Battle over bicycle access taints Diablo election Years long fight over neighborhood pathway at center of Diablo district board election

Battle over bicycle access taints Diablo election Years long fight over neighborhood pathway at center of Diablo district board election

DIABLO, CALIFORNIA- OCTOBER 25: A cyclist rides through the cut-through between Alameda Diablo and Mt. Diablo Scenic Boulevard in the town of Diablo, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. Use of the path and access to Mount Diablo has become a campaign issue. (Bay Area News Group)

By RACHEL HEIMANN MERCADER | | Bay Area News Group PUBLISHED: October 26, 2022 at 5:06 p.m. | UPDATED: November 3, 2022 at 7:23 a.m.

DIABLO — A year’s long battle over bicyclists cutting through this hamlet to get to Mount Diablo has consumed the political battleground that is the Nov. 8 election for the Diablo Community Services District Board.

Seldom a race that grabs any spotlight, a trio of candidates have delved into a mudslinging match that some say seek to mislead voters into believing their opponents have a secret agenda and conflicts of interest.

For decades, a gravel path at the heart of the vitriol has grown in popularity among horseback riders, bicyclists and nature lovers of all zip codes. But a handful of residents want the path closed down. Its potential shutdown, and the legal drama that has come with it, concerns many who are all too familiar with the dangers bicyclists face when forced to ride on the narrow, windy road outside of Diablo.

The saga began in 2017 with a lawsuit brought by former resident Robert Tiernan and a handful of other residents of Calle Arroyo, one of two main residential roads used by bikers, against their neighbors and the DCSD regarding public use of their street. The main contention was that the public, in particular cyclists, had no right to use Tiernan’s street and that the DCSD was remiss in not restricting such usage.

DIABLO, CALIFORNIA-Robert Tiernan sued to keep the road in front of his home private and off limit to bikers in the town of Diablo, on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. As an enforcement measure, he hired private security guards in golf carts to man his part of Calle Arroyo. (Courtesy of Paul Ambrose)

A judge ruled that Calle Arroyo is a private road and the DCSD lacks the authority to prevent the public from using Calle Arroyo. The judge did not rule on who is allowed to travel on Calle Arroyo, as that is left up to the property owners on the road. The ruling applied only to Calle Arroyo and had no impact on Alameda Diablo or any other road in Diablo.

One part left unsettled was access to the cut-through in Diablo; which remains in limbo in the midst of growing political hostility.

Determined to see his plan through, Tiernan went on to hire private security guards to man the front of his house, according to posts shared by residents on Nextdoor, passing out flyers stating that his part of the road was private and therefore bikers and non-residents were not welcome. He then moved to Oregon to unsuccessfully run for governor. 

The lawsuit and Tiernan’s actions triggered a divide among residents, with many posting signs in their front yards, proudly proclaiming that they welcome walkers, hikers, and bikers on their roads. The small pathway is stirring up trouble again.

DIABLO, CALIFORNIA- Residents along Calle Arroyo and Alameda Diablo posted signs showing support for bicyclists and pedestrians on their front lawns in the town of Diablo, Calif., on Friday June 12, 2020. (Rachel Heimann Mercader/Staff)

The conflict intensified in 2020 when Winston Cervantes, a resident of Mt. Diablo Scenic Boulevard, counter sued claiming that the cut-through is a “dedicated public easement” and that he, and members of the general public, have a right to use the cut-through to pass between Alameda Diablo and Mt. Diablo Scenic.

A group of residents lead by slate member Jerry Slavonia, along side a group now working for his campaign responded by sending out a letter requesting financial support from residents. The letter was a call to action aiming to defeat the lawsuit, described as a “frontal attack on Diablo’s private roads,” claiming the cut-through created a public nuisance as it encouraged bikers and non residents to enter Diablo. A $2,000 donation was recommended with the promise that the names of donors would be kept confidential.

Two years later, Greg Lorenz and Christine Chariter, who moved to Diablo in 2020 and 2021 respectively, joined forces with Slavonia.

The slate of candidates kicked off their campaign by sending out a handful of email blast last week to Diablo voters laying out what they describe as a “fundamental difference” between them and two candidates who are not part of the slate: incumbent Jeff Eorio and newcomer Garth Hobden.

Echoing the legal arguments posed in the ongoing lawsuit, the Oct. 18 email claimed that Eorio and Hobden were in favor of facilitating the creation of a public, unrestricted, 25-feet-wide, fourth entrance to Diablo on upper Alameda Diablo connecting to Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd.”

The email accused Eorio of being someone who “disguises and hides his bicyclist political activism and his assistance to the Cervantes lawsuit,” adding that combined works to “create a grave conflict of interest in serving on the DCSD Board.” The trio also cited Eorio’s involvement with groups like Mount Diablo Cyclists and Danville Bicycle Advisory Committee as evidence of his alleged conflict and “disloyalty” to Diablo.

While Eorio, 72, is not a party to the lawsuit, he told this news organization that he does bike for exercise, as well as walk and hike using the cut-through. He said that claim that he is in favor of a 25-feet wide fourth entrance is “more than a lie, it’s almost borderline slander.”

“They’re making mountains out of molehills, their big thing is that I am a member of Mt. Diablo cyclists,” Eorio said. “And our sole purpose is to make improvements on Mount Diablo, which we have successfully done.”

The rhetoric has rubbed some residents the wrong way, including longtime resident and former DCSD member David Watson, who in an email to voters this week said, “I do not want more of the ‘Tiernan terror’ nor to be represented by someone who chooses litigation over conversation and compromise especially with their neighbors.” Winston went on to defend Eorio and Hobden, calling the slate’s accusation that the duo wants to build a fourth entrance as a “scare tactic,” and a lie.

Hobden told this news organization that he was “taken aback because they use this covert email approach to try to show that I have some hidden agenda to allow that fourth access to be opened up. And that is absolutely not true. He added that “all it’s done is confuse and anger the residents and cause divisiveness in our community.”

Dominic Signorotti, attorney representing the intervenors, says there is two sides to the story, adding that if Cervantes has no intention of creating a 25-foot wide easement, he has failed to state this in writing throughout the litigation. Hal Siebert, an attorney representing Cervantes, acknowledges that a 1970s parcel map referring to a 25-foot riding and hiking easement is a key part of the suit; however, he says it will be up to a judge to decide what width is reasonable under the law.

This week Slavonio, Lorenz and Chartier declined an offer from the Diablo Property Owners Association to hold a public candidate forum, according to an email exchange reviewed by this news organization. The trio did not respond to multiple calls, emails and texts requesting an interview with this news organization. Rather, they responded with a joint statement sent by email.

“The primary issue in the election is absolutely not a lawsuit brought by a plaintiff on Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd. against the property owners of a 25-feet-wide short stretch of land known as the ‘cut-through’ between upper Alameda Diablo and Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd,” the statement read in part. “It serves the purposes of our opponents to deflect from what they are trying to accomplish by making the election a referendum on the cut-through. It absolutely is not.”