Tom Cooke, Oakmont resident
Oakmont, nestled squarely in the Valley of the Moon of Sonoma County is a beautiful place to live. Its lovely setting is enhanced by plentiful amenities and social, recreational, cultural opportunities that abound there. There are two beautiful 18 hole golf courses, eight very well maintained tennis courts, three impeccably clean swimming pools, a state of the art fitness facility. There are a myriad of clubs and organizations, formal and informal, which cater to a broad variety of interests: cultural, recreational, musical, social, spiritual and educational. Indeed we Oakmonters are a very fortunate group to live where we live with access to the cornucopia of the good life available here. The maintenance of Oakmont facilities and amenities, of course, requires investment. The dues paid by members fund that investment. So it is widely understood that the tennis courts, pools, fitness facilities, etc. are private amenities for dues-paying residents and their legitimate guests.
At the same time, a palpable tension has recently come to the surface between those who are willing to share our beautiful place with the broader community and those who wish to delimit access by “outsiders.” Several illustrations of this tension exist and are currently being debated amongst Oakmonters. Should “outsiders” be permitted to attend musical venues and symphony series? Are they welcome at Symposium and speaking events? Should they be able to enroll in the Lifelong Learning courses offered at Oakmont by Sonoma State University? Are they welcome to ride bicycles through our streets? Some believe that the vitality of Oakmont is enhanced by the presence of neighbors from outside of Oakmont, while others apparently seeing outsiders as a threat or risk, seek to “circle the wagons” and make Oakmont less inclusive.
This tension is well illustrated by the current debate on the Santa Rosa City bicycle plan. This plan is the result of extensive work and thoughtful analysis of alternative bicycle routes. It seeks to identify and publish a safe, scenic cycling route enhancing the recreational options enjoyed by bicyclists. For a few miles this bicycle plan routes through Oakmont streets. This plan is welcomed by some Oakmonters but opposed by others who seek to minimize bicycles on our streets.
Ever since Oakmont was established 50 years ago, its residents have included many active bicyclists who ride routinely throughout our streets. Likewise, owing to beautiful surroundings, and relatively little traffic, cyclists from outside of Oakmont enjoy riding here. Many Oakmonters welcome this cycling activity as a symbol of vitality and fitness. Like people in other active communities, for example Lake Tahoe, Sonoma, Nevada City, Grass Valley, Healdsburg, Tiburon and Del Webb active adult communities throughout the west, residents see cycling as part of a dynamic identity which helps infuse healthy recreation into the fabric of the community. Cyclists on our streets, riding in colorful pelathons add their own brand of aliveness and verve to our world.
Sadly, some in Oakmont see bicyclists on our streets (which are public, not private roads) as an unwelcome “horde,” to use the term which recently appeared in the Oakmont News (March 1, 2011) reporting on the minutes of the Oakmont Property Development Committee. This group would, while making no objection to golf carts, walkers and “scooters” for folks with mobility impairments portray bicycles are a safety hazard.
In fact, there is room for all. Oakmont streets are wide, relatively free of traffic and easily visible. Automobiles, golf carts, “scooters,” and yes, bicyclists can cooperate to share the roads of Oakmont. Obviously, traffic safety considerations are paramount, with or without bicycles. All operators using the streets have a responsibility to treat one another with courtesy, making safety the top priority. An uncivil minority, no matter in what form of transport, in Oakmont as everywhere violate traffic laws and contribute to unsafe streets where accidents may result. These unsafe and illegal operators should be dealt with by Police, cited and fined. Honesty requires us to acknowledge that no single group of vehicle operators has exclusivity for discourteous or dangerous driving/riding, not drivers, not golf cart operators, not users of scooters and not bicyclists. Rudeness is an equal opportunity phenomenon.
Riding bicycles in Sonoma County and Oakmont is a singular, scenic pleasure enjoyed by Oakmonters, Santa Rosans, and even tourists. We should celebrate this, not reject it. Bicycling represents yet another way to enjoy the natural beauty of the place we live while appreciating a health-giving form of fitness and vitality. Oakmonters should welcome bicycling as a way to make a great community even better.
Tom Cooke is an Oakmont resident, Bicyclist and Professor Emeritus of Sonoma State Unversity