Saturday, April 7, 2007

Private Property

We had a strange encounter of the angry idiot kind yesterday, right in front of our home. But first you need a little background:

In front of our property there is a private road, indifferently maintained, that provides access to several neighboring properties. None of these properties are currently occupied, though several of them have construction underway. This road is gated right next to our driveway. This sturdy steel gate is kept locked, with only the property owners, the fire department, and a few neighbors (like us) having a key. The property owners behind the gate share an easement for the road, so that all are guaranteed access. This gated road is an alternative route out of Lawson Valley, so in an emergency (such as a wildfire) someone with a key will open the gate to let people out. This is why we’ve been given a key, as we’re the closest residence to the gate.

For years the owner has been in a pitched battle with people who go around the gate to access the road and his property. When I’ve talked with the owner (and his son), they are not concerned so much with people walking on the road, or even riding horses on the road — but the dirt bikes and ATVs are definitely operating there against his desires. And they’ve been doing this for years.

But yesterday one of the property owners behind the gate decided to do something about the gate-crashers: he installed chain-link fence to block the path the gate-crashers had made through the chaparral around the gate. While he was finishing up the fencing work, a dirt biker — a 20-something man, by appearance — drove up through the open gate, and stopped to see what was going on. Right at that moment, my wife and I were driving by, so I stopped to see if my neighbor needed any help.

He didn’t, but I was “treated” to the dirt-biker’s angry diatribe about how wrong it was for us to put a fence up. Both my neighbor and I tried our level best to explain to this angry young man that the road was private property, and the property owners simply didn’t want him there. His retort was nonsensical, and driven by his rage, but it amounted to this: “It’s a road, therefore it’s public, therefore I have a right to be here, even if it’s private property. Just because you own a piece of land doesn’t mean you have the right to control who travels on that land."

This is far from the first time we have encountered this attitude or belief. Several other trespassers — all young — have asserted much the same thing.

I’m pretty sure that none of the trespassers were themselves property owners. In some cases, I suspect they never will be (can you spell “losers"?). All of them were most likely so angry at being denied access that they weren’t thinking all that clearly. But still…isn’t it disturbing that so many would make the argument that private property owners had no right to control access to their property? It seems so self-evidently un-American, that argument. And it makes me wonder what the hell these young folks were taught in school, not to mention at home.

Private property rights are one of the great principles that form the very heart and soul of this country. I wonder if any of these trespassers have ever even heard about that?


  1. In the old blog, Anonymous said:
    Can you please tell me which road you are talking about? I myself am a dirtbiker who rides in Lawson Valley and I do respect private property. I am simply trying to figure out what other road I should be adding to my already large list of places I can’t ride.

  2. In the old blog, SlightlyLoony said:
    The road doesn’t actually have an official name. On maps it has various names, depending on the age of the map. However, the route I’m talking about runs from the intersection of Skyline Truck Trail and Wisecarver Lane north to thye intersection of Lawson Valley Road and Rudnick Road, traveling over several different named roads and this ambiguously named stretch of private road.

  3. In the old blog, Anonymous said:
    Becareful you might have another Orlosky shootout with these hells angel type bikers/ give them a break

  4. In the old blog, Anonymous said:
    I was wondering if you could help me out with some information, please? We have an access track through our property that gives access to the properties behind me. It is privatly owned and has locked gates as the property owners are all holiday homes (we have keys). We have to use this track to also access our property, so therefore we keep the part of the track that we use in a reasonable condition. It is also black soil that gets boggy and slippery when wet, so we have also put gravel along the track. The gravel, after a while, sinks into the track, but if you do sink a little bit, you hit the gravel and can get yourself out quite easily. Our immediate neighbours are the only ones who have ever helped with maintenance. The problem is this: one property is leased of the public trustee of nsw by 4 men. These men invite friends who invite friends to come up to the property. These people (including the 50 or so clingons that use the property) treat the track, which passes our house, like a race track when its dry (going very close to hitting some of our cows), and when its wet, they decide that they do not like to get their tyres muddy so they drive beside the track (both sides). The track gets wider and our feed paddock gets smaller and torn up.They also throw their rubbish out along the track (including beer bottles) which then get broken by our cows, making a potentially dangerous situation. On having approached these people several times about staying on the track and not throwing out their rubbish, it seems to have made the problem worse. When they come up I have to make sure my kids don’t ride their bikes on the track as they are likely to get run over. I have heard that they have an alternate access route to their property, but don’t know how to find out if that is true. Would you or anyone else have some advice on how to handly this ever growing problem? Thankyou.

  5. In the old blog, Anonymous said:
    My sympathies on your very annoying problem. I have no idea what your legal rights are in Australia for situations like that. If it were here in the U.S., and in California in particular, I would say that your most likely recourse would be some sort of barrier along the sides of the track — rows of rocks, a barbed wire fence, posts, etc. — along with clear “no trespassing” signage. Then if the miscreants continued their objectionable behavior, you would have all the elements in place to pursue some legal remedy. Alternatively, you could do what we have done (with the help of a very cooperative neighbor with some big machinery): put up an impenetrable barrier (in our case, some very large boulders). In your situation, if this wouldn’t cause you legal problems, I’d be tempted to put nail strips up to give the bad guys flat tires if they strayed off the track. Or perhaps I’d dig some nice drainage ditches along both sides of the track — just deep enough to get someone stuck if they tried to drive off the side. You get the idea — take some active action to prevent the miscreants from wandering off the track. But please keep in mind that this is a gun-toting, militaristic American talking — and I have no idea what behavior might get you in trouble down under…