The Coastal Post - August 1999

Mediation Fails in Forest Knolls "Conspiracy"
Case; Wake Up Marin!

By Jim Scanlon

A complaint by a Forest Knolls couple that Marin County Officials conspired to violate their civil rights and take over a private road that they share with their neighbors advanced in Marin Superior Court when efforts to mediate the differences failed.

Who participated in Mediation? What issues were raised? How long did it take? The answers to these questions are secret. The court record on the case contains no information on what happened. A "status hearing" was held on July 15,1999 before Judge Lynn O'Malley Taylor who had previously ordered that the conspiracy charges naming 19 Marin County officials and agencies be mediated.

The next hearing will be on October 4, 1999 when Judge Taylor will meet with the parties at a settlement conference. These conferences which also are also secret can be considered as attempts by the judge herself

to try to facilitate, encourage,

gently persuade or even gently coerce and threaten the parties on what might happen if they don't agree. If this fails the case will go to trial on November 2, 1999 and is estimated to take eight

days. The eight day estimate, however seems much too short for a case as complicated and involving, among other things, a basic property right.

At issue is public access to a private road, which would not seem too complicated, but in this case included in the "public" is the County of Marin, which in addition to "access" for it's own use, claims access to "its guests" which include the entire population of the earth. This is not an exaggeration!. County officials currently exercise the right to regulate everyone else who uses the road. If you don't like it the sheriff's deputies threaten you.

Jerry and Susan Knight allege that they have been victims of a long standing campaign of threats and harassment by the Marin Open Space District to take over the private road-Sinaloa Road-so that everyone, including erosion causing Mountain Bikers, horses and hikers can access the Gary Giacomini Open Space District which the County acquired several years ago.

County council, open space district and Sheriffs' officials have repeatedly threatened the Knights for their use of the road which is listed as a private road in their deed of ownership as well as the deeds of their neighbors who also live on and use the road.

The most spectacular charge is that the county police, otherwise called the Major Crimes Task Force, raided the Knight's home while they were out of state visiting relatives under the pretext that the Knight home might have been broken into and someone inside on the couch might be ill or dying. The "someone" on the couch was a pile of blankets, and it is hard to credit police concern for someone who might be dying when they did not alert medical personnel, but waited for additional police officers for over an hour.

Their home was ransacked and left in such a manner that the Knights, finding their home in such disarray reported it as a burglary. Valuable items including family heirlooms, and a considerable amount of cash, are still missing, as well as boxes of tax records and address books. A picture of the Knights with Dottie Le Mieux was sieved, for some reason, and was returned, for some reason. Le Mieux ran against Steve Kinsey, a Contractor in favor of development and the condemnation of Sinaloa Road for mountain bike access.

The Knights would not comment on the current status of their case.

It is difficult to understand why the Knights did not ask that the case be heard outside Marin County where a jury and possibly the judiciary might be considered more impartial and be more inclined toward awarding a larger damage award if the case were decided in their favor. Some months ago Susan Knight said, "We want this case heard here because this is where we live and where our neighbors, who have similar problems with the county, also live. We think we can get justice here. So far we have been pleased to have Judge Taylor hear the case."

What is equally hard to understand is why the Knights are not getting support from major property owners associations since the County is, in effect, claiming sovereignty over a road on which they merely own property. Open Space Police Officers removed a gate that had been on the road for many years with armed Sheriffs Deputies standing nearby.

Also mixed into this complicated case are the actions of the San Geronimo Valley Planning Group, a strange, quasi official, ever changing group. The Planning Group is on record as advocating unlimited public access to certain roads-but not all-at least not the ones influential member live close to.

Supervisor Steve Kinsey and a determined faction of his ruthless supporters have been determined advocates of county sovereignty over the road (which really means mountain bike, horse riders illegally on single track trails) to Sinaloa Road.

Opening up the open space to increased use by regional users can be considered a form of development benefiting local businessmen, however the illegal overuse of the trail will cause increased erosion, sedimentation of Lagunitas creek fire danger in addition to being a nuisance to the citizens who live along the road. At present there is no restriction on the number of people who use the road, or what hours they access it. "It's like living next to the Marriott, or Great America with no sanitary facilities or trash pick up," said Jerry Knight. "It's no wonder they tell people not to drink the water from the creek."

It appears to the Coastal Post that county government, as reflected in this case and in development throughout West Marin is out of control. All property owners and all citizens should be concerned and should plan to attend the trial or follow what happens.

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