WatchSonoma Watch

Sebastopol first to test proposed ‘vulnerable users’ law



A push to make it easier in Sonoma County for bicyclists and pedestrians to sue drivers who threaten or harass them will get its first test Tuesday when a proposed

Michael Kyes (PD FILE, 2010)

ordinance goes before the Sebastopol City Council.

The council will hold a public hearing starting at 7 p.m. on the “vulnerable road users” ordinance, which is being promoted countywide by the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

“The reason we need it is, from a bicycling perspective, it is usually a blissful experience to ride in Sonoma County, but sometimes people are harassed, and it happens enough and it is dangerous enough that we feel it is important to take action,” said Sandra Lupien, the coalition’s director of outreach.

The coalition and other local bicycle advocates took up the cause this summer after a series of fatal and serious car crashes in the county involving cyclists and pedestrians.

Mayor Michael Kyes said the ordinance is a good fit for Sebastopol.

“I think we are sort of receptive of protecting bicycles and pedestrians,” he said. “That is one of our goals — to make the city more friendly for walking and riding a bicycle — and this is a step in that direction.”

The proposed ordinance defines what harassment is and sets up a procedure for the injured party, whether it is a cyclist, pedestrian, jogger or skateboard rider, to bring a lawsuit against the aggressor, which could be a motorist or even a cyclist.

“People riding bicycles, walking and those with disabilities have a right to use our public roadways, trails and sidewalks in peace,” said a report by Sebastopol’s city staff. “However, these vulnerable users are frequently the target of dangerous harassment.”

The report says drivers purposefully swerve at bicycle riders and pedestrians, threaten them, throw soda cans at them and sometimes even shoot at them.

The Sebastopol proposal is meant to provide a legal recourse for pedestrians, cyclists, roller skaters, skateboarders and the impaired, according to the staff report.

The proposal targets such harassment as attempted physical assault and physical assault; verbal threats of assault; intentional injury or attempts to injure; distracting or attempting to distract a bicyclist, pedestrian or others; forcing someone off the street; passing at an unsafe distance of less than three feet; and failing to yield to a pedestrian walking or running along a road, crossing the road or crossing a public sidewalk or pathway.

“Harassing people is already illegal, and if there were police resources available to deal with it all, this ordinance wouldn’t be necessary, or if people behaved properly,” Kyes said.

He said an ordinance will not stop accidents from happening, but “it should get people to pay a little more attention.”

While the coalition hopes to get the ordinance passed by all cities and the county, the Sebastopol council is the first to introduce an ordinance.

“It will only take effect in those jurisdictions that adopt it,” Lupien said. “It is a decision that is to be made by the elected body in each jurisdiction, but we would like to see it adopted by each elected body so no matter where you bike or walk in Sonoma County, you have this protection.”

Similar ordinances have been passed in Berkeley, Sunnyvale, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has indicated support for an ordinance.

Only a half dozen people spoke when the Sebastopol council first discussed the issue in November, including cyclists who recounted harassment by motorists and critics who said existing civil and criminal laws offer sufficient protection. Afterward, the council directed the city’s staff to come up with a proposed ordinance.

Supporters say the proposed ordinance is intended to fill perceived gaps in criminal prosecution, which has a higher standard of proof and requires such things as positive identification of the driver.

“I am not sure how many people to expect, how many people will speak (at the hearing). It will be interesting,” Lupien said. “This will be an opportunity to see what level of interest the public has in the ordinance.”

Tuesday’s council meeting will be held in the Sebastopol Youth Annex.

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.norberg@pressdemocrat.com.

14 Responses to “Sebastopol first to test proposed ‘vulnerable users’ law”

  1. Over Easy says:

    It is time for Cyclists to be required to have a valid operators license, register their vehicles, and display license plates so they too can be reported for their violations and identified when they misbehave.

    Think of all the revenue it will generate to “improve the roads, and pay for the traffic enforcement and so on.

    Just keeping the playing field level.

  2. Mac E. Velli says:

    Pedestrians and motorists will be carrying video cameras and will film you when:

    You run red lights and stop signs
    You roar down a trail in Annadel barely missing a hiker
    You race down a sidewalk
    You ride down the wrong side of the street
    You ride 5 abreast in Oakmont, crossing the yellow line
    You arrogantly flip off drivers for passing you
    You treat the streets and trails as your personal work-out course

    Problem? Bicyclists are not identifiable. They rely on anonymity.
    Solution? Require bicyclists to wear numbers on their jerseys as they do when racing. Each cyclist will be registered at the local Police Department. No registration, no claim. PERIOD.

    Pedestrians are the most vulnerable and they are regularly endangered by cyclists. USE YOUR VIDEO CAMERAS.

    Mac E. Velli signing off, sayin’: No more thuggery.

  3. Jay says:

    I had a guy cycle through a red light right in front of me today at 4th and D in SR…

    So when i shouted “you’re gonna get yourself killed”, I can be sued?


  4. Skippy says:

    Lawsuits vs. bumpers. Who do you think will win?

  5. Snarky says:

    Warning to psycho drivers who think they can escape prosecution, either civil or criminal, by attempting the “he said, she said” defense.

    Many bike riders routinely have helmet cameras to record their ride now… or bike mounted video cameras for the same purpose.

    Video says a LOT when you are caught engaging in illegal activity. If you don’t believe that, just ask any cop who has been caught in criminality recorded on video. They’ll tell you. :)

  6. Law Guy says:

    One major flaw with this: Unless the biker/pedestrian/skateboarder is recording the incident with a cellphone, Go Pro camera, or some other device, it becomes a battle of what 2 sides say. What will stop anyone from filing a suit against a driver for no reason? Honesty? We all know that’s a laugh. This now allows “legal” harassment from those who alledgedly need protection, and for anyone who has ever been involved in any court case, large or small, it’s amazing how witnesses, who presumedly would be a large factor, can recall events with perfect clarity, even when they weren’t actually there to “witness” anything. This is a nightmare just waiting to unfold, and basing it first in Sebastopol is a major mistake.

  7. Nora Gonzales says:

    Another nanny state law designed to protect more “victims” in the mother of all nanny states, California. It is both unenforceable and unconstitutional.

    Does the poor driver get the citation when the cyclist blows through a stop sign in front of him/her, flips him/her off, and rides away down the street in his/her spandex?

  8. mixed nuts says:

    “However, these vulnerable users are frequently the target of dangerous harassment.”

    Mayor “smoke and mirrors” Kyes, is trying to make a name for himself at the expense of the greater community.
    If he was really concerned about harassment, he would expel the occupy tent in the town square like every other city in the nation did long ago.
    The Occupy group, now just a lone rough looking individual, camped illegally in the town square, with the blessing of Sebastopol city council, is being allowed to stay free of charge (over $140,000.00) worth so far) and has not been required to get liability insurance like everyone else, regularly harasses people who are peacefully trying to do their banking or speak at a city council meeting.
    They have threatened a security officer at a bank with violent action, been arrested and come right back to their sanctioned free propaganda tent site right under the councils approving noses, and very near several elementary and high schools. They have drummed up hatred for those they demonize and displayed signs declaring that chase bank is public enemy #1, etc. This is a dangerous situation that the council, including Kyes, voted for and lets stand to this day.

    The council dictates to the police chief to ignore the laws it decides don’t fit their agenda, and enacts new ones that are questionable, at best.
    This will be the dumbest thing they have done (excluding the Occupy nonsense) since they enacted a leaf blower ban for all of two weeks before residents and business owners showed up to express overwhelming dissent.

    If people don’t show up in opposition to this, they should be prepared to go 10 m.p.h. or less for as long as it takes the bicycle riders to get to their destination, and there is still no guarantee that one of them won’t be offended by something you did or didn’t do to accommodate them.

  9. roscoe beauregard says:

    pulled over…yes, was living near santa rosa ave and south ‘A: street, made a quick ride across street with my bicycle, and was given a ticket…BEEN THERE…I was a very careful rider, and it was late in the evening, little traffic at Santa Rosa Ave.. @ Bennett Valley Road…heading up to near Willie Birds…lived in a loft near by… Rev. RoscoeBeauregard (face book)…

  10. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    ‘Thumbs Up’, Brad, for your post. In my travels in this county, sometimes it’s almost unfathomable what I see with bicyclists.

    Almost none obey any traffic laws, and drive by a school zone and watch just how many children don’t even wear a helmet. The police go to town citing unbuckled drivers but turn a blind-eye to bicyclists with no helmets and not stopping at red-lights and stop signs.

    The ‘harassment’ that is mentioned in the article runs both ways, in part because the bicyclist that rides in an unsafe manner doesn’t want to be reprimanded for it. Tap your horn as a warning and the bicyclist usually responds with one hand and one finger… doesn’t matter that they just blew through the stop sign, usually more than one… since you’re in the car and their on a bike, the traffic laws only apply to you.

    Shame on drivers who intentionally harass bicyclists, but shame on the bicyclists that ride unsafely and promote driver rage.

  11. Sonoma Gone Crazy says:

    Hooray for the Cyclists!!! Protect their rights!!! At the same time, please make them obey the same laws that vehicles have to follow. See those stop signs? They are for you too! Riding 2, 3, or 4 wide on country lanes with blind curves looking at the pretty vineyards. You are just as bad as the tourist in cars! Cyclists on their cell phones gabbing or texting, you are just as distracted as the guy in his car!

    When was the last time anyone has seen a cyclist pulled over for a ticket? Personally I can’t remember. When was the last time I saw a car? This morning.

  12. Grapevines says:

    There are enough laws already to deal with this issue without making new ones. Enforce the one that are already there like making bicyclist obey traffic laws. Do just that and you will see the level of animosity towards bike riders decrease significantly.

    Or just contribute to the downwards spiral towards the “Nanny-State” we are already well on the road to becoming.

    Be sure that in your meeting you don’t voice the opinion that someone on the bicycle collation is “clueless’” Look how much trouble that got the mayor of Santa Rosa into. Sure would hate to hurt anyone’s feelings now.

  13. Jim says:

    Open the litigation floodgates!!

    Creating ordinances to enforce government’s view of utopia is out of hand.

  14. Brad says:

    Well, lets hope car drivers can also sue bicyclists that create hazardous road conditions by not obeying any laws. The lawyers will be even more gleeful.