The city of La Canada Flintridge has issued a stop-work order to prevent a resident, who already is being prosecuted for alleged city building code violations, from completing a fence that officials believe would have crossed a well-established equestrian trail.
Director of Community Development William Campbell said he found that concrete had been poured in preparation for the construction of a fence across the trail that serves as the main access to the Arroyo Seco Trail System.
The fence would have crossed a 300-foot strip of trail that runs through the back of property owned by Melvin Ricks, a Glendale dentist. Ricks is being prosecuted by the city for alleged building code violations on three properties he is developing.
The trail that cuts through 4.2 acres of land adjoining Ricks' residence is part of the 20 miles of city equestrian trails that connect with Angeles National Forest and the Rim of the Valley Trail system.
City Claims Easement
Although the fence was being constructed on Ricks' property, the city maintains that it holds an easement over that property's trail, said City Manager Donald H. Otterman.
Ricks, a seven-year La Canada resident, is contesting the city's claim to having the right to use the trail. He said he is negotiating with city officials to resolve the disagreement.
In an unrelated matter, the city filed misdemeanor criminal charges against Ricks two weeks ago, alleging that he unlawfully trimmed an oak tree and failed to obtain the required permits for two construction projects.
An arraignment scheduled for last Friday was continued to June to allow Ricks to obtain a criminal lawyer, Deputy Dist. Atty. Jacquelyn P. Lacey said.
Work on the fence came to the city's attention after trail users telephoned the city last week reporting that they found survey sticks on the property.
After inspecting the property, Campbell said that although no fence posts have been erected, he concluded that Ricks planned to build a fence across the trail.
Ricks denied that he intended to block the trail. He was building a fence to define his property boundaries and intended to "leave an opening for the trail," he said.
The City Council held a closed-door meeting Monday to discuss the issue, but they took no action. Afterward, city officials declined comment.
"I want to try and not blow this whole thing out of proportion," Otterman said. "Emotions are very high between the Trails Council and Ricks."
The fight over the access to the trail has been going on since 1981, when La Canada's Trail Council obtained a restraining order against Ricks after he stopped state workers from repairing the portion of the trail on his property. The work was needed after a sprinkler system broke and flooded the trail, causing erosion. Flint Canyon Wash, which runs next to the trail, also causes erosion, city officials said.
Effort to Clarify
Since then, Ricks and the city have been attempting to clarify rights to the trail.
In 1986, the city and Ricks came close to settling the matter when Ricks agreed to give the city an easement in exchange for the building of a retaining wall to prevent further erosion of the trail.
The city intended to build the wall with part of the $90,000 it received from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to repair equestrian trails in the city. But the Trails Council objected to the use of the money for what members perceived to be an improvement on Ricks' property, and protested to the conservancy, Otterman said. That halted negotiations.
Ricks and the city are attempting to negotiate a similar deal. Otterman said the city wants to avoid a costly court battle that could be necessary to prove its contention that it already has a right to use the property.
Ricks said all he wants is for the city to assume the liability for injuries to trail users and to build a retaining wall to stop erosion. The erosion, he said, is endangering oaks on his property.