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By Theo Douglas/The Californian
BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The kids are grown -- including her middle child, Ward 7 Councilman Russell Johnson -- the grape-stake back fence is gone, and the infamous Amberton-Stockdale wall has divided her home since June from nearby Stockdale Estates.
But Mary Lou Parker still remembers why she bought her 1970s modern house, in the 7300 block of Outingdale Court.
"It's because it's open. The openness and the stone fireplace and the columns out front," Parker said Friday, 35 years to the day since she first found her place. "It was just like a little Norman Rockwell cul-de-sac type neighborhood. We found it on Thanksgiving weekend and we moved in for Christmas."
A new generation with children of its own is now buying houses in her southwest neighborhood, seeking that same family atmosphere. But veteran homeowners like Parker say things changed the day Stockdale Estates homeowner Michael Hansen built the wall separating the Outingdale Court cul-de-sac from one in the 7300 block of Calle Privada.
That day was June 14 and it was legal, according to the existing law, because while the walkway on the Amberton side was recorded as public property in city documents, the concrete path on the Stockdale Estates side never was, and remains part of Hansen's land.
Unhappy with the loss of a 35-year public access point they've used to exercise, send kids to school, and meet their neighbors, a group of residents calling itself the Amberton-Stockdale Alliance sued Hansen, his father, Dan, and 20 unidentified defendants in August seeking a preliminary injunction to "enjoin Defendants from blocking or otherwise inhibiting or limiting ... the public's use of the Passageway," and an "implied common law dedication of public easement."
The case comes to Superior Court briefly Monday for an order to show cause, which attorneys for both sides said is a technicality that might not even be heard.
It's a case of private property rights versus public access that pits Hansen, a former Amberton resident, against homeowners in Stockdale Estates and in his former subdivision.
At issue is whether the walkway connecting Outingdale Drive to Calle Privada should have been closed in the first place.
Hansen, who according to his attorney Murray Tragish moved into his grandmother's former house around 2006, had the wall built June 14 after experiencing three home burglaries, at least one theft and nearly hitting a motorcyclist who rode along the walk into Stockdale Estates.
Hansen did not respond to requests for comment.
The online service crimemapping.com, which can be accessed through the Bakersfield Police Department's website, shows both Amberton and Stockdale Estates experienced one crime so far this month, an assault in each instance.
The path was heavily used by walkers, runners, bicyclists and students who took it to class at Stockdale Elementary School in Stockdale Estates, and Actis Junior High School to the southeast.
After the wall went up, officials with the Panama-Buena Vista Union School District added a third bus stop in Amberton to help students get to school.
Opponents say it has physically and figuratively divided the two subdivisions.
"I don't care about what he says about a crime increase, it's about dividing or uniting these communities. They want to divide them, and they've been united communities for 30 years," said Alliance attorney Michael T. Whittington, noting that having a passage between the two subdivisions made the area a useable bicycle route. "Which of those two concepts is in line with the way the city of Bakersfield is moving?"
"It definitely makes me a little sad, 'cause my son's getting to that age ... when my oldest boy and his friends started going back and forth to their friends' houses on their bikes," said Keri Taylor Mikkelsen, an Amberton resident since age 12 and a plaintiff. "It really connects the neighborhoods, and when the kids get to high school, all those neighborhoods are going to Bakersfield High School together."
Amberton resident Bryan Bell, a moderator of the Amberton-Stockdale Alliance's Facebook page, a rallying point for wall opponents, said residents remain hopeful the passageway will reopen.
"Every time I jog around the neighborhood, I'm stopped by one or two people. Everybody knows there's a case going on or that is in the works," Bell said. "There's not a lot of sadness about the wall getting closed. It's more we'll wait and see how this plays in the court. Everybody seems hopeful."
Some in Amberton say they understand why Hansen built the wall, and agree with him -- even Parker's husband, Lonnie.
"The reason that he walled that place up was because of malicious activities. I understand why he did what he did," Lonnie Parker said, noting that their truck had been burglarized, too. "The criminal elements used that wall to escape, that part I understand. But he took away a lot of ... ."
The wall removed evidence of a time when children played outside and rode bikes or skateboards to friends' houses.
And in the eyes of at least one neighbor, Amberton is no safer now.
"It's dead. Now, anybody who would come down here (to commit malfeasance) would know nobody is going to come along here and see them doing anything, because it's blocked off," said 32-year Amberton homeowner Lorie Fox, who has added security screens to her house since the wall went up. "People came down through here all the time and the West High School track team would run through here, and now they know nobody's going to see them."
Attorney Ray Mullen, who jointly represents Hansen, questions whether taking the wall down would make school children any safer.
"They're not endangered. It's just kind of a red herring," Mullen said. "There's no evidence that they've been endangered during the past three-and-a-half months."
One Stockdale Estates resident said the wall's construction may have improved the area.
"All I can say is, it's probably more quiet, but the people in Amberton are wonderful people," said Joan Dezember, a neighbor of Hansen.
"They did a very good job and I don't blame them one iota," said B.J. Tornstrom, who lives in the 7500 block of Calle Sagrada. "If their kids have to walk around, well, it's still the guy's property."
"I haven't heard anything since the wall went in. But I am not on the spot, so it doesn't affect us," said resident Bruce Groefsema, who lives in the 1500 block of Calle Castana, to the southwest. "Whatever the law is, the law is, and I'll probably support that. Legally, does (the walkway) create an easement? If it does, then it does."