News

Land owner narrows road to enforce property line

Los Robles Avenue narrowed to 7 feet in one section

A children's play area sits in the yard at 1055 Los Robles Ave. where the homeowner has marked off his home's property line, narrowing the street down to a single-car width. The homes in the neighborhood are adjacent to a creek. Photo by Veronica Weber.

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.

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Comments

27 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 8, 2017 at 8:19 am

Whereas there is a lot of stupidity in this article, the most stupid I can see is making the disputed area a children's play area. Whatever happens, there should not be anything to encourage children to play at this very dangerous road obstacle where an accident or road rage incident could easily play out.


3 people like this
Posted by Garden Gnome
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 8, 2017 at 11:08 am

Dear Resident - per the photo caption, the play area is in the yard, not the road.

Can't wait to find out whether the city has an easement!


26 people like this
Posted by Hermia
a resident of Triple El
on Sep 8, 2017 at 11:27 am

If the property owner does anything more to enforce his line, and it actually blocks services, especially fire fighter access, to his neighbors, he may find himself facing liability far greater than the dollar return on his additional few feet of yard.


24 people like this
Posted by Judith Wasserman
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 8, 2017 at 11:28 am

Judith Wasserman is a registered user.

So, if residents on both sides of the road enforce their perceived property rights, that effectively closes the road for residents further up. Very neighborly.


3 people like this
Posted by Katy
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 8, 2017 at 11:44 am

Judith, That property has the creek on the other side. The neighbor across from them is on the other side of the creek. "Resident" that play structure has been there for over 20 years. The road is only used by those going to houses past it. The road dead ends into an access point to the paved paths behind Gunn. There is a lot of food and bike traffic on that road due to it's close proximity to Gunn.

It is concerning regarding emergency vehicle access though.


16 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 8, 2017 at 11:48 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

Not newsworthy, just a typical palo alto neighbor dispute that someone ran to the press.

The road is a dead end
The road narrows after the house anyway


9 people like this
Posted by al munday
a resident of another community
on Sep 8, 2017 at 12:08 pm

the resident should have gone through channels to discuss this instead of taking it on like this. and if the resident can afford it, bring along a
lawyer.

sounds like a turf war, but why now?


12 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 8, 2017 at 1:10 pm

I wiuld think that if the homeowner who claims this is his property has not enforced it to this date, then it's too late be ausenit's grandfathered in (the current arrangement which had not been objected to for x years). Obviously, the city needs to research with the county of Santa Clara and surveyors to determine if hus claim has any validity AND if it's too late to assert it, IF the claim is accurate historically.


15 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 8, 2017 at 1:27 pm

This article certainly doesn't portray the property owner in a flattering light. Perhaps the owner has more to his side of the story (but he refused comment per this story, so we're left with mere inferences). However, he might want to research the recent case that Vinod Khosla lost against the Surfrider Foundation regarding access to Martins Beach and similar legal precedents. It is common for property lines to extend to the middle of streets, but that fact does not eviscerate easement rights which can arise and be enforced based on a variety of legal theories. This property owner is taking a big legal risk by putting obstructions in the area of dispute that could cause an accident and claims against him for liability, particularly since we're talking about a major school access route used by children. The fact that the property owner refused to comment suggests either that he does not have a sympathetic claim or that he has not really thought through his actions.


20 people like this
Posted by Prescriptive Easement
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 8, 2017 at 1:28 pm

I'm not a lawyer, but I do have a bit of experience with easements, both deeded and prescriptive. I think everyone who has traveled on that section of the road for the past 5 years has a prescriptive easement even if there is not a deeded easement recorded. I suspect the city has the same prescriptive easement based on "open and notorious use" for well over the past five years since they have been maintaining the road. It shouldn't take Molly Stump more than 24 hours to file the injunction and make this nuisance go away.

I'd love to hear from the homeowner on why they think this is a reasonable action to take, and why they think they will win the ensuing legal fight. Just a big waste of taxpayer dollars, which really irritates me.

Weekly: Property records are public information - I've already looked it up - why not print the name of the owner?


12 people like this
Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 8, 2017 at 2:38 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

@Prescriptive Easement: Excellent comment. And I also agree that the name of the owner should be published.


2 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 8, 2017 at 2:49 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Prescriptive Easement - Why do you think there needs to be a legal fight? I agree, it would be a waste of money. Even if there is a possible easement, who cares? Move on, save the time, money and hassle.


19 people like this
Posted by Prescriptive Easement
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 8, 2017 at 3:08 pm

@john: I didn't say there needs to be a legal fight, I said there will be one. But you're right, who cares that other homeowners just had access to their homes restricted. Nobody needs to have furniture or appliances delivered in large trucks - the other homeowners can just pay extra to have their stuff delivered in small trucks that are used to access small private roads. Or delivery trucks can just drop the stuff off in the road and the homeowners can carry it the rest of the way. Who cares that kids walking and biking to school are at higher risk with vehicle traffic on a narrower road. Why should they expect to be able to pass a single car coming from the other direction? Kids need to learn to pay more attention anyway. There probably hasn't been a fire there in a long time, so why worry about emergency vehicle access?

If I was one of the four neighbors beyond this new bottleneck, there is no way I would let it continue. The affect on property values alone ought to cause a lawsuit.

I'm all in favor of property rights, but this just seems like an incredibly selfish move that harms many others far more than it helps the property owner.


266 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 8, 2017 at 3:11 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Prescriptive Easement - The road narrows anyway, so nothing was restricted, it just narrows several meters earlier.


10 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Sep 8, 2017 at 3:36 pm

Ten minutes on the web gives me enough info to speculate that the owner used the Assessor's records, rather than the Recorder's records, to assert the roadway location. Recorder's info usually takes precedent. Would not necessarily be bad for an apparently arrogant homeowner to lose his home to the City as they countersue him for blocking legal access to his neighbors. Too Bad, So Sad.


16 people like this
Posted by Safety hazard
a resident of another community
on Sep 8, 2017 at 5:19 pm

It doesn't matter if the road dead ends. There is now no room for swerving if you encounter one of the many kids who come through there on bikes. The road beyond the house does not continue to narrow. It goes back to the 16 feet, which is wide enough for fire trucks.

From the story: "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."

So fire trucks will not be able to access the homes or the open space at the top of this road.

Are there warning signs to alert unsuspecting drivers at night that the road narrows? Is the area well lit? If not, what would happen if someone approaching the area who isn't familiar with it hit one of those big tree trunks?


28 people like this
Posted by Barron Park Dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 8, 2017 at 5:58 pm

None of these comments hit the real issue.

I'm so ashamed of my fellow Barron Park neighbor.

This is a huge access road for Gunn High School. Mornings and afternoons there are tons of bikes and walkers. Parents often park on Rincon Circle for dropoff and pickup. Who is looking out for the kids? Where is Gunn traffic safety? Surely this is a safe route to school.

When I first read about this on the Barron Park mailing list, I almost called 911. I didn't even think about emergency vehicle access beyond the new blockage.

I hope this gets resolved quickly. I hope the City or the downstream neighbor gets an emergency injunction. I also hope someday the property owner gets a big bill to reimburse the City for their costs to investigate this ridiculousness.

My $.02.


172 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 8, 2017 at 6:28 pm

Hope the home owners can prevail.

Those of us that live near schools, civic centers, churches all with inadequate parking and access have no choice but to put up with rude drivers blocking our drives, double parking in street, bicycles weaving in and out, students leaving trash. Also a lot of ugly paint and signs placed in our residential street by the the city.

The city does nothing to enforce the laws or protect us.


4 people like this
Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 8, 2017 at 7:08 pm

It appears that someone has way to much time on their hands. Could this be a mini Bundy deal where the homeowner will call in the Oath Keepers to protect his logs and paint job?


19 people like this
Posted by I own a property
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 8, 2017 at 7:27 pm

I own a property where my property line goes down the middle of a county road. An easement is recorded on my deed for the area the road is on and quite a few more feet in, so the county can maintain the road. My across the street neighbor's property meets mine in the middle of the road. He has a similar easement recorded on his deed. Also across my land are many power and telephone poles, there is an easement for them as well. The Los Robles Avenue property deed is a matter of public record. I would encourage the people impacted to go look it up. How to look it up is documented on the Internet, just a google search away. Good luck dealing with the owner. It wont be fun even if he is proven in the wrong, he sounds like a piece of work.


42 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 9, 2017 at 11:22 am

Easement was are very complicated.
The owner could grant a use for emergency vehicles only and end the only valid argument.
Why is this article so down on the owner who is only protecting his property?


93 people like this
Posted by I see both sides
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 9, 2017 at 11:44 am

First, I'll say my first reaction to this story was "the homeowner is being a tool."

On reflection, while I still feel that's the case, there is an important issue the homeowner brings up with their action:

Easements (prescriptive or otherwise) for public roads is inherently wrong and should be unconstitutional. The homeowner is being taxed on something (the land the road sits on) that has been de facto taken from them by the government with no compensation.

If easements were the only tool governments had for creating roads, I'd be sympathetic. But government agencies have the power of "eminent domain", and should use that power for creating a road.

Using eminent domain in this case is much closer to a win/win than an easement: the city can actually buy the land, at market rate, where the road resides, compensating the homeowner and adjusting his deeded property to reflect the land that's actually theirs.

I agree there *are* valid use cases for an easement...but roads are *not* one of them.


13 people like this
Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 9, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Advocates of property rights should note that access to the property (e.g., roads) is an important feature of property rights. The rest of the people on the street, as well as nearby streets, are having their property rights affected by this individual.

@I see both sides:

You may not like prescriptive easements but my guess is that they have been thoroughly litigated over the years. We will have to see what the situation is with the property.


73 people like this
Posted by Onlinr Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 9, 2017 at 12:27 pm

I'm not commenting on the specifics of the Los Robles situation but want to echo resident's post above:

"Those of us that live near schools, civic centers, churches all with inadequate parking and access have no choice but to put up with rude drivers blocking our drives, double parking in street, bicycles weaving in and out, students leaving trash. Also a lot of ugly paint and signs placed in our residential street by the the city.

The city does nothing to enforce the laws or protect us."

Not only does the city do nothing, it's actively making things worse by planning to remove 85 parking spaces at Walter Hays / Community Center for the expanded Children's Zoo!

Do they not realize the Embarcadero & Middlefield intersection's already a mess??

Note to rude parents: When a homeowner puts a note under your windshield with an big arrow pointing to the driveway you're blocking, don't throw the note in the street!


189 people like this
Posted by I see both sides
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 9, 2017 at 2:32 pm

"You may not like prescriptive easements"

If that was your takeaway from my post, then you misread my post.

There are reasonable...even necessary...use cases for easements. A public road is not one of them.

That's really not even a debatable statement. Can anyone show an example of a public road where eminent domain is not an option? The correct answer is "No."

I welcome valid examples to the contrary.


8 people like this
Posted by Rules of Acquisition
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 10, 2017 at 9:03 am

Ferengi Rules of acquisition...
Number Rule
1 "Once you have their money, you never give it back."
2 "The best deal is the one that makes the most profit."
3 "Never spend more for an acquisition than you have to."
5 "Always exaggerate your estimates."
6 "Never allow family to stand in the way of opportunity."
10 "Greed is eternal."
11 "Even if it's free, you can always buy it cheaper."
12 "Anything worth selling is worth selling twice."
13 "Anything worth doing is worth doing for money."

and now add:
nn "A road less traveled can yield a greater profit if claimed."


Like this comment
Posted by Title
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 10, 2017 at 3:41 pm

He really needs to contact his Title Insurance Company. This is why everyone is required to buy it and why it very rarely gets used. Everyone looks to rectify the situation by other means, not the one they already paid for


10 people like this
Posted by Onlinr Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 10, 2017 at 4:55 pm

Re my post above about the city's plans to eliminate 85 parking spaces at Walter Hays/ the Community Center for the expanded Children's Zoo, I've since gotten a card from the city saying they're having "Public Hearing Of the Architecture Review Board" about the Zoo's expansion at 8:30 AM on Thursday, 9/21 in Council Chambers at City Hall,

Of course 8:30 in the morning is precisely when all the effected teachers and administrators who probably lose their parking, school parents trying to pickup / drop off their kids and people going to work etc. will be otherwise occupied and thus unable to attend.

If you can't or won't make this hearing, please take the time to contact Amy French, Chief Planning Official at amy.french@cityofpaloalto.org and/or at (650) 329-2336.

I plan to quote from this topic showing the number of votes in my email to her.


9 people like this
Posted by Michael O.
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 10, 2017 at 5:14 pm

Time for a little eminent domain.


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 10, 2017 at 8:45 pm

Maybe the owner realized if the prescriptive easment stands, they would lose setback rules, for future construction. With land prices so high,every architect, under direction of the developer maximizes set back rules for expansion of new construction. I do not have details, but this is a plausable explanation.

Remember, it is all about money.


5 people like this
Posted by Goose Gander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2017 at 10:10 pm

I don't really understand why the City cares. Aren't they the ones who think roads should be pinched down to nothing because that's supposedly safer and will make people hate driving and their crawling cars magically make no fumes? And that all safety and emergency access problems can be fixed with bright green thermoplastic paint? Maybe they are mad at the homeowner for beating them to the punch. Watch out, rest of Palo Alto, the City will be using that street as an example and citing how much slower traffic goes when streets are 7 feet wide, so maybe all main roads will get to be 7 feet wide, too, with dense developments in the recovered spaces over 50 ft tall from height limit exceptions. When we have no more roads, then there will be no need for cars because people won't be able to leave their homes - they can get everything the need online, right? .And since there probably is no traffic except when school starts, that makes it a perfect candidate for thermoplastic paint and about thirty or forty signs. Has the City installed surveillance cameras yet as a show of how well it can ignore the neighbors while claiming they are responding to complaints?

Maybe this will be the standard now, since there hasn't been an emergency at the high school (except ambulances for depressed students but who cares about depressed Gunn students, they can always go hang out at Walgreens or one of dozens of hotels narrowing down El Camino.


6 people like this
Posted by Karen
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 11, 2017 at 12:52 pm

Wow, I amazed that the Palo Alto weekly wrote a whole page article on this when they will not discuss items that matter to Gunn high school and Barron Park residents.
1) Low ugly wires over the streets in Palo Alto - I am sure some of the large fire trucks would hit these lines if on various streets within Barron Park. Other streets in Palo Alto utility lines were put underground. The city is paving various streets in Barron Park so why not put the lines underground before paving? Other interesting background why were some streets got there lines underground and others did not. Is Palo Alto going to try to move the lines underground etc.

2) Gunn gymnasium (4 plus years old) - which has no air conditioning or windows that opens. On even nice days the gym gets hot and stuffy. It would be extremely interesting to understand why no air conditioning was put in the first place and even more interesting if they will try to get windows, fix the air circulation or get an air condition.


4 people like this
Posted by Goose Gander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2017 at 8:07 am

@Karen,
Wow, that's interesting about the Gunn gym. This is the new one? Since the district is spending four times as much on the gym at Paly, I wonder why some of that money couodn't be used? (And why there hasn't been more attention on the lease-leaseback situation which has got to border on illegal under those circumstances.)

Please start a thread and write the Weekly directly. I'm not sure the public cares about the physical state of our schools - look at JLS, it flooded every year for probably decades - or whether the money was well spent in the construction (do you know that the oversight committee wasn't concerned at all with whether the money was well-spent? No one was. It wasn't in their mandate to look into whether the district could have built everything new for the same money, for example.)

Write the reporter who has been looking into the district accounting woes and tax receipts, that person might be willing to dona story. How could a new gym at Gunn not have A/C, it hasn't always been that way? Maybe it just cost too mich and was ineffective due to poor design? Gave the student athletes breathing problems? Perhaps not used until spring as a matter of policy?


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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