YMCA Sues Homeowners for Land Strip

Photo by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK YMCA of the Foothills and neighboring property owners are in a dispute over a piece of land on Foothill Boulevard. Homeowners fear loss of access to the YMCA entrance on Foothill Boulevard would force emergency vehicles to use a dirt road next to it.
Photo by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK
YMCA of the Foothills and neighboring property owners are in a dispute over a piece of land on Foothill Boulevard. Homeowners fear loss of access to the YMCA entrance on Foothill Boulevard would force emergency vehicles to use a dirt road next to it.

The YMCA of the Foothills is suing about two dozen neighboring property owners and a homeowners association to gain the title to a piece of land that the organization says has essentially belonged to it for decades.
The YMCA claims to be the rightful owner of the strip of land at 1930 Foothill Blvd. — near the YMCA’s Crescenta Cañada location — and seeks a jury trial, according to court documents.
Some homeowners, however, believe the property is owned by the city of La Cañada Flintridge, and both sides have been battling in court, in hearings and through motions and documents filed since late last year. According to the Los Angeles County Superior Court website, a case management conference is set for 8:30 a.m. Thursday, June 20, in Los Angeles.
Anita Brenner, an attorney for the Village People Homeowners Association, said she does not comment on pending litigation.
The dispute occurs amid the YMCA’s efforts to carry out a major expansion that would include a parking structure and a three-story building. The plan has encountered opposition from neighbors, who fear that expansion will make it harder for emergency vehicles to reach their homes.
The YMCA’s complaint, known as a quiet title lawsuit, was filed with the Superior Court on Nov. 7. A quiet title lawsuit is used for establishing property titles.
Originally, the complaint named Jay Schieffelin and Emma Schieffelin, property owners who are now deceased, as defendants, along with any others who claimed the land in dispute. The lawsuit states the Schieffelins are the last known owners of the property and had no children or personal representatives.
On Dec. 31, the Village People group filed a motion to intervene — that is, to join the lawsuit for property interests — and the court granted it on Feb. 22.
Tyler Wright, CEO for the YMCA of the Foothills, issued a statement Tuesday that included background on the issue.
“A few years ago, the YMCA began planning to implement a multi-phase project to improve access to our facility here in La Cañada Flintridge,” Wright said. “The YMCA started the application process to get the necessary permit from La Cañada and in response the city informed the YMCA we would have to obtain a court order confirming the YMCA’s title to a narrow strip of its parking lot which runs along Foothill Boulevard and which has been part of our YMCA parking lot for the past 50 years.”
Wright said “the only way” to obtain the title was to take a quiet title action and the organization did so last November. According to L.A. County records the YMCA found, the last known owners of the strip were the Schieffelins, Wright said.
The YMCA did not name any other neighbors as defendants and asked the court to order that the organization owns the narrow strip of land, based on its use and possession for the last 58 years, he said.
In January, Wright added, owners of 14 residential lots to the west of the YMCA’s property asked the judge to be considered voluntary defendants as an association they formed to oppose YMCA’s quiet title action.
On Monday, the YMCA filed an amended complaint naming the association and each of its 14 member homeowners as defendants, as requested by their attorney, Wright said.
According to court documents filed by the homeowners association, a paved portion of what is referred to as the old Michigan Road is shared by the Village People and the YMCA as “an entrance for ingress and egress.” A document cites multiple cases that it claims make the point that “the land that is claimed by the YMCA is owned by the public entity. There was a common law dedication of the land to the city.”
Wright said the YMCA has never asked neighbors to stop using its west driveway or taken any action to block or restrict their use of the driveway.
One of the homeowners, Mark Hunter, believes the YMCA wants to take away the small property for the driveway to build a parking structure at the front of the property. The acquisition would force residents and public safety officials to use a small dirt entrance nearby, a prospect that alarms homeowners.
“If they had the title, they could build a wall across it,” Hunter said of the west driveway. “It would put us in a complicated situation by suing for easement. That would be protracted and expensive.”
In mid-January, a hearing on the expansion project, which includes the parking structure, was pulled from the Planning Commission’s agenda. Susan Koleda, the city’s director of community development, said on Tuesday that was because a property owner on Rancho Cañada Road west of the YMCA had withdrawn consent for a lot line adjustment.
The expansion would include adding a 38-foot-tall, 24,500-square-foot parking structure on the lower parking area at the front of the property. A second phase includes replacing the old East building with a new three-story structure. The changes are projected to take place over a five- to six-year period.
Koleda said there was no anticipated date when the issue will be back before the commission. Because the homeowner’s driveway goes over the location of the proposed expansion, consent is needed to go forward with the project, Koleda said.
LCF is aware of the quiet title lawsuit, she said, but is not a party to it.
“It was a condition that the quiet title had to be finalized before any kind of permit could be issued,” Koleda said. “Any grading or building or a permit.”
According to an amended complaint filed on April 24, the YMCA’s claim to the title is based on “adverse possession” of the property for more than five years and its exemption from paying taxes against the property. Adverse possession is sometimes referred to as squatter’s rights.
The YMCA said it believes none of the defendants claim an interest in the property and if any have claims, they have died, abandoned the claimed interest or attempted to transfer their interest to the plaintiff.
“Each of the defendants’ potential adverse claims are without any right or merit whatsoever,” the YMCA says in its complaint.
Said Hunter: “It’s our opinion it currently belongs to the city, but that’s under legal debate.”
Hunter said he is worried the YMCA will force emergency vehicles to use the dirt driveway that “has unsafe ingress and egress on Foothill, and that’s unacceptable to us residents. We want the same level of public safety that we have experienced during the last 40 years of using the shared driveway.”
Koleda said she believes LCF does not own the land because governmental agencies typically did not own easements.
“We had the right to use it for the road,” Koleda said. “We didn’t own the land.”

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