Judge orders Monrovia trail reopened to public
|May 13, 2008 - Another victory for public trails, this time in Monrovia.|
|Melissa Pamer, Staff Writer|
|MONROVIA - After an extended battle that provoked public outcry and resulted in a lawsuit, the city has proclaimed victory in its effort to keep the Sawpit Wash Trail open to the public.|
A Pasadena Superior Court judge has ordered that the recreational path - which runs nearly two miles from Lemon Avenue to Monrovia Canyon and is popular with joggers and dog-walkers - remain open despite a resident's attempts to restrict access to the trail where it crosses his property.
"This is massive," Monrovia Mayor Rob Hammond said. "The foothills and access to the foothills is a topic that is very much alive in the city of Monrovia. People treasure their ability to get into the foothills and walk around."
Hammond said he received many complaints from residents in late spring 2007, when Norumbega Drive homeowner Steven Bruckner erected two fences blocking the trail, which runs through his property along an access road that follows a Los Angeles County flood control channel.
About 100 residents came to a City Council meeting last June to protest the closure. One of Bruckner's fences was broken and thrown into the concrete-lined wash, said David Fike, the city's public works director.
"It's been very disturbing to the neighborhood," Fike said.
The trail has run along the channel since it was built in 1956, and it has been used since at least 1971 as a public hiking path, the city argued in a lawsuit filed against Bruckner in September.
The dispute stems in part from the strange configuration of Bruckner's property, which he purchased in 2002. When the flood control channel was built in the 1950s, homes in its path were bought and condemned. The then-owner of Bruckner's home was unwilling to part with any portion her property, so the county obtained an easement to build the channel through her land, Fike said.
That left the Norumbega Drive property as the only parcel where a resident owned the land that the walking path crossed, Fike said. The trail became popular over the years - without incident.
"(Bruckner) moved in and everything changes," Fike said.
When Bruckner bought his home, he was not made aware that the trail was publicly accessible, he said last week. He referred to the large "No Trespassing" sign on the gate next to his home that blocks vehicles from driving onto the access road.
Soon after moving in, he was disturbed by the noise of hikers and by dogs that he said provoked his three Labradors.
"It's like living in the middle of a doggy park," Bruckner said, adding that the trail is 20 feet from his kitchen and living room windows.
"This is the mountains. This is the Monrovia hills. I bought the house not to be living on the boardwalk in Manhattan Beach," Bruckner added.
He complained to the city, which erected signs that read, "Please respect adjacent private property owners; Be good to neighbors." The city also provided trash cans and a bag dispenser for dog poop.
But Bruckner said he continued to be disrupted.
He wouldn't say whether he would appeal the judge's decision. He is considering action to get the title company to pay for his legal fees and for "loss of enjoyment" of his property, he said.
No other homeowner has ever complained about noise along the trail, Fike said.
After years of back-and-forth, the city and Bruckner were unable to reach an agreement. Monrovia filed a lawsuit in September to determine once and for all if the land was indeed open to the public.
The May 2 ruling said that the longtime history of public use of the trail, as well as the city's expenditure of public funds on its upkeep, meant that under state law the path must remain open.
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