Who Owns the Streets?


March, 2001

In 1890 the Tamalpais Land & Water Company (TL&WC) started selling properties that are today part of Mill Valley, Almonte and Homestead Valley. Subdivision maps located lots and larger parcels as well as streets. In addition, lanes were established to connect some of the streets in the hills. For example, someone living on Molino in Mill Valley could walk down the Heuters Lane steps, turn left on Ethel and then go down the Miller Lane steps to get to the train depot. This route was a lot faster than getting the horse and buggy out of the barn and driving to the depot on the streets.

1890s-tlwIn most California subdivisions lot ownership extends out to the middle of the street even though it is a public right of way. However, TL&WC specified, “the lots do not include any fee title to streets, avenues, lanes, alleys, paths, passage ways, roads and boulevards.” TL&WC dedicated these streets, lanes, etc. for public use which the public agency was invited to accept. In 1909 the town of Mill Valley accepted only those streets, lanes, etc. that were at that time used and traveled over by the public which “means such use by vehicles drawn by horses or mules, or propelled by steam, electricity or any other power, and does not include use by bicycles, pedestrians or persons on horseback.” Many have still not been accepted.

TL&WC had been chartered as a 100-year corporation in 1888 and therefore had to go out of business in 1988. It had sold all the lots and parcels on its subdivision maps, but it still owned most of the streets, lanes, etc. Their 1988 quitclaim deed says, “TL&WC do hereby remise, release and forever quitclaim to The Homestead Valley Land Trust any and all rights, titles, and interests it has, or may have, in any real property, whether represented by fee ownership, easements, streets, lanes, alleys, thoroughfares, and/or any other real property interests, laying within the boundaries of the County of Marin.”

In 1995 the Homestead Valley Land Trust (HVLT) hired a title specialist to list the properties it had acquired by accepting TL&WC’s quitclaim deed. It was discovered that HVLT owned most of the streets and lanes not only in Homestead Valley, but also in Almonte and the city of Mill Valley.

In 1998, the County of Marin accepted an HVLT quitclaim deed conveying streets in Homestead and Almonte that are maintained by the County Public Works Dept. and certain paper streets adjacent to County Open Space Land. HVLT still owns many lanes, paper streets and vehicular streets not maintained by the county. Since July 1999, HVLT has been negotiating with the City of Mill Valley to accept a similar quitclaim deed conveying 50 streets, 11 lanes and 19 trails in Mill Valley that HVLT owns.

If you have comments or questions about this article or other topics
pertaining to the history of Homestead Valley,
please feel free to e-mail Chuck Oldenburg.