Sebastopol became the first city in Sonoma County on Tuesday to support an ordinance that gives added protections to bicyclists, pedestrians and joggers from motorists who intend to harass or harm them.
The City Council directed its staff to draw up what has come to be known as the "vulnerable road users" ordinance and bring it back for a Dec. 18 public hearing.
"I am proud and pleased to be the first municipality to move on this," said Councilman Patrick Slayter.
The ordinance clearly 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 civil action against the aggressor, which could be a motorist or even a cyclist.
"We are thrilled it is moving forward to adding these protections," said Sandra Lupien, outreach director for the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, which is promoting the ordinance. "It is not about the driver, it is about people."
Supporters say it is necessary to stem the hostility toward pedestrians and cyclists by giving those road users the ability to recoup damages not currently available in civil court.
Lupien said that bicyclists in Sonoma County are routinely yelled at, passed unsafely, slapped by passengers in vehicles, have had things thrown at them and have reported being shot at.
The most serious case occurred Aug. 16, when an elderly Oakmont motorist in a fit of road-rage is accused of chasing a bicyclist onto the Oakmont golf course and running into him.
The cyclist, Santa Rosa restaurant owner Toraj Soltani, 48, suffered a broken wrist and other injuries when he was struck by the car, authorities said.
The driver, Harry Smith, 82, faces charges including attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon and hit-and-run driving.
Sebastopol cyclist Kyle Ashton recounted Tuesday how he was passed very closely and at a high rate of speed by a driver, an incident which almost turned into a fight, but that is only one of many incidents of being yelled at or having things thrown at him that he has encountered.
"Anything you can do to improve safety, if somebody is on a bike, give them room and you don't have to harass them," Ashton said.
Critics, however, contend that with the deteriorating conditions of the roads and little money in Sonoma County for repairs, conflicts between cars and cyclists will only get worse.
The also say that such ordinances are unnecessary, that there are already laws in place to punish those convicted of serious crimes by motorists against pedestrians and cyclists.
Advocates, though, say those cases are seldom filed.
An ordinance would clearly define the forms of harassment and would triple monetary penalties, making such cases more attractive to attorneys.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors supported studying the ordinance, which is patterned on similar laws that have been adopted in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Berkeley and Sunnyvale.
You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or firstname.lastname@example.org.