Road Vacation


A road vacation is the undoing of the creation of a public road.
The Streets and Highways Code, starting with section 8300, provides a process for vacating a road upon a finding that the road is "unnecessary for present or prospective public use."

The Courts

The courts have expressed a number of principles regarding road vacations, such as:
  • A road vacation must be in the public interest.
  • The public interest must arise from the vacation itself, not from the future use to which the vacated land is put.
  • A road may not be vacated for exclusive private use.
  • Cities and counties may not sell or barter away roads.
  • The courts may declare an illegal vacation void.
Numerous cases can be found reiterating these principles. For example, you can search for 'road vacation' on Google Scholar.

Example Cases

The circumstances of the cases below are not the same as those of past Indian Head Ranch road vacation proposals. Nonetheless, the cases illustrate basic principles of road vacations.

1994_CAGE_v_WhitleyHeightsCA_anno.pdfA fairly recent case involving gating of public roads by a homeowners association. Discusses the right of the people of the state to use public roads.
1928_People_v_CityOfSanRafael_anno.pdfAny private benefit of a vacation must be incidental.
1923_People_v_CityOfLosAngeles_anno.pdf "...a street or alley cannot be vacated for a private use, that is, forthe purpose of devoting it to the exclusive use and benefit of aprivate person or corporation, but it may only be vacated to promotethe public welfare."
Also, the courts may set aside an illegal vacation.
1894_Horton_v_Williams_anno.pdf A Michigan case that is cited in several California cases. "Theadvantage which the public derives from the discontinuance of a waymust arise from the vacation itself rather than from the use to whichthe property is put...."

Want another opinion? Read this 2004 report from the City of Malibu to see what Malibu's City Attorney thinks.

Proposed Vacation of Roads within Indian Head Ranch

The County of San Diego mailed notice of the pending vacation of roads within Indian Head Ranch to nearby property owners in March of 2008. As mentioned in the notice, the proposal excluded some portions of right of way that had been included in a similar 2003 proposal.

The County closed the file on the proposed vacation according to these letters to TRS Consultants.


Annotations, typically in red, have been added to some of the documents referenced above. The annotations reflect my personal interpretation as do the comments above.