By Doug Curlee| Editor at Large
A more than confusing confrontation has arisen along the Spring Canyon trail in the East Elliott property adjacent to Mission Trails Regional Park, and it promises to grow only more bitter as the city moves toward bringing the land under its wing.
It revolves around a trail that the public has used for nearly two decades without serious opposition until now. To be clear, the Spring Canyon trail is not part of the park, and it is not a legally authorized trail for public access and use.
But Roland Reed is among a host of recreation enthusiasts (he’s a mountain biker) who feel that the longtime public use of the trail might constitute what’s called a “prescriptive easement.” That’s a legal argument that says long-term use of the property might make it legal without the property owner’s permission.
“People have been using that trail for almost a couple of decades, most of us have tried to treat it well and take care of it. There’ve been a few jerks, but there always are. We’ve tried not to be a problem,” he said.
A portion of the land in the area is publicly owned, with a number of private parcels that people bought back in the ’80s, when it appeared the land might be profitable for development purposes.
To orient you, the land lies north of State Route 52, west of the Sycamore Landfill and east of the fence marking the boundary of MCAS Miramar. There are several hundred acres in question here, but only 9.27 acres are the focus of this ever-increasing argument: the 9.27 acres that belong to Santee resident Jack Zarour.
Zarour is an East County painting contractor who says the city is doing everything it can think of to get his land, and has been since 2010. His land sits right on the Spring Canyon trail that’s heavily used by the people — or was heavily used, until Zarour began fencing his land and ordering people to stay off it.
Councilmember Scott Sherman says the city has been trying to negotiate with Zarour without success.
“We’ve made him offers, some of them for a little more than we should be paying, but we’re not getting anywhere much,” Sherman said.
Given Jack Zarour’s current feelings, they won’t be getting anywhere. Zarour said he has an easement that should allow him to drive to his property, which sits more or less in the middle of the East Elliott area, and which he used to use to drive there to care for a memorial he put up to his father and his brother.
But the city has built a gate on the Spring Canyon road, and will not give Zarour a key to that gate, despite his legal easement that gives him the right of access to his property. In fact, he can’t get in at all unless he gives park rangers 48 hours’ notice so they can meet him and let him in.
The Zarour family has reached several agreements over the past to sell the property to the city, but they’ve all fallen apart for whatever reasons.
Zarour has been before the City Council several times to plead his case, to no avail.
He said much of the problem could be alleviated if the city will simply give him a key to the gate, something it seems unwilling to do.
So, he is denying access to the recreationists that have used the trail for many years. He’s nearly done fencing the entire 9.27 acres. He’s not about to sell it — not for what he’s been offered so far.
This story isn’t over. It may go on for a long time. None of the three sides in this argument seems willing to budge.
That’s never a good thing.
–Contact Doug Curlee at firstname.lastname@example.org.