Free Advice

Having been involved in litigation in Santa Barbara County on the very issue of the intersection of private property rights and the rights of county owned roads, here is my opinion on the questions brought up by “When Is Parking Trespassing?”

Firstly, the county road is 60 feet wide. Since the assessor’s maps also show the private property lines intersecting at the middle of the street, the county road is likely an easement over the private property. Road easements normally include parking rights as well, as a matter of common law, unless the terms of the easement say otherwise.

If the property lines go to the middle of the street, then the private property owners only own the land rights in the roadway which don’t interfere with the road easement. For example, if the property owner could possibly get a permit through planning, they could theoretically build something over the roadway, like a bridge, sufficiently high in the air so as not to block the use of the roadway. Likewise, the property owner could theoretically get a permit to use the land underground of the road for some purpose, again, as long as the roadway area of 60 feet was not impeded.

The pavement is 27 feet wide, or 13.5 feet on either side of the center line of the existing paved roadway. Since the road right of way is 60 feet wide, or 30 feet on either side of the center line of the road, there remains 16.5 feet past the pavement which is the dirt portion of the county road right of way.

Although it could be that the location of the road easement is not the same as the center line of the road, in which case the number of feet would move one way or the other accordingly, but this would be highly unusual. Normally, the road pavement is centered in the easement area.

As the property owners are probably well aware, confirmed by how they correctly placed their fence along the exact line delineating where their property is no longer subject to the county road easement, they can’t interfere with the use of the county road area for road purposes, whether it is paved or not.

Of course, no one has a right to be on the property owner’s side of that fence without the property owner’s permission. Likewise, the public has a right to freely travel on the county road, and it is exclusively up to the county to regulate the parking on the county roadway, which includes the paved part, as well the 16.5 feet of dirt area on each side of the road.

If the county has not placed any parking signs there, then the default of 72-hour parking limit countywide would apply. Until and unless the county decides to place other posted parking rules for that area, the public can park there for free, any time of the day or night, for up to 72 hours at a time.

The adjacent property owners have no more right to block off the road area than any other member of the public might, unless they ask for and obtain the county’s permission in the form of an encroachment permit, allowing them to encroach on to the county right of way area, or some kind of temporary road closure permit was approved by the county. It is up to the county to balance the costs and benefits to the public of such projects.

The fact that the public has been using the public roadway for parking for a number of years shouldn’t be too relevant in this case, since it’s already public property anyway, although it does show that the public has been using this area for parking and that fact likely would be a factor dissuading the county from approving a private encroachment into the roadway in that area.

The property owners do not have the right to control access, or to create or post their own parking rules in the roadway area, paved or not.

If anyone has had their cars towed from the county right-of-way by the private security service, without having been parked for more than 72 hours, they should have a claim against the security company and whomever hired them.

Also, the writer may have a false arrest claim against the security company for detaining him and his bicycle without any legal basis for having done so.

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