Closing arguments end in Jackson Browne property dispute trial; statement of decision expected in December

The Santa Cruz County courthouse.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Closing arguments from both sides of the Jackson Browne property dispute concluded on Wednesday morning. Judge Timothy Volkmann is set to issue a statement of decision by Dec. 12.

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The Jackson Browne driveway saga is one step closer to its end, as both sides made their closing arguments Wednesday in a Santa Cruz courtroom. Judge Timothy Volkmann will issue a statement of decision on or before Dec. 12 before a final ruling.

The singer-songwriter has been wrapped up since 2019 in a property dispute with plaintiffs Christopher Wheeler and Sarah Claus, centering on whether construction vehicles can use Browne’s driveway to access land owned by Wheeler and Claus in order to build a house. The driveway is Wheeler and Claus’ only entry point to their property, which sits adjacent to Browne’s on Porter Gulch Road in Aptos.

Browne’s argument is that the driveway is not within the property’s easements, and therefore Wheeler and Claus do not have a right to use it. Instead, the singer’s lawyers make the case that the easement includes a logging trail rather than the driveway.

In a closing argument, Wheeler and Claus’ attorney, Ken Gorman, asked the court to recognize the easement the pair argues is contained in the deed to their property — which includes access to Browne’s driveway. Gorman also asked the court to issue an injunction prohibiting Browne from blocking access to their property or interfering with their use of the driveway.

Browne’s attorney, Larry Iser, argued that the court should rule:

  • that the plaintiffs cannot alter or modify the driveway;
  • that the driveway does not actually comply with one or more county or fire regulations, and because of that, the new house should not be built;
  • that the proposed construction constitutes a nuisance — a substantial interference with the use of one’s property. In his testimony, Browne said that construction vehicles would create unwanted noise and intrude on the solitude of the property.

In a rebuttal, Gorman said that it is likely true that the driveway does not comply with some county regulations, but the court should not make a decision on the matter before the county or fire marshal makes their own determination.

“It is not at all uncommon for the fire marshal to grant permits to driveways even if they do not comply with code,” he told Lookout, adding that the fire marshal has been very conscientious in weighing fire safety against practicality and economic feasibility. “It’s important that the fire marshal has the flexibility to decide what is best and what is required.”

If Browne wins the case, Wheeler and Claus would have to use the logging trail to access their property to build the home rather than the driveway. Given the cost of making that logging trail compliant with county regulations — upwards of $800,000, they say — a Browne win would effectively prevent construction.

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