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August 11, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Woodside trails and tribulations Woodside trails and tribulations (August 11, 2004)

**Resident sues over public records in dispute over horse-trail swap.

By Andrea Gemmet
Almanac Staff Writer

Woodside officials and town residents Anne and Bob Bass are embroiled in a legal battle over public records requests stemming from a council decision over a contentious exchange of horse-trail easements.

Town Manager Susan George said town staff has spent numerous hours sifting through paperwork and compiling old e-mails to comply with all of the Basses' records requests, but can't comply with their demand for correspondence sent to the homes or businesses of members of the Town Council and other town officials.

"We don't have control over private e-mail," Ms. George said, adding that such correspondence is not considered to be a public document.

Mr. Bass said that, despite numerous requests, it became apparent that the town was not providing all the correspondence regarding the trail application.

"As it is public record to which we are entitled, we have been forced to take legal action," he told the Almanac via e-mail.

As for the trail swap at the root of the controvery?

On paper, it seems simple enough. The Basses want to relocate a dedicated horse trail running east-west through their property that they say passes too close to their home and presents a safety and security risk.

The Basses, with the consent of a couple of adjacent neighbors, built an alternate trail connecting Canada Road with Albion Avenue and requested that town officials abandon the existing horse trail easement in exchange for an easement along the newly constructed trail.

Fast-forward through Trails Committee and Planning Commission meetings, lots of public testimony, a sheaf of petitions and letters for and against the easement swap, and a divisive debate within the equestrian community over which trail is better.

Along with the easement swap, the Basses sought to eliminate another easement for a trail running north-south, but in May, Woodside Town Council members said they wouldn't give up the north-south segment, which forms part of the incomplete Dry Creek Trail.

Not only did they want to keep the existing north-south trail segment, but council members asked for a new easement, a north-south link that would add to the Dry Creek Trail through an adjacent piece of property at 1308 Canada Road also owned by the Basses. Essentially, the council's position was: sweeten the deal and get the east-west trail easement swap.

An added incentive for the council was an existing offer from the next-door neighbor of the Basses' 1308 Canada Road property to give the town a connecting easement, making the Dry Creek Trail that much closer to completion.

The Basses, through their attorney Joan Gallo, protested that the council's 11th hour addition of a new trail easement violated due process, raised constitutional concerns, and ran afoul of the Brown Act.

The request for a new trail easement across 1308 Canada came up at the very end of the meeting and was not properly noticed to the public, Ms. Gallo said in a letter. Mr. Bass was also denied the opportunity to respond to the last-minute condition at the end of the meeting, which adjourned just before midnight.

In July, the council agreed to take up the trail swap issue at a future meeting, reopening the matter.

In the meantime, Ms. George said town staff is mystified as to what the Basses hope to gain from all the public records requests, which include maintenance records for the trail dating back to 1993, all correspondence, complaints and policies on the town's code of ethics since July 2001, and inquiries by the District Attorney's Office into work in a creek or riparian corridor done without proper permits or notification.

"Unless they think there's a big conspiracy, I'm baffled," she said. "I'm 99.9 percent sure that there's nothing out there implicating anybody in a conspiracy or a Brown Act violation."

The time-consuming task is demoralizing, and takes staff away from more productive duties, she said.

"Most of what we gave them was e-mails between us and them," Ms. George said.

Woodside won a minor victory July 27, when a judge denied a so-called ex parte request for a temporary restraining order to prevent town officials from "altering, purging or otherwise destroying" correspondence and e-mails sent to town officials' homes or businesses, said Town Attorney Bob Lanzone.

"They wanted these records to be preserved, but how can we when they're not under our possession or control?" Mr. Lanzone said, adding that besides the First Amendment right to privacy involved, he knows of no evidence that anyone has been doing town business from a home computer.

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