[Noozhawk’s note: Second in a series. Click here for the first article, and click here for the third.]
The City of Santa Barbara has been actively investigating complaints that a homeowner whose property abuts Franceschi Park on the Riviera suddenly restricted walking access into the park.
The locked gate blocked use of a public easement, according to Jill Zachary, city Parks and Recreation director, and as a result the city has ordered to the property owners to immediately remove the lock from the gate.
We have heard from frustrated walkers that they have been unable to enter Franceschi Park through the easement because the gate across it is locked and unlocked at the whim of the homeowners.
One walker reported she’d been told that the homeowner was inconvenienced by walkers who sometimes awakened her sleeping grandchildren.
We also discovered that certain residents living on Mira Vista Avenue have access through the gate, as they were given the code by the homeowner who placed the lock there.
After researching this matter, city officials have concluded that the fence and locked gate are an encroachment on the public easement into and out of Franceschi Park.
Zachary told us that city will continue to monitor the situation and ensure that the public easement is respected.
We made multiple efforts to contact the homeowners to get their side of the story, but have not yet heard back from them.
This is the latest chapter in the long-standing struggle to keep open a much used and beloved public access to the lower portion of Franceschi Park.
In a May 16, 1970, letter from local attorney Pier Gherini to then City Attorney Stanley Tomlinson, Mr. Gherini states,
“I also call your attention to the provisions of the deed dated June 11, 1931, wherein Freeman Investment Co. is named grantor and the city of Santa Barbara is named grantee. In this deed, among other things, an easement for road purposes… is granted to the city of Santa Barbara. The city of Santa Barbara, by appropriate council resolution accepted the deed and property therein conveyed.”
Further on in the same letter, Mr. Gherini points out,
“In addition to the above, it is apparent that Mr. Bunce (the property at the time) is attempting to appropriate city property for his own use. Two 8″ x 8″ wood posts remain today in city property at the Westerly Boundary of Mira Vista Ave. laying Southerly of Lot 9. For several years, Mr. Bunce had a chain across the street connected between the two posts. The chain has been removed, but the posts remained.”
After requesting specific action be taken by the city, Gherini concludes, “I might add that the concern expressed in this letter is shared by many other owners residing, as I do, on Mira Vista, and the hundreds of hikers who walk through Franceschi Park.”
Nearly 50 years later, the struggle to preserve this well-used public access from the owners of “Balcony Tract, Lot 9” continues.
Our investigation revealed that street signs in the area have been tampered with, the city parks sign has been turned inward toward the park so as not to be visible from Mira Vista Avenue, unauthorized video cameras have been placed on park property, the roadway has been paved in such as way as to make it appear as a private driveway, signage has been placed by the homeowner warning that the easement is a “private drive,” a fence and gate have been erected, a lock has been placed on the gate and the handle on one side of the gate was removed, making it difficult to open when the gate happens to be unlocked.
Interestingly, in 2009 and again in 2016, City permits were granted for the construction of the fence and the gate that now block access to Franceschi Park. How this occurred is a mystery, and something City officials are looking into.
Check back with Noozhawk for updates to this story.
— Peter Hartmann and Stacey Wright make up the Urban Hikers team. Any opinions expressed are their own.