On September 24, 1997, a squad of five Marin County Open Space Rangers with a Sheriffs Deputy in escort-all armed and in uniform-drove down Sinaloa Road, Forest Knolls in two pick up trucks and a patrol car at 8:30 in the morning. Two Sheriffs back up vehicles were standing by in reserve down the hill in the main part of town.
The patrol vehicles blocked the private road and, over the next two hours, the Rangers destroyed part of a gate on private property with a chain saw and sledge hammers. They did not cement in a large steel sign announcing "Public Access Point" because owners on both sides of the road refused to allow work to be done on their property.
The demolition was accomplished over the strenuous protests of home owner who live along the road. Only one of the home owners-who had filed suit against the county two months before-had received a vague notice that Open Space Rangers would be working in the area. To add insult to injury the Rangers left the wood debris scattered on the ground where it fell.
While several of the neighbors were arguing with the Rangers before the destruction of the gate began, one of the them got the attention of the others saying, "You are arguing with the wrong persons. These Rangers are simply workers following orders. Take this up with Supervisor Kinsey!"
The Ranger in charge allegedly said, "KInsey knows all about this. He's the one who told us to do it!
With the above in mind, at a recent community meeting on January 11, 1999, Susan Knight, who with her husband Jerry filed suit against the county, asked Supervisor Steve Kinsey if the Ranger's statement was true. "I wanted to give him a chance to answer," Susan said. Kinsey allegedly responded, "Yes I did. I sent them up there. I told them to open it up."
The Coastal Post observed the brief exchange between Kinsey and Susan but did not hear the actual words. The Knights left the meeting shortly thereafter.
A representative of Marin County Open Space said it is the position of his department that visitors were entitled to use Sinaloa road to access the Gary Giacomini Open Space Preserve. When asked if the District had a right to go on private property and remove a structure that had been there for several decades, the representative declined to comment further. Similarly there was no response to questions on the chain of command within county government and access to written records-if any. All questions were referred to the County Council's Office.
Charles Mc Gee of the County Council's Office similarly declined to comment on the partial destruction of the gate, stating, " I don't know the exact facts" he said, and referred to the pending litigation over on the road.
The Sheriff's Department said that it was not unusual for Deputies to assist other Departments as civil escorts, or even to provided similar services to individuals who had safety concerns.. Generally there would be just a simple telephone call recorded on the computer system and no report unless something unusual happened.
One home owning couple who recently moved into the neighborhood wrote to Open Space complaining about the destruction of the gate and not being informed.They wrote that when they bought their home at the end of the road, the realtor and title company assured them that roads in Forest Knolls were the private property of the owners. They themselves are mountain bike users, but nevertheless, complained about bicycles traveling at high speed endangering their pets-and themselves-and also eroding the steep, single track trails nearby.
An Open Space official wrote the couple and apologized for not informingthem of the actions of the Rangers. The official reiterated the Districts claim that "the public" (that is everyone) has a right to use Sinaloa Road to access the Gary Giacomini Preserve.
Open Space stated in the letter " A county Sheriff accompanied the District's rangers because of Mr Knight's previous communications with District staff and with members of the public attempting to use Sinaloa Avenue to access the Giacomini Preserve have been threatening in their nature."
The Knights are upset over their long, difficult and expensive struggle with County officials. "We are being maligned.They never specify what threats I made. or when", said Jerry Knight. "They even had me confused with a former neighbor they drove away. I've been made into some kind of Sadam Hussein and against Sadam they seem to feel justified in doing anything. We are not running away. This place was a nice place to live before we got Open Space as a neighbor. That's why people got fed up and moved out"
One ex neighbor officially complained: "...Since open space became our neighbor, the quality of life has greatly diminished... [for example]... rude bikers starting before 5 AM and returning late at night with flashlights and loud noise...knocking on my door"
What seems outrageous about this situation is that Open Space effectively mounted an unannounced military style, pre emptive strike to clear out an obstacle belonging to several homeowners with only the Knights identified as possible troublemakers. Also bothersome is that that Open Space and the Marin County Fire Department do not maintain the road, while insisting the public- everyone-is entitled to use something it doesn't pay for, own or maintain. It sounds like feudal England or France!
To make matters worse, the County takes no responsibility for the behavior, or damage caused by its " guests" (that is, everyone). Individual property owners can be held accountable to one another for the behavior of their guests, but not the County. This seems like feudal sovereign immunity.
For perhaps forty years, the gate has stood on Sinaloa Road and all property owners including the Water District and the Fire Department have had their key and lock to the gate. Now, as a result of the actions of Open Space in chain sawing the bracing, the gate is sagging, cannot be opened, and is stuck shut.
The Knights, and other, feel that Supervisors Kinsey and Kress are directly involved in promoting and facilitating mountain bike use and have openly compromised their integrity by accepting an all expense paid trip to Amsterdam from Mountain Bike advocates and manufacturers and who knows what else.
"We are playing by the rules" says Jerry Knight, " There has never been a complaint about me to the Sheriff. I don't know what they are talking about, and I feel I have been slandered. We went to the expense of getting legal help years ago. They won't talk now because there is a lawsuit, but we filed our lawsuit in early August and they took down the gate in late September-no court order, no documentation, no notice It is abuse of power. I think they were trying to set me up to make a stupid mistake."
Jerry also wonders if some kind verbal "order" or "suggestion", or a "nod" or a "wink" might have been given to the county drug police, which resulted in his home being raided and trashed under the pretext of investigating a false burglar alarm report. This raid resulted in a months of agony facing felony charges of drug possession because of a bouquet of dried poppy pods.The charges were eventually dismissed.
The Knights made clear their gratitude to the Coastal Post for bringing the situation on Sinaloa Road to the public. They have gotten calls of encouragement from influential people in other parts of the country and the county-Fairfax, San Anselmo, Woodacre and Lagunitas-all with the same problem. They are getting together and will produce a program on public television this March.
What is troubling about the implication that Supervisor Kinsey may have improperly given direct orders to branches of county government, is that it seems to fit a pattern. He did not remove himself from voting on the approval of the French Ranch development. in which he was involved as a private citizen. It corresponds with his intervention with the Marin County Council to reverse his opinion and allow the County to become the "responsible agency", the "public entity" for the French Ranch Development-an unusual, controversial arrangement!
So far, the Knights received only one threatening telephone call: "Friends are friends. Enemies are enemies-and enemies can be very dangerous" (The tape is being saved for voice analysis). But the rest of the calls have been supportive They have made many new friends. They appeal to anyone with inside information on these cases to contact them. They stress that they are not anti-police and feel that the police are being used and manipulated by higher ups. They are bitter and disillusioned about county government-but not county workers.
It seems clear from the lack of documentation and the silence of county officials concerning armed rangers removing a structures from private property that there has been a serious abuse of power. When one also considers that this action was taken while court action was pending-then, arrogance and contempt for the rule of law must also be added to abuse.
It makes one wonder what is going on with our Board of Supervisors. WARNING ON TRAILS
The San Geronimo Valley Community Plan adopted by the Marin County Board of Supervisors on December 12, 1997 has numerous maps of trails. All such maps have an insert warning printed on the map much in the same manner as the Surgeon General's Warning on packs of cigarettes. It states: IMPORTANT NOTICE This map is a planning document. Until the public has acquired or has been granted an easement for trail purposes, the public shall have no right to enter private property without the owner's permission.