use some of the $50 million to $100 million a year it gets from voter-approved bonds to buy the land from Petaluma.

Any move for the state to take over the park would have to originate with the governor or the Legislature, said Dave Nelson, a state parks official responsible for 15 parks in Sonoma County and six nearby counties.

Nation said he won't forget his campaign promise to help provide more park access in southern Sonoma County. However, he is remaining noncommittal on what he may be willing to do to make that happen.

"I think the offer from Miss Mitsui is a very generous one and I think it presents a number of opportunities," the San Rafael Democrat said.

"It's probably the first step in a long process," he said. "I am willing to sit down with parties from both sides and work in good faith to expand park access in southern Sonoma County."

Supervisor Mike Kerns also is noncommittal on public access to Lafferty.

He said he would ask county staff to study the road improvements being proposed by Friends of Lafferty.

That proposal would reduce the cost of safety improvements from $3 million or $4 million to about $100,000, Hagen said.

Instead of the expensive widening and regrading proposed by county transportation officials, Friends of Lafferty is proposing traffic-slowing measures and the installation of guardrails at various points as a way to enhance safety, Hagen said.

"There are some legal barriers that will need to be oversome and some practical ones such as the road safety," Kerns said. "We'll have to proceed rather cautiously. It's going to take time some time [sic] to overcome these hurdles."

You can reach Staff Writer Jose L. Sanchez Jr.
at 762-7279 pr
jsanchez@pressdemocrat.com


Press Democrat, Wednesday June 18, 2003

PETALUMA

Lafferty Ranch gets trail offer from landowner

A Sonoma Mountain landowner's offer to allow use of a trail through her land could aid efforts to open up the now legally inaccessible Lafferty Ranch, proponents of the park said Tuesday.

Friends of Lafferty Park, an advocacy group, has been stymied in its efforts to get the ranch opened to the public due to the possibility of lawsuits against Petaluma and the county by neighboring property owners.

Over the past few weeks, however, park proponents have been pitching a possible solution to state, county and city officials: Ask the California Coastal Conservancy to buy the land from Petaluma and turn it over to the state for development as a park.

An offer by landowner Bonnie Mitsui to give a 1.45-mile easement through her land to connect Lafferty Ranch with Jack London State Park should appeal to state officials because it would enhance efforts to create a regional network of trails, said Bruce Hagen, one of the Lafferty park advocates.

However, other smaller easements or purchases would be necessary to complete a connection between the two parks.

At least one of the properties belongs to an opponent of the park.

-- Jose L. Sanchez Jr.


Petaluma Argus-Courier, Wednesday June 18, 2003

Trail offer boosts hopes to open Lafferty

June 18, 2003
BY CHIP McAULEY
ARGUS-COURIER STAFF

An offer of a 1.45-mile trail easement over a Sonoma Mountain property may reinvigorate efforts to open the hilltop Lafferty Ranch as a public park.

Bonnie Mitsui, who owns a 630-acre parcel atop the mountain and previously donated a conservation easement on her property, offered the trail in a recent letter to the California State Coastal Conservancy. If her vision for the land is realized, the Mitsui property will connect Jack London State Historic Park on one side of the mountain to Lafferty Ranch on the other.

Needed now is state and city approval, along with the consent of one of the nearby landowners whose land occupies 500 feet between Mitsui's property and Jack London State Park.

"We were waiting for someone to come and rescue us," said Bruce Hagen of the Friends of Lafferty Park. The park advocates have been getting resistance from a group of Sonoma Mountain property owners, led by Peter Pfendler, who oppose public access to the 270-acre city-owned mountaintop property. The group, Sonoma Mountain Conservancy, has cited safety concerns -- namely dilapidated roads.

If it goes through, the Mitsui proposal could mean access to Lafferty from the Sonoma side of the mountain -- and might allay concerns of some residents, according to county officials.

"We'd certainly be open to taking a look at it," said Supervisor Mike Kerns. "It might remove some of the concerns about traffic." He said safety concerns about Sonoma Mountain Road, which leads to the ranch on the Petaluma side, were legitimate and the county's current streets budget did not provide enough funding to address the area.

"The road is not safe," he said.

Park-goers could eventually reach the site from the Petaluma side if the obstacles are overcome, said supporters. However, unconfirmed reports say that area landowners may have already signed an agreement to take a united stand through litigation against such an attempt to open the park.

Progress on Mitsui's idea began in early May. Both Assemblyman Joe Nation's office and the State Coastal Conservancy have been contacted and are exploring the idea, according to Hagen.

Sam Schuchat, executive director of the California State Coastal Conservancy, said the next step would involve the city and county governments deciding which direction they want to go, since the idea brings up a number of local land use issues.

Cooperation from the City of Petaluma would be crucial, said supporters, if the Mitsui offer is to take shape.

"Bonnie Mitsui's offer of a trail easement across her ranch is extraordinarily generous," said Councilmember Mike Healy. "I hope it serves as an example to other Sonoma Mountain residents that a hiking trail is not a threat to them and is not something they need to oppose at all costs. The Mitsui Ranch straddles the crest of Sonoma Mountain and offers superb views of the Petaluma Valley, Sonoma Valley and the Bay Area."

Mitsui hopes the area will provide a link missing on Sonoma Mountain.

"A trail across the top of Sonoma Mountain would provide a rewarding satisfaction to me," she said in her letter to the Coastal Conservancy. "A precedent was established in Petaluma's history of a hike from downtown Petaluma to Whitney Falls on the east side of Sonoma Mountain, lunch and return the same day. Substitution of Jack London State Historic Park for Whitney Falls would reestablish that popular hike of yesteryear."

With the possibility of a lawsuit from neighbors potentially united against public access to the area, the additional 500 feet of land needed to make a full connection to Jack London State Historic Park, and long-standing access issues and opposition on the Petaluma side of the mountain from wealthy Sonoma Mountain landowners, the fight of activists who have struggled for over a decade to open this publicly-owned land to the public, may not be over yet.

(Contact Chip McAuley at cmcauley@arguscourier.com)

2003 Argus Courier


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