Famed songwriter Jackson Browne wrestling property dispute in Santa Cruz Superior Court

File image of a judge's gavel
(Via Pixabay)

It’s a three-year-long battle that pits Jackson Browne’s property rights against his neighbors’ want for a construction easement. The case, centered on Porter Gulch Road in Aptos, should be resolved late this week or early next week.

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Famous names come through Santa Cruz every now and again.

You might see George Lopez on the schedule for a gig at Kaiser Permanente Arena, or even a legend like Bob Dylan gracing the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. But it’s far less common to see a celebrity name pop up in a court hearing.

Starting this week, singer-songwriter Jackson Browne will be in Santa Cruz Superior Court as he deals with a property dispute that dates back to May 2019. On Monday, Judge Timothy Volkmann determined that the matter would be handled in a court trial without a jury. Disputes regarding easements are not typically tried in front of a jury, according to Volkmann, and he ruled against the defense team’s request for a jury trial.

The case pertains specifically to Browne’s driveway. While he does not live on the property, he has owned it since 1982.

singer-songwriter Jackson Browne during a concert
(Via @jacksonbrowne / Instagram)

The plaintiffs, Christopher Wheeler and Sarah Claus, purchased a property adjacent to Browne’s on Porter Gulch Road in Aptos in 2018. According to the official complaint, the plaintiffs have been in the early stages of building a home on this property since 2019. They can access their property using Browne’s driveway — their only point of entry — and that entry for their vehicles is not contested.

However, the issue centers on whether Wheeler and Claus can use the driveway for construction vehicles in order to continue building their home.

Around March 2019, Browne and his son Ethan, who lived in the Browne property at the time, threatened to put a fence and gate along the Browne property that would block access to the driveway, according to the complaint. Browne asserts that the driveway does not fall within the boundaries of one of the property’s easements, or a right of accommodation to another’s property.

Instead, the defense team says the driveway within the easement is actually a logging trail toward the bottom of the boundary. Ken Gorman, the attorney representing Wheeler and Claus, says that can’t be true.

“The logging trail wasn’t there until 1980, so when the deed was written in 1975, it could not have been the existing driveway, and it doesn’t make sense anyways,” he said.

The trial is scheduled to being Tuesday at 10 a.m. The counsel and the judge do not anticipate the trial to last more than several days, and expect to wrap the matter up by the end of next week.

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