Four hiking trails on an undeveloped hillside property in Tiburon are not available for public use, a state appeals court ruled.
The ruling affirmed an earlier trial verdict in Marin County Superior Court on public access to the 110-acre Martha Co. tract.
The decision, released this week by the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco, is the latest setback for the plaintiffs’ group, Tiburon/Belvedere Residents United to Support the Trails. The group sued in 2017 after the Martha Co., owned by the heirs of the John Reed family, stepped up efforts to prohibit hikers as it prepared to sell the property for development.
The plaintiffs argued the trails were “impliedly dedicated” to the public because visitors has been using them for decades without apparent objection by the owners. The group based its claim on a 1970 California Supreme Court ruling that said a road leading through private property to coastal access had been implicitly dedicated to public use because the public had used it for more than five years without significant objection from the landowner.
In response to that case, the state Legislature passed a law in 1972 that greatly limited public claims on private land.
Judge Roy Chernus ruled in favor of the Martha Co. last year, and the plaintiffs appealed. The appeals court ruled the plaintiff did not meet its burden to prove the Reed family approved of hikers on the property.
“There was also credible evidence that the property’s owners regularly repaired the fences surrounding the property and repeatedly posted ‘No Trespassing’ signs (many of which were apparently removed by trespassers),” the ruling said. “The court believes that these efforts were sufficient; and that the owners should not be reasonably expected to take greater actions … to avoid the presumption of public dedication.”
Eric Buescher, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said the ruling is “flawed” because more people than those who testified have used the land as a place to hike, picnic and enjoy the beauty of Tiburon’s largest open space.
“We are obviously disappointed,” Buescher said. “It’s a sad outcome for people in the community and for generations of families who used trails because they will no longer be able to use them going forward as a matter of right.”
He said the plaintiffs can appeal to the California Supreme Court. That request is due in about a month.
“I don’t know if they will,” Buescher said. “I’m not trying to hide the ball, I just don’t know the answer. And that review is also discretionary. The California Supreme Court could say, no, we don’t want to hear the case, and that would be the end of it.”
The property, which has views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and the East Bay, is listed for $95 million by Sotheby’s.