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No Laffing Matter 

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In 1959, the city of Petaluma bought a 270-acre ranch on Sonoma Mountain to use as a water supply, and by 1962 had planned to eventually use the vast expanse known as Lafferty Ranch as a public park. But in the early 1990s, an intense campaign by stubborn adjacent landowners was launched, successfully stalling the plan. In short, the access road to the park would have crossed a small part of land owned by someone else, and that someone else didn't want people around.

That someone else was Peter Pfendler. Pfendler famously argued that a 30-foot-square patch of dirt separating the road from the ranch was his, but a suit filed last Thursday by Friends of Lafferty—which includes former Sonoma County Supervisor Bill Kortum—argues otherwise. It names Pfendler's widow, Kimberly, and the Bettman-Tavernetti family as defendants, and if successful could open the ranch to public access without costing taxpayers a dime, contends Petaluma city councilmember Mike Healy, who assisted in drawing up the title action.

The suit is based on an 1877 property map, but its real key may lie in the absence of Peter Pfendler, who was the most vocal (and wealthy) opponent. (He died in 2007.) After spending over $900,000 in studies and legal costs, the city of Petaluma abandoned the fight against Pfendler in 2002. Now that the city buys most of its water from the county water agency, the land sits unused.

The suit seeks no money, merely the right to establish a county road right-of-way, thereby allowing access to the patch of weeds and grass that could be fixed up into a beautiful park. Someday.

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