Bay Area News Group 

  • Battle over bicycle access taints Diablo election (Oct 25, 2022)
  • Access denied: Judge blocks cyclists' popular East Bay cut-through (November 28, 2018)
  • Country club residents seek to block bicyclists using cut-through to Mount Diablo (April 16, 2018)
  • Hit-and-run reignites debate over safety on road to Mount Diablo (October 31, 2017)

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.”

Access denied: Judge blocks cyclists’ popular East Bay cut-through

Calle Arroyo has been used for decades to avoid Diablo Road in Danville By ERIN BALDASSARI | Bay Area News Group PUBLISHED: November 28, 2018 at 6:00 a.m. | UPDATED: November 29, 2018 at 10:13 a.m.

Bob Tiernan, a longtime resident of the Diablo Country Club, was the main plaintiff representing residents of the Diablo Country Club in a lawsuit fighting to close their private roads to the public who are using their roads to bypass Diablo Road on their way to Mount Diablo State Park, Diablo, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. (File photo by Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

DIABLO — A judge’s ruling to block public access to a popular cut-through for cyclists on their way to Mount Diablo State Park could put people’s lives at risk, biking advocates say.

For decades, bicyclists have been turning down oak-lined Calle Arroyo at the entrance to Diablo Country Club to avoid Diablo Road in Danville, which is notorious for its narrow lanes, fast-moving traffic and blind curves. Two cyclists were seriously injured there last year by a hit-and-run driver, reopening a long-standing debate over safety along the scenic corridor.

But that may be the only quick option for cyclists now. A Contra Costa County Superior Court judge on Monday officially signed a ruling declaring the public has no right to access the road — even if it may be a difficult ruling to enforce.

A group of students from the San Ramon High School mountain bike club along with friends from other schools ride up Calle Arroyo Road to bypass a stretch of Diablo road on their way up to Mt. Diablo State Park in Danville, Calif., on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (File photo by Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

Limiting access to the country club disproportionately impacts students in the area who use the route to get to school and for training on the high school mountain biking team, said Al Kalin, president of the Mount Diablo Cyclists, a bicycling advocacy organization.

“The judge’s ruling affects tens of thousands of cyclists,” Kalin said, “but specifically the local mountain bike high school teams who have for years rode down Calle Arroyo.”

The alternative, however, of having cyclists barreling down the barely two-lane, unmarked roads in Diablo is also perilous, contends Robert Tiernan, the lead plaintiff in the suit. He filed the suit earlier this year on behalf of several other homeowners along the road after seeing a growing number of cyclists riding in “loud packs,” overtaking cars and endangering seniors and small children. His parents, who are both in their 90’s and live on the same road, have had cyclists clip their car or yell at them, he said.

“After all that,” Tiernan said, “it was becoming too dangerous.”

Cyclist Al Kalin, a member of the Mt. Diablo Cyclists talks about the route that leads cyclists through the Diablo County Club on Calle Arroyo Road in Danville, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. (File photo by Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

In the end, the court case hinged not on questions about which road is safer — but who can control its access. And it was here the plaintiffs prevailed.

They argued that because the country club community was formed as a private community, there has never been any express or implied public access, said Dominic Signorotti, the plaintiffs’ attorney. An attorney for Bike East Bay, a cycling advocacy organization and defendant in the suit, argued the Diablo Community Services District, which governs the country club community, received public funds to make improvements on Calle Arroyo. That would imply the roads are meant for public use, or else that the district used the funds illegally. The judge said that wasn’t enough.

“There is no evidence that any of this money is spent on Calle Arroyo. And even if it did, so what?” Judge Charles Treat wrote in his ruling. “If the district is illegally spending money, it ought to stop doing so. But that doesn’t mean the district can create an easement over its members’ properties by spending money.”

The comment, while not dismissing the suit, did open another question: Has the Diablo Community Service District, which governs the bucolic community, been spending taxpayers’ money on private roads?

“It’s sort of an open question,” said Dave Campbell, the advocacy director for Bike East Bay.

The district is looking into it and will adjust future spending accordingly, said Christie Crowl, an attorney for the district.

Bob Tiernan, longtime resident of the Diablo Country Club shows photos of some of the crowds of bicyclists that pass his home off Calle Arroyo Road in Danville, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. (File photo by Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

But that still leaves the question of how to enforce the ruling. The judge determined the district has no authority to prevent the general public from using Calle Arroyo, Crowl said. And, doing so could easily violate people’s constitutional rights, said Lt. Jason Haynes, a sheriff’s deputy in charge of the Diablo subdivision. As long as the person in question agrees to move along, there is no way to cite them for trespassing, he said.

“If it’s private property but publicly accessible, it will be very difficult to take any enforcement action,” he said. “We can’t proactively patrol and try to ID people within the community, or that would be a blatant disregard for people’s rights.”

For now, however, Campbell is recommending cyclists avoid Calle Arroyo, if they can. The judge’s ruling applies only to the single street of Calle Arroyo, though the plaintiffs recently filed an amendment to expand the ruling’s reach to include a tiny path over private property that links to a public road leading to Mount Diablo State Park. If the judge rules in favor of the amendment, it will constrict access to the park even further and could have serious implications for cyclists’ safety — implications with legal precedent backing it, Campbell said.

The city of Danville is redoing an environmental review of a proposed development because a judge ruled it would create more traffic on Diablo Road and endanger cyclists. Campbell is hoping the same thinking will apply here if cyclists are forced onto Diablo Road.

“If you attempt to close that path, that is subject to (the California Environmental Quality Act) and you need to do an (environmental impact report),” he said, “because that affects the safety of people bicycling.”

Country club residents seek to block bicyclists using cut-through to Mount Diablo

Cyclist Al Kalin, a member of the Mt. Diablo Cyclists talks about the route that leads cyclists through the Diablo County Club on Calle Arroyo Road in Danville, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. Residents of the Diablo Country Club are fighting to close their private roads to cyclists who use their private roads to bypass Diablo Road on their way to Mount Diablo. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group) By ERIN BALDASSARI | Bay Area News Group April 16, 2018, at 10:30 a.m.

DIABLO — In the bucolic, country club community of Diablo, a growing menace is threatening residents: “loud packs” of bicyclists “careening” through the streets, overtaking cars, endangering small children and wreaking havoc on the pristine quietude of the tiny, East Bay enclave.

Now, some residents, who’ve been fighting the influx of cyclists for several years, are taking their battle to court. They’re seeking a judge’s order to declare Diablo’s western entrance, Calle Arroyo, private — a move that would allow the community’s governing board to limit recreational use and cite trespassers in the latest Bay Area battle pitting private property rights against public access.

For at least a decade — and by multiple accounts, a half century or more — cyclists, along with parents pushing strollers and neighbors walking dogs, have turned down the quiet, unlined street to escape the fast-moving traffic of Diablo Road in Danville. Some continue past the country club parking lot, before veering onto an unmarked dirt trail to reach Mount Diablo State Park, its multiple biking and hiking trails, campgrounds and expansive vistas.

For resident Robert Tiernan, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, the issue is one of safety and the expectation of privacy in a community closed to the public.

“Our roads were never designed to become a bypass for Diablo Road,” Tiernan said. “We want to return our roads back to a safe place, where all residents can enjoy it and have their peace and privacy.”

But bicyclists contend that without the cut-through, the public would be denied a safe access point to a state park — on roads that are maintained with public money — and would be forced instead to traverse the windy, narrow corridor of Diablo Road, which has no shoulders, sidewalks or bike path.

To the cyclists, and some residents in Diablo, that’s tantamount to a death sentence.

“It’s dangerous,” said cyclist Rip Talavera, who has been cutting through Diablo for the past 35 years to climb Mount Diablo’s world-class mountain biking trails. “You’d get killed on Diablo Road. You have no choice but to go through there.”

The lawsuit is only the latest attempt to block cyclists from using the country club community’s roads. Complaints from residents prompted the community’s governing board in 2013 to propose refusing entry to anyone who is not a country club member, resident or guest. But, Tiernan said nothing came of that effort.

Richard Breitwieser, the general manager of the Diablo Community Services District, declined several requests for an interview. But, in a 2015 memo he wrote to Diablo’s governing board, Breitwieser admitted it would be a stretch to block the public from using Diablo’s roads and cited two past legal opinions, dating as far back as 1972, that reached the same conclusion.

“Both (previous legal opinions) agree that the public has obtained a right of way over Diablo Roads,” he wrote. “In fact, it is probable that the public has used Diablo roads as a pass-through road for more than 50 years.”

Diablo also receives county tax money to maintain the roads, said Bob Campbell, the auditor-controller for Contra Costa County. Last year, that amounted to $663,871, he said. This year, it’s expected to be $683,000. Campbell was explicit in his definition of those monies: “They are public funds.”

“They only get those dollars because those roads are designated for public use,” said Steve Whalen of the Valley Spokesmen Bicycle Club, adding that when people use public money for private benefit, “That’s called corruption.”

Plus, the alternative — cycling up Diablo Road — is far more dangerous, he said. There were 146 collisions on Diablo Road between 2007 and 2017, including one in October that seriously injured two cyclists, according to the California Highway Patrol. During the same period, there were 31 collisions in the community of Diablo. None were reported on Calle Arroyo, though Tiernan said he and his family members have been involved in at least four run-ins on the street.

There is a plan to build a bicycle and pedestrian trail parallel to Diablo Road as part of a proposed 69-home development across from Diablo, said Robert Ewing, the town’s attorney. But that development is caught up in litigation — ironically, over concerns that increased traffic would endanger cyclists.

In the meantime, many Diablo residents have welcomed bicyclists and other recreational users.

Omid Bahrami, whose Diablo property includes the short pathway connecting Alameda Diablo to Mt. Diablo Scenic Boulevard, trims vegetation to provide better visibility to cyclists for oncoming traffic. He even allowed a bicycling group to upgrade the dirt path to a compact surface so it doesn’t get muddy when it rains. If there’s a problem with cyclists speeding by, Bahrami said the district should work with them to find a solution, not shut them out.

“We have such a nice neighborhood, and naturally (the cyclists) didn’t take away from the neighborhood, they added more diversity by bringing nice people to the area and introducing Diablo Country Club to so many new guests,” he said.

The neighboring Athenian School and nearby San Ramon Valley and Monte Vista high schools use the cut-through for their cross country and mountain biking teams so they can avoid Diablo Road. The coaches emphasize good behavior through Diablo, telling team members to ride single file and not to talk while riding through there, said Gabriella Dube, 16, who has been on San Ramon Valley High School team for the past four and a half years.

“But we’re a group of teenagers,” she acknowledged, “so that doesn’t always happen.”

Resident Robert Canepa sees growing bicycle traffic as a real threat to safety. Recreational users can choose to go elsewhere. He has no other option to get to his house.

“We just don’t want anyone to get hurt on the street,” he said. “The more people who come down here, the greater the opportunity is.”

For cyclist Andy Stein, a Danville resident who said he’s been cutting through Diablo for 25 years, the issue is exclusion. He drew parallels to the controversy surrounding Martins Beach, a Half Moon Bay surfing destination that was closed to the public after tech billionaire Vinod Khosla bought the surrounding property. The ongoing legal saga is now being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Diablo is a private country club (community), and I hate to say it,” he said, “but wherever rich people are, they want to restrict things.”

Hit-and-run reignites debate over safety on road to Mount Diablo

Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group.

Steve Whelan, left, and Al Kalin are photographed along Calle Arroyo road at an entrance to the Diablo Country Club on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017, in Danville, Calif. The two would like more bicyclists to ride a route through the country club rather then along Diablo Road to access Mount Diablo State Park. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group) By SAM RICHARDS | Bay Area News Group PUBLISHED: October 31, 2017 at 6:00 a.m. | UPDATED: November 2, 2017 at 4:54 p.m.

DANVILLE — Diablo Road’s 19th century rural charm can make for a beautiful and exhilarating stretch on a bike ride to Mount Diablo. But with 21st century vehicle traffic and a steadily increasing volume of bicyclists, the narrow, winding roadway between Green Valley Road and Mount Diablo Scenic Boulevard is a dangerous stretch, too.

“I live right near here,” said Jason Ham, who last week was running on the tree-lined Barbara Hale Trail adjacent to Diablo Road. “Whenever I hear a siren, I wonder if someone’s gotten hit.”

Indeed, after two bicyclists were seriously injured Oct. 21 as they pedaled along Diablo Road and were struck by a hit-and-run driver, the long-debated topic of making the road safer has resurfaced with a furor.

The debate involves a complicated mix of geographical barriers, existing and potential lawsuits and the popularity of the Diablo Road corridor not only with bicyclists and motorists headed to and from Mount Diablo, but for neighborhood school kids and others.

There’s little dispute, though, that Diablo Road is dangerous, especially for bicyclists.

A bicyclist rides along Diablo Road on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017, in Danville, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

“It’s a ‘substandard’ road, meaning that cars and bikes can’t safely coexist in the same lane,” said Maryann Cella, a resident of the unincorporated community of Diablo who lives a short distance from the road and trail. The lanes are as narrow as 10 feet wide in some places between Green Valley Road and Mt. Diablo Scenic.

Added Clelen Tanner, a Danville resident, “To pass a bike, cars must cross the double-yellow line, and that’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

For Al Kalin, part of the answer to address safety is under everyone’s nose.

“These bicyclists should be using the paved (Barbara Hale) trail,” said Kalin, a Danville resident, president of the Mount Diablo Cyclists and chairman of the Danville Bicycle Advisory Committee, whose aim is to make Danville safer for bicyclists and pedestrians all over town.

However, some contend the paved trail is no safer than the road. Cella said the winding trail is crowded on weekdays with school kids and other walkers, and mixing them with sometimes fast-moving cyclists could be disastrous.

“It’s often wet and leaf-covered, and it’s a multi-use trail,” said Cella, a member of the citizens group SOS-Danville, which has sought improvements to Diablo Road, including widening of the road. “Many cyclists would much rather just stay on Diablo Road.”

Steve Whelan, president of the Dublin-based Valley Spokesmen Bicycle Club, says there’s an alternative for cyclists to bypass the most dangerous sections of Diablo Road. That route includes the half-mile Barbara Hale trail from Green valley Road east to the Diablo County Club, and through the country club to connect with Mt. Diablo Scenic Boulevard. The last 200 feet or so of that connection is a dirt road (on private property) between Alameda Diablo and Mt. Diablo Scenic.

“But with most people coming in from out of the area, even experienced cyclists may not know about it,” he said.

There’s another problem: whether bicyclists and others are allowed to use the bucolic private roads along that stretch. People heading that way are greeted with a sign posted on a stone column that reads “Private.”

A sign is photographed on a residents fence in the Diablo Country Club on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017, in Danville, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

Indeed, Calle Arroyo — the narrow road into the country club — doesn’t look like anyone’s idea of a through route. The “private” and “no trespassing” admonitions don’t make it any more welcoming.

Kalin and Whelan said the public has a right to pass through the country club because the roads there are maintained with taxpayer dollars through the Diablo Community Services District. Some legal opinions, the most recent being from 2013, affirm that idea. “Obey traffic rules, be courteous and don’t have loud conversations early in the morning,” Whelan said.

Such affirmation isn’t universal. Bob Tiernan, a lawyer and since the 1960s a resident of Calle Arroyo, believes it’s legally clear that if Diablo residents can prove they built the roads privately, the roads are indeed private, community services district or not.