Drivers who travel up Los Robles Avenue in Barron Park might notice the road has suddenly gotten conspicuously narrower. A property owner has decided to enforce what he claims is his property line, which is to the center of the already narrow street, according to nearby residents and city officials.
The property, 1055 Los Robles, is at the corner of Rincon Circle cul de sac. Homes border Los Robles on one side; Barron Creek borders it on the other side. Already, the width along a stretch of the road varies from approximately 14.5 feet to about 16 or 17 feet, according to a Santa Clara County Assessor's map. But the land owner at 1055 Los Robles has spray painted "private road" stencils and white lines to demarcate his property-boundary claim, which now narrows the road width to just 7 feet.
Some neighborhood residents recently expressed concern through their email list about the narrower road. The section is near Gunn High School, and many students ride their bicycles through the area. The residents wondered aloud if property owners can stake a claim to a piece of public roadway — even if the property line extends underneath.
The issue arose about two Saturdays ago when workers were doing preventive slurrying to the roadway, said Holly Boyd, city Public Works senior engineer. The resident was adamant that the city should not encroach on the property and said he did not want the road to be repaired there, she said. Workers decided not to press the issue, but Public Works officials and the City Attorney's office will research the matter, she said.
The property owners listed on the deed through county records did not return a request for comment.
On Wednesday afternoon, delivery trucks — including from the U.S. Postal Service and FedEx — squeezed through the narrowed road, which was additionally lined by chunks of cut-up trees marking the 1055 property line. Branches from overhanging oaks scraped the roof of the FedEx truck as it drove along the edge of the pavement next to the creek to avoid encroaching on the portion of road now marked private.
The narrower road could make it difficult for emergency vehicles such as fire trucks to pass. The fire department needs about a 16-foot width to accommodate the fire truck as well as the fire equipment, hoses, apparatus and other equipment, Palo Alto Fire Chief Eric Nickel said.
Mike Nafzinger, Public Works supervisor at the city's Development Center, said that there are older properties in Palo Alto that have property lines extending into some streets. Some roads, including a few in Barron Park, are private.
But easement law is complicated, he said. The property owner might legitimately have a private property claim. But there also could be a public street over the property line where the city has a purchased or a recorded easement. The city also might have a "prescriptive" easement, which is obtained by regular use and is not purchased, negotiated or granted. Prescriptive easements are rights to use property, but the user does not gain land title.
"There's no easy way to check into it. It is a whole research project. The city will have to do analysis — go through historical records and documents recorded at the clerk's office. They will have to see if it (the road) is dedicated and accepted. It's something that involves the city attorney to figure out," he said.