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Santa Rosa passes cyclist protection law


Cyclists, walkers, joggers and skate boarders in the city of Santa Rosa now have a clear path in civil court to sue a person who assaults or harasses them.

The Santa Rosa City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt a “vulnerable user protection” ordinance aimed at deterring dangerous and harassing behavior.

CyclistCouncilwoman Erin Carlstrom said the ordinance emphasizes that Santa Rosa is a safe place for bikers and walkers “while empowering residents to defend their own rights — I’m thrilled.”

The city joined Sebastopol and Sonoma County, which also adopted measures that establish a way for people defined as “vulnerable users” to seek civil court damages against a driver, cyclist, pedestrian or anyone who harasses or assaults them.

Council members in Healdsburg and Windsor rejected similar measures.

Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, said that it was important for Santa Rosa to adopt the ordinance because about half of the harassment complaints the group receives originate in the city.

“This ordinance goes a great length toward sending a message,” Helfrich said.

The bicycle coalition was the main group behind the proposal, which was also supported by the Santa Rosa Police Department.

In addition to Helfrich, two people spoke in support of the ordinance during the public comment period. No one spoke against it.

“Bicyclists and pedestrians, we are indeed vulnerable,” Barbara Moulton, 65, of Santa Rosa said. “The vast majority of motorists are courteous, but there is a small, dangerous minority that seem to consider us fair game.”

Critics of the ordinance, including Healdsburg and Windsor city leaders, have said that laws already exist that protect walkers and cyclists. They also questioned whether an ordinance could lead to frivolous lawsuits.

Carlstrom, an attorney, said she “wholeheartedly disagreed” with those criticisms during an interview after Tuesday’s hearing.

The burden of proof for a criminal case is too high for the majority of harassment cases, she said.

The Santa Rosa ordinance, like Sebastopol’s, paves the way for a prevailing party to seek triple monetary damages. Carlstrom said that the possibility of facing triple damages gives a prevailing party needed clout, and she offered an example of a motorist intentionally swerving into a cyclist and scuffing the bike. While the damage may be minimal, the action was truly dangerous.

“It encourages people to protect their rights and sends a message that people shouldn’t engage in dangerous behavior,” Carlstrom said.

Laws guiding county government prevented the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors from including that provision. The county’s ordinance leaves that up to a court’s discretion.

The Santa Rosa council passed the ordinance on the same day that a judge sentenced an 82-year-old Santa Rosa driver who chased and then rammed a cyclist to spend five years in a secure facility that specializes in treating dementia.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

13 Responses to “Santa Rosa passes cyclist protection law”

  1. Snarky says:

    Check out the photo of the absolutely poor conditions of local roads.

    Oh, well.

    The public employees all get to retire at age 50 with lifetime public employee pensions while the rest of us have to wait an additional 17 years to get social security.

    Thats where our taxes goes. Every year,,, the public employees steal our money and grant it to themselves.

    They even refuse to comply with Federal ADA laws that require them to repair sidewalks… as they attempt to lie and fool property owners into believing that the ADA repairs are the burden of the taxpayers.

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  2. The Hammer says:

    Another sad event.

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  3. Larry Watkins says:

    Another protected group! Just what is needed. Along with the one-eyed silver legged moth and other creatures. Hope theses new “victims” enjoy the company.

    Isn’t it great we live in a socialist bubble that protects all of life’s “victims” from common sense.

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  4. homegirl says:

    @Chris from Santa Rosa. The fact is very few renters have renter’s insurance. So, the cyclist is “judgement proof” unless they own real property. As said by many-cyclists should be licensed, tested, insured and be required to have an identifyong plate on the rear of the bicycle. If you want to be on the road you must be responsible.

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  5. Skippy says:

    Another Big Govt program to divide the citizenry into classes that can then be punished or rewarded as our masters see fit. The deliberate Balkanization of America helps Big Govt control the masses by pitting them against each other in a fight over the crumbs left after the taxman empties your pantry. Rise up; resist; revolt.

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  6. R.B. Fish says:

    This is all political. There is no sense to the Vulnerable users act. The loud mouth environmentalists backed by the attorneys are being paid back for their vote.

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  7. Chris from Santa Rosa says:

    Rick, what recourse do you have when a motorist rolls through a stop sign? Also too, there is nothing in the vehicle code that says that cyclists must ride single-file, nor are they required to ride on the shoulder.

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  8. Rick says:

    What recourse do motorists have with continued non-rule complying bike riders, meaning riding abreast blocking the lane, not stopping at stop signs causing drivers to react abruptly, and other ongoing issues with bicyclists? I know, not all bicyclists are guilty, so don’t get exited! They haven’t got a plate number to write down. I agree with Roxy about made up stuff. Who’s word will be taken?

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  9. Chris from Santa Rosa says:

    Pat, the new ordinance also protects pedestrians and other non-motorized traffic. In the extremely unlikely event that a bicycle causes property damage or personal injury, the cyclist’s homeowner’s or renter’s policy would cover the resulting liablity.

    Jeff, that driver had plenty of room to pass safely without crossing the double-yellow line. Nobody forced him or her to do that.

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  10. wango fango says:

    people defined as “vulnerable users” to seek civil court damages against a driver, cyclist, pedestrian or anyone who harasses or assaults them.
    Great—I feel vulnerable when mowing with my gasoline-powered riding mower so it’s good to know I’ll be protected when my neighbor turns his garden hose on me when I’m trying to mow at 4 a.m.; now I can get compensated for my spoiled $345 wax ‘n detailed job on the mower.

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  11. Roxy says:

    The sad truth is, any person can make up a LIE about someone and SLANDER them in court. Sociopaths ride bicycles too.

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  12. Pat says:

    Interesting that the protection is for the bike riders… there by forcing a motor vehicle driver to break the law to pass! But the bike rider is safe…

    If bike riders want to put their mode of transport on the public roadways then they should be required to license their bikes and display a ‘tag’, carry the minimum insurance just like a motor vehicle and also have a license to operate the bike on public roadways.

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  13. jeff says:

    Check out the photo. Car passing on a double yellow line, needlessly, because of the 3 foot rule.

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