LEGAL BATTLE BREWING OVER TEJON RANCH TRAILS?
BY DEAN WALLRAFF
Among the peaks listed by the Hundred Peaks Section in the Tehachapi Mountains, just north of
We would like to be able to resume our hikes to that peak, partly because it’s a beautiful hike reasonably close to home, but also because it would allow us to see
more of Tejon Ranch. TRC is very secretive. Biologists believe there are endangered species on the property that we can’t document, since TRC requires scientists to sign non-disclosure agreements before giving them access.
The Sierra Club and other environmental organizations are proposing that the 270,000 acre property (the largest contiguous privately-owned land holding in
We would like to have access to Tejon Ranch in order to better make our case for the
In 1970, in its decision on a case named Gion-Dietz, the California Supreme Court held that five years of continuous use by the public of a privately-owned road or beach constituted an implied public dedication of the property, provided that the property owner knew of the use and made no significant effort to stop it during that period. This applies to trails as well and meant that private landowners weren’t allowed to block hikers’ access to trails we’d been using for over five years.
The law is based on the concept of prescription, part of the English common law that was imported in various degrees into
Even though it was based on well established legal principles, this decision was something of a bomb shell among property-rights advocates. Their lobbying resulted in the California Legislature’s passing a law declaring that, starting with the statute’s effective date (March 4, 1972), public use of private land would no longer create prescriptive rights for the public. However, the law does not apply retroactively. This has been confirmed by subsequent cases, which have been successful when they proved five years of continuous use of a trail by the public prior to 1972.
One recent case was Save the Altadena Trails v. Traylor, involving a driveway connecting two fire roads near
Can we do the same thing with Liebre Twins? The biggest challenge is that it’s been 35 years since 1972, as Joe Young, Chair of our Chapter’s Trail Access Committee, recently pointed out to me. A lot of the participants on our hikes prior to 1972 have passed away or moved away or become inactive. And Liebre Twins is a bit remote, so we didn’t go there as often as we go to local peaks.
I spent a morning recently in our Chapter office spot-checking Schedules of Activities for the period between 1950 and 1972. We have a complete set going back to 1905.
The format of the early Schedules was much smaller — about 3” X 5”— but the contents were remarkably similar to what’s in our current Schedules: the front matter with most of the same committees and sections (the Ice Skating Section was very active in the 1950’s), the listing of activities in date order, the leader listings at the end.
In my spot check I found two trips to “Tehachapi Mt. (6743 ft), Liebre Twins (6100 ft)” on May 5 & 6, 1951 and May 24 & 25, 1952, both led by Howard- Hill, with John Nienhuis and Floyd Henney as assistant Leaders and Muriel Pope and Clara Brock listed for “transportation.” Does any one reading this article know any of these people? Have any of you been on hikes to Liebre Twins? Do you know of other hiking organizations that might have run trips there in the 1950’s and 1960’s? To make our case we need at least 3 witnesses who can testify to regular use of the trail or road by hikers over a 5-year period before 1972. Please contact me at Dean@EnviroDefenders.org if you can help.
Now that we understand the law in this area, the template can be applied to other trail-access situations. The Trail Access Committee has a list of several other trails in
If you know of others in
I’ve focused on inland trails in this article, but the 1972 statute (which became California Civil Code section 1009) set forth different rules starting in 1972 for coastal property, which it defined as within 1000 yards of the mean high-tide line, or between that line and the nearest public road or highway, whichever is less. For coastal property, use by the public after 1972 can still create an implied public dedication.
To avoid this, the property owner must post signs, publish an ad, or record a notice with the county recorder giving the public permission, or enter into an agreement with a government agency giving such permission. If the public is using the beach or road or other coastal property, and the owner has not taken one of these actions, there may be a case for a permanent public easement.
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