Montini Ranch trail a go, despite Sonoma's objections

The county?s Open Space District is going ahead with plans to construct a wheelchair-accessible trail across a Montini Ranch pasture, despite opposition from the city of Sonoma.

?We will start construction in the spring time frame, late April or May, when the ground is a little wet and can be compacted,? said Leslie Lew, project manager for the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.

The pasture trail has been controversial since the planning process began two years ago for a 157-acre portion of the historic Montini Ranch, which was purchased for $13.75 million by the Open Space District, Coastal Conservancy and city of Sonoma in 2005.

The Open Space District wants a wheelchair-accessible trail across the nine-acre pasture, starting from Fifth Street West, to a hillside overlook. Westside access is also a condition put on the project by the Coastal Conservancy.

The $225,000 trail system would cross the ranch, which was once part of the Gen. Mariano Vallejo ranch, and connect to Norbomm Road near the historic cemetery.

Rancher Bill Montini said he didn?t want the liability of mixing his usually docile 30 Holsteins with hikers and said he would pull the cows out of the pasture if the trail was built.

Neighborhood residents sided with Montini, saying they wanted to keep the cows and the area?s bucolic feel.

But advocates for the disabled said that was a narrow view.

?It?s sad, but they don?t know what it?s like being in a wheelchair,? said Jeff Stuhr, who uses a wheelchair. ?They don?t have a clue about being physically challenged.?

To try to resolve the controversy, the Open Space District at the City Council?s request spent $40,000 on mediation services, even though the district has the authority to go ahead with the plan.

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