Op-ed column published in the Press Democrat March 26, 2001.

Please Open Lafferty Park

Published on Monday, March 26, 2001
2001 The Press Democrat

An open letter to Supervisor Mike Kerns.

Dear Supervisor Kerns:

In two newspaper articles last week you were quoted as saying you support Petaluma's efforts to create an open space park at its Lafferty Ranch property on the Sonoma Mountain ridge overlooking the city.

Our group, Friends of Lafferty Park, applauds your statement of support, which we have not previously seen in print.

But as much as we appreciate your words, now is the time for action.

Recent actions by the county involving cost and liability issues on Sonoma Mountain Road threaten to introduce additional, unnecessary costs and delays into an already arduous process. We ask that you, as south county supervisor, act decisively to clear those wasteful roadblocks and smooth out other remaining obstacles in the way of opening Lafferty Park.

As you know, the people of the Petaluma area have repeatedly expressed their desire for an open space park on upper Sonoma Mountain at Lafferty Ranch which they -- we! -- already own.

This sentiment was expressed in 6,000 signatures on a 1996 petition to open the park, and backed by opinion polls that stressed, ``Lafferty is irreplaceable.'' On recent weekends we have been in front of stores talking to people about Lafferty Park. Despite the issue's near invisibility throughout the long environmental study process, we have been thrilled to learn the public sentiment for Lafferty is stronger than ever.

As Mayor Thompson observed about a Lafferty meeting in November, ``it's clear the passion is still there.'' The current disagreement over Sonoma Mountain Road can be readily resolved.

We have a rural road that, for a variety of reasons, has historically produced a number of accidents. The county is concerned about its liability and the cost of making its road safer. Note that none of this so far has anything to do with Lafferty Park. Lafferty merely adds a small number of additional cars to the road in daylight hours. The key to solving this is to separate the existing and ongoing problem from Lafferty's incremental traffic, which Petaluma has always been willing to help address. Absent Lafferty, the county still has a problem with its road, and it seems irrational and rather petulant to try to foist it onto Petaluma.

The county's actions also set a horrible precedent that could block parks and public open space throughout the county, and so should concern all county residents and officials. As The Press Democrat's editorial of March 2 noted, ``if Lafferty is stopped because of these (road, fire and other) concerns, then so should every future park project that allows for public access.''

At a more fundamental level, doesn't the county have some obligation to plan and provide infrastructure to accommodate facilities called for in its General Plan? A park at Lafferty Ranch is shown on the current (1989) General Plan, and in other county planning documents since 1964. Surely that's enough time to plan and build an adequate road.

You are uniquely positioned, Supervisor Kerns, to help current and future generations enjoy this magnificent mountaintop park. While we are confident the park will be opened eventually in any case, your decisive action now will avoid wasting more money and creating more ill-will.

Specifically, we ask that you do the following:

* Acknowledge, with the other supervisors, that because Lafferty Park serves county residents and has long been in the county General Plan the county has an obligation to assist Petaluma as best it can to open the park.

* Lead a series of joint meetings involving county and city staff to determine a fair and fast path toward addressing the problems of Sonoma Mountain Road.

* Pledge, with the other supervisors, not to abandon the road to the Sonoma Mountain property owners, who have expressed their desire to gate the bottom, denying even historic sightseeing use. Instead, vigorously support the public right of way along the road up to the Lafferty property line.

* Continue your efforts to provide other parks offering a variety of recreational options (with our enthusiastic support) while still acknowledging that other parks are needed to supplement, not replace, Lafferty Park. The Petaluma area is so critically deficient in parklands: We will need nine parks the size of Lafferty to reach the county's own acreage goal for the south county.

We respectfully urge you to come to tonight's Petaluma City Council meeting and present your plan of action to enlist Sonoma County's wholehearted assistance in helping open Lafferty Park.

Larry Modell and Bruce Hagen are members of Friends of Lafferty Park.

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