Final ruling favors Nicasio rancher sued by neighbors


For almost a decade, Joseph and Kathleen Jolson have continually sued Devil’s Gulch Ranch in Nicasio, challenging it use of a dirt road that crosses their property. Last month, the California Court of Appeal ruled in favor of rancher Mark Pasternak’s continued use of the road, but prohibited him from holding certain special events. Mr. Pasternak and his wife, Miriam, have owned Devil’s Gulch Ranch since 1971 and now raise rabbits and pigs and grow wine grapes and asparagus. Beginning in 2004, the county granted the ranch a use permit to expand operations to include a year-round youth camp. In 2009, Mr. Pasternak applied to amend the permit to allow him to host open houses, educational tours and special events and for the youth camp to be overnight, but the Jolsons, his immediate neighbors, appealed the application to the Board of Supervisors. Mr. Pasternak ultimately dropped the idea of an overnight camp, but in 2010, county supervisors issued him a permit that allowed for the tours, open houses and special events. Then, in 2013, the Jolsons sued the Pasternaks, arguing the operations were overburdening the road. At trial, the Jolsons presented testimony from a neighbor who noted a 90 percent increase in traffic since the 1970s. A traffic and safety expert also testified that the road does not meet minimum state or county standards for a recreational road. According to the Pasternaks, there are 41 round-trips per day to and from their property, of which 30 are likely conducted by residents living on the land. Mr. Pasternak said his new activities resulted in just 208 additional round-trips per year. After numerous appeals and objections from both sides, the court made a final ruling last month, affirming a decision made at the county level last summer that largely favored Devil’s Gulch. The court noted it carefully examined the current uses of the easement and concluded that use for agricultural purposes, ranch access, day camps, small parties and receptions, educational tours and open houses did not overburden the road. The court did, however, rule that the farm-to-table events hosted by an organization called Outstanding in the Field and any use of the road for third-party weddings or other events “were not reasonable.”