Canyon News
Land Grab In The Hills
By Joann Deutch
Dec 24, 2012 - 1:00:59 PM

LAUREL CANYON—Your neighbors involved in a land grab? When you hear the words, you think of covered wagons rushing across the Oklahoma Plains - not your neighbor doing a stealth land grab here in the hills. The history of the right to take title to land belonging to others is an old tradition meant to strip landowners who didn’t act diligently to utilize their land.
Walking trail obstructed by neighbors.


When Los Angeles was part of Mexico in the 1800s land was held in large ranchos. If a person wanted to lay claim to the land belonging to one of the original Californio families they had to build a house, which was a permanent structure, with at least one window and one door. Then they could apply to the Ayunimento (which happened regularly) and could take title to the acreage they used.


How do these questions even come up? A neighbor who is an inveterate runner told me one day that several of the trails around these hills have recently been closed off by adjacent proper owners. How, I thought was that possible? You can’t do that here in the city. Even the old Common Law concept of Adverse Possession isn’t in play here. That law generally held that if you hold land that’s not yours for 21 years, you can file a claim for ownership.


It’s akin to the old concept of squatters rights. But in an urban setting someone has to somehow get the land they want to grab include it in their title and pay taxes on that land before they can seek a court order granting them title to the land.


I thought, maybe the trails that were used were paper streets. That’s a street that had been dedicated, and intended to be a public street, but that for some reason, the street was never built. The property remains in the hands of the local government. A new neighbor with ambition, and while no one is paying attention, will put up a fence, or plant a garden in that area, hoping to discourage the public’s use of the land.


Maybe the MRCA might had a right-of-way or easement over these strips of land. They checked, and even though the land had been used by the public for years, MRCA said there was no write easement.


That was then, this is now. Where do we stand on these land grabs in light of the recent court case challenging a land developers right to build on land abutting the park? The developer wanted to build monster homes adjacent to Franklin Canyon Park. The developer started by putting up a chain link fence to keep park visitors out of the upper reaches of the Hastain Trail. Advocates claimed that the long use by hikers gave present and future hikers the guaranteed right to continue to use the trail cross the developer’s private property.


After many years, the case was finally ruled on, and the developer was forbidden to obstruct passage onto his strip of land. The Court said “that until the Legislature changed the law in March 1972, private property could be presumed to be for public use under certain conditions, for example if property owners were on notice of open and ongoing use of their land for at least five years and did nothing to stop it.”


The Hastain case was won based upon the testimony of hikers who regularly used the trail in the early 70s. We better hop on it and get statements from these senior enthusiasts so we can take back these trails. The game has changed.

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