Ventura County to consider indemnity for private recreational trails

This is cool: At their next meeting on Tuesday, November 10, 2015, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors will consider an ordinance to provide defense and indemnification to owners of property with dedicated public recreational trails.

ventura county trails

The “Purpose and Intent” section of this proposed ordinance reads:

A quality system of non-motorized recreational trails in the County of Ventura is a valuable public amenity. The County desires to establish a quality trail system that is balanced with a respect for the rights of private property owners. Many property owners are concerned that they will be subject to lawsuits if a person is injured on or adjacent to a trail located on their property. It is the intent of this ordinance to provide defense and indemnification to the grantor of an easement for recreational trail uses which has been or is dedicated to and accepted by the County from all claims, demands, or liability for injury to persons or damage to property that occurs on or adjacent to such trail when used for a recreational purpose, and to the grantor’s successors-in-interest, with certain specified exceptions.

Because state law largely indemnifies property owners who allow public access, the greater value of this ordinance is probably the legal defense aspect. According to Ventura County Counsel Leroy Smith, injured persons frequently file lawsuits against landowners in spite of state statutory protections. The costs of defending against even frivolous claims can be burdensome to an individual landowner. To avoid the headache in the first place, property owners are often reluctant to allow public access across their property. The proposal in which the county would defend the property owner removes that headache. An ordinance like this encourages trail development across private property, which means more access for Joe Citizen. Hooray!

First reading takes place on November 10 at the Board of Supervisors Meeting at the County Government Center Hall of Administration, Board of Supervisors Hearing Room, 800 S. Victoria Avenue, Ventura, California 93009. Although the meeting officially begins at 8:30 AM, the board recesses for another function, and will reconvene at approximately 3 PM.

A second reading and (anticipated) adoption is scheduled for December 8, 2015.

If you can’t show up at the Board of Supervisors meeting in person, you can find contact information for the Ventura County Supervisors here.

Read the full text of the proposed defense and indemnification ordinance here [PDF]. The Ventury County lawyer’s background and information is provided here [also PDF].

Trail map from Ventura County Trails.

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