A 25-foot pathway in Diablo has become the site of a legal battle over the public's right to access it, with a collection of local residents pitted against each other and regional bike advocacy groups.
Nestled between Alameda Diablo Road to Mt. Diablo Scenic Boulevard in Diablo, the pathway provides easy access to the trails and wilderness found on Mount Diablo to hundreds -- if not thousands -- of cyclists and pedestrians every year. Claiming that this access has created a public nuisance for homes in the area, a collection of residents have been working to block public access to the pathway, a move that local cyclist advocacy groups say would create a significantly dangerous environment.
"We have spent over $100,000 fighting the bullying tactics of the intervenors and protecting the public's right to use Diablo streets and the pathway connector," said Dave Hammond, spokesperson for the Open Space Advocacy Group -- an organization advocating for public use of the area.
"The perception that all Diablo residents are rich people trying to restrict safe passage to park roads and trails is incorrect. Most respect public safety and encourage responsible passage through Diablo," he said. "But a handful of Diablo residents with too much time and money on their hands are challenging public access rights that go back over 100 years."
The cut-through in question is an approximately 10-foot wide path that sits on a portion of two properties on 2354 and 2328 Alameda Diablo, connecting Alameda Diablo road to Mt. Diablo Scenic Boulevard, and is highly popular for cyclists who are on their way to Mount Diablo.
The Diablo Safety and Security Committee -- a neighborhood group of Diablo residents seeking to remove public access -- have claimed that the pathway has created a public nuisance due to the volume of cyclists that use the path on a section of land that the group has not conceded is permitted for public use.
"The lawsuit is a frontal attack on Diablo's private roads, safety, security and peaceful residential quality of life. If successful, the lawsuit will make Diablo the public shortcut for all to Mt. Diablo State Park and a way to circumvent traffic congestion at the Diablo Road/Mt. Diablo Scenic Intersection. This is a result we cannot accept," the group said in a letter to residents on June 17.
"The simple fact is that our roads are private and residential in nature, narrow and winding, and we're never designed to be public thoroughfares accommodating substantial traffic. There have already been accidents and many near misses involving pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles," added the letter-writers, who were seeking to raise funds for legal costs.
An issue that has been in discussion for several years, a 2017 complaint filed by a collection of Diablo residents opposed to public access of the pathway claims that no formal public easement has been zoned at the cut-through, adding that the use of it by the public has created a nuisance due to the sheer volume of traffic from trail users.
The group further states in the complaint that, according to the subdivision approved by the Contra Costa County Planning Department, the easement is zoned only for "equestrian and pedestrian traffic,” not for cyclists or vehicles.
"The location of the 'hiking and equestrian' easement makes sense as it provides a safer route for pedestrians and horse riders to access Mt. Diablo State Park," the complaint reads.
On behalf of cyclists groups throughout the East Bay who regularly use the pathway, Diablo resident Winston Cervantes has since filed a countersuit to protect cyclists' access to the pathway connector. One of the main points of Cervantes and his supporters is that those who oppose public access have no standing to pursue an action to close the pathway because it is an easement on a specific parcel that none of the opponents owns.
"It is a well settled principle in California law that a remedy quieting title to real property only declares the legal or equitable rights, title or interests in a property as they exist, and does not create a new legal right to a property where none exists," reads Cervantes' legal brief -- which was filed on Aug. 6, 2020.
"Therefore a claim for quiet title can only be brought by a person or entity who in fact has or claims a definite pre-existing legal right to the property," it added.
If public access to cyclists and hikers to the cut-through is denied, those seeking to access Mount Diablo will be forced to find alternate routes, including the Diablo Road in Danville -- which is notorious for its winding narrow lanes and fast moving traffic.
"Cyclist safety should be a universal priority and yet closing this connector would force thousands of hikers, bikers and trail runners onto Diablo Road and Mt. Diablo Scenic Boulevard where numerous collisions have occurred," Hammond said.
There's a court-required settlement conference Sept. 9 and, according to Hammond, while his group would much prefer a settlement before going to any type of trial, they have struggled to get the other side to sit down at the table.
"We are having trouble getting the intervenors to respect the law and sit for their depositions," he said. "To date, the intervenors have been unwilling or unable to comply with this simple request to provide us with some alternative dates for their depositions. We have a trial date in early September and yet cannot complete our trial prep without these depositions."
Legal representatives from residents seeking to remove public access to the pathway did not respond to requests for comment.
Hammond added that the town of Danville has been working on plans to provide alternate routes bikers and runners can take off of Diablo Road, including "plans for a paved bike path from St. Timothy's Episcopal church along Diablo Road to meet the Blackhawk Bike Path."
"This will provide a safe alternative to the dangerous Diablo Road curves and help route cyclists away from Diablo streets," he said. "I would respectfully ask that the intervenors consider this fact."
While this specific legal issue and bicycle access on Mt. Diablo Scenic Boulevard lies in Diablo, and thus outside of Danville's jurisdiction, the town has been working on a project to help improve safety in the Diablo Road corridor.
"Regarding projects and the Diablo Road corridor (which is Danville’s responsibility), the town’s current priority project is the Diablo Road Trail, which will provide an alternative for cyclists and pedestrians to access Mt. Diablo State Park," Danville's public information officer Nicola Shihab said. "The project is currently in design and environmental phases and is scheduled for construction sometime next year."
Estimated to cost approximately $4 million, the project details are available at www.danville.ca.gov/853/Diablo-Road-Trail.