Gate atop El Granada Boulevard
Some El Granada residents take issue with Sean O’Neill’s gate, which they say keeps them from accessing public lands beyond. Adam Pardee / Review

El Granada resident Sean O'Neill said he’s been trying to stop trespassing on his property for years. Now, one neighbor wants to find out who owns the land and what rights El Granadans have to access it.

O'Neill bought the last property atop El Granada Boulevard in 1993, but said the issue didn’t really begin until the early 2000s. That’s when he donated around 500 acres to Peninsula Open Space Trust, but maintained control over the two access gates at the road’s end. POST later turned over management of the nearby open space to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

O'Neill said after his neighbors learned about the new open space beyond his gates, they began accessing it through his property. With that, O'Neill said, came vandalism of his trees, columns and water tanks, even draining thousands of gallons of water.

“It’s really a shame because there are a lot of good people and a few bad eggs,” O'Neill said.

O'Neill said trespassing on his property has increased this year during the COVID-19 pandemic. He wants to work with POST, GGNRA and San Mateo County Parks to put up more permanent signage and to direct trail users to the official trail entrances lower down the hill.

“Those signs have vanished, and now nothing is being done to protect our privacy,” O'Neill said. “... There has to be a line.”

After his most recent attempts to close off access to the property — a new “No Trespassing” sign and metal bars across a gap in the fence — some neighbors are getting frustrated.

El Granada resident Susannah Cantrell is one neighbor who thinks the access point should be open to the public. She wants to find out the truth about just which pieces of the land belong to whom, and is hoping to secure a prescriptive easement that grants El Granadans access to the hiking and biking trails beyond the left gate.

“It feels like, on a smaller scale, the whole Martin’s Beach thing,” Cantrell said. “It's unjust.”

Cantrell said she’s heard from neighbors that they consider the trails beyond the gate as a backup escape route that could be accessed by foot or bike should El Granada be threatened by a fire. Plus, the official access points to the Rancho Corral de Tierra open space owned by GGNRA aren’t accessible to the many families that regularly use the trails.

In an email to the Review, a GGNRA spokesperson confirmed that the gate is not on its property and that the surrounding area is not an official access point to the recreation area. POST and County Parks did not respond to a request for comment.

The back-and-forth between the property owner attempting to enforce the closure and neighbors cutting through the gate has been going on for a long time, Midcoast Community Council member Dave Olson said.

“Because the landowner keeps trying to enforce (the closure), I think prescriptive easement won’t work,” Olson said. “That’s really the question.”

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