Lawsuit Filed Against City of Mill Valley


By Nell Mitchell

Former Mill Valley Planning Commissioner Victoria Talkington recently filed a lawsuit against the City of Mill Valley, calling for proper protection and public documentation of the public paths, known as the Steps, Lanes and Paths (SLPs). Community members have rallied behind her with a petition for the cause.

The SLPs are pieces of land amidst residential properties that provide public access. The Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce website explains that “The steps, lanes, and paths provide great exercise and a glimpse into the beautiful residential areas of Mill Valley, and many are important evacuation routes in case of emergency.”

Talkington has a long history with the SLPs and has acted as a spokesperson since the early 2000s. Starting in 2004, she led a volunteer group in compiling a map of all the SLPs, a directive outlined in the City’s General Plan. Her group reviewed documents dating back to 1890, before the city was incorporated, and in 2006, finished with a complete map of the city’s network of 175 pathways, trails, bridges, and stair sets. The map is now in its third edition.

“The objective of the [lawsuit] I’m in, it’s a housekeeping one,” Talkington said. “There was all this work done that the city council recognized back in 2006 and [we] produced this map that identifies each of these paths to a whole bunch of documents, but it needs to be clear to the public, and not just to the public, but [city] staff members as well.”

Victoria Talkington stands at the bottom of the Dipsea stairs, one of the paths she is trying to protect.
Photo by Nell Mitchell

Talkington said it wasn’t any one violation that prompted her to take action to protect the paths. She cited many developments she’s noticed in the past few years, including SLP signs missing from 30 percent of the SLPs, lack of maintenance, and multiple instances where the City had failed to mark SLPs on construction permit maps.

After the lawsuit was filed, Gregory Stapanicich, the City of Mill Valley attorney, spoke on behalf of the city to express frustration. “Frankly, we were surprised and disappointed by the lawsuit,” he told the Marin IJ. Talkington found the city’s reaction disingenuous.

“I talked to city staff, who over a course of a couple years were nonresponsive… I mentioned it to a couple of city council members and it wasn’t particularly interesting to them…I talked to the city and let them know that I might, if things didn’t change, have to take a formal action – and nothing happened,” Talkington said.

The Save Our Trails Organization was formed in late October, and members created the petition on now circulating in the community. The petition requests that the city take the SLPs to the Marin County Recorder’s Office and have them officially recorded as public land to ensure the enforcement of their protection. In a month, the petition has received more than 1,800 of its 2,500 signature goal.

Tam Parent Mary Anderson, who lives on Mount Tam, is one of many signees speaking up about why the paths should be protected. “[The SLPs are] an important part of my lifestyle, I think for people who live in the hills it’s a shortcut… I like to use them. It’s a way of keeping relatively fit,” Anderson said.

The City of Mill Valley responded to the community in late November with two posts to the city website. The first post explained the city’s ongoing dedication to the SLPs, highlighting the plans for the future including over $1.5 million that will be designated for SLP maintenance and construction over the next five years. The post further addressed the community and said “much of the concern is unnecessary and the points being repeated are incorrect.”

A second post to the city website came from Mayor John McCauley, echoing the previous post and touching on three main points. “First, the city has heard your concerns,” he wrote. Second, the city Council cares deeply about our SLPs and have a demonstrated commitment to protecting them. Third, the city council has a very clear process for protecting and expanding our SLP’s.”

In response to the posts, Talkington said, “If the money’s there, that’s great, but I’m not convinced that the money will be there. There’s a disconnect between what the city is putting on its website and what’s actually happening…I was sad to read [the city’s] response.”

For now Talkington, and others, await action by the city to record the SLPs, either in response to the petition or as a result of the lawsuit.

The Save Our Trails Organization will hold a meeting on January 25 at 7 p.m. at the Mill Valley Community Center that is open to the public.