County Ordinance Fuels Range War

Cycling representatives line up to speak at the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meeting.

About 10 people spoke against proposed revisions to Santa Clara County’s special events ordinance during the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meeting on June 22. It was enough heat to convince the elected supervisors they should delay a vote until August.

Believe it or not, this ordinance is a clash between rural residents of Santa Clara County who live along Mines Road and Mt. Hamilton Road versus cyclists who use those roads. Of course, the ordinance applies to all events – running races, charity walks, block parties, and public gatherings, but on this day it all boiled down to rural residents versus urban cyclists.

We’ve been here before, and it’s never pretty. The eastern reaches of Santa Clara County are about as rural as you can get, with no towns for miles. People live out here though, mostly ranchers and those who work in Livermore or Patterson trying to escape civilization (good luck with that).

One after another, members of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) for Santa Clara County spoke out against the ordinance, all making the same arguments.

In their minds, the roads are public and regulated by the state of California. Anything that legislates beyond the vehicle code is flat out illegal. In a scathing rebuke, Richard Swent, BPAC Palo Alto representative, said the county does not understand the limits of its authority. “I am disappointed in the process,” Swent said. “We were promised this ordinance would not go before the county supervisors until BPAC approved it.”

Several residents of the San Antonio Valley area made the two-hour trip just to speak their peace, including Cheryl Jorgensen. They all said pretty much the same thing. “Cyclists are in our way. They’re a hazard. They clog the road. We’re hostages in our own homes.”

Cheryl and others in this rural enclave have band together to protest what they see as an invasion of cyclists. The Tour of California is a case in point. The race itself isn’t what bothers residents as much as the hordes of race followers who show up and camp out on their property, ride bikes, and dump trash.

As I pointed out to Cheryl after the meeting, we all face inconveniences where we live. Every location has its good and bad points. I don’t like seeing stoplights every half mile, and cars everywhere, but that’s the price I pay for living in a congested Santa Clara Valley. Cheryl doesn’t appreciate having to drive 45 minutes to an hour to buy groceries. Cyclists make her trip longer and more hazardous.

I read the ordinance, and get this: any gathering of animals beyond 50 calls for a permit. Supervisor Don Gage, who is a big supporter of the ordinance, was incorrect when he said ranchers do not need a permit to herd their cattle on a public road. According to this ordinance, they need one and it qualifies as a Major Public Event.

Do I think this is foolish? I sure do. I suppose we need an ordinance, but mostly it’s a matter of common sense. Big rides like the Mt. Hamilton Challenge, the Mt. Hamilton Road Race, the Tour of California, and a lot of other events I’m not even aware of, owe it to the residents to communicate their events.

Cheryl had a good idea. The county should post signs along the roads leading up Mt. Hamilton, to San Antonio Junction via Del Puerto Canyon Road, and Mines Road. Event notices can be posted weeks in advance. With spotty cell phone coverage and email in the area, it’s probably the most practical solution.

Further, so the county can keep costs down, I recommend we find sign sponsors. McDonald’s is a natural. They grow a lot of hamburgers in San Antonio Valley.

I agree with BPAC that the ordinance is poorly written as is. Let’s clean it up and simplify the different categories.

When you’re riding on Mines Road and other narrow roads in rural areas, be courteous and share the road. Those “Share the Road” signs apply equally to motorists and cyclists.

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