There are few things Ted Stroll loves more than mountain biking. He began riding extensively in the East Bay hills after moving to Oakland in 1990, and at the age of 52 shows no signs of quitting. He has logged thousands of miles in parks like Tilden, Briones, Las Trampas, Pleasanton Ridge, and Redwood, and believes few people in the Bay Area have made more visits to district trails. Even after a recent move to San Jose, he's adjusted his work schedule to allow for frequent afternoon rides. From afar, Stroll would appear to be one of the district's biggest supporters. In reality, he's one of its most vocal critics.
Earlier this year, Stroll and fellow riders J-C Poussin and John Grigsby came together under the name Better East Bay Parks for the sole purpose of opposing Measure WW, a $500 million bond measure aimed at helping the park district acquire new land. They argue that the district has failed to properly manage and provide access to its existing land, especially for mountain bikers, and is undeserving of more tax dollars until it cleans up its act.
"We're treated like second-class citizens," said Stroll, who has served on the East Bay Regional Parks District's volunteer bike patrol since 1993. Although bicyclists make up the second largest populace in the East Bay Regional Park District with 15 percent of all visits, bikes are banned from all but twenty of the parks' approximately 150 miles of cherished narrow trails. Since mountain biking's inception in the late 1970s on Marin's Mount Tamalpais, riders have fought steadfastly for greater trail access. Critics have argued with equal fervor that bikes tear up trails and pose a safety hazard to other users including hikers and horseback riders. Twenty years of activism and advocacy in the East Bay has resulted in nominal success for the bikers, with just ten miles of existing narrow trails in regional parks opened to them and countless requests denied or ignored.
The conflict between mountain bikers and the powers that be crystallized at a July 29 meeting in Redwood Regional Park. Soon after Better East Bay Parks began flyering local bike shops with calls to oppose Measure WW, Assistant General Manager of Interagency Planning and Land Acquisition Bob Doyle announced a meeting to address the mountain biking community. Many biking advocates saw it as recognition that the district was worried about their potential opposition to the measure. This was, after all, the first time district staff had initiated a special meeting with the mountain biking community, and Doyle was the highest-ranking staff member who had ever offered to confer with them. About fifty bikers showed to see what would come of it, as did another eight decision-makers on park staff.
But Doyle, who helped author Measure WW, did most of the talking. He'd called everyone together not so much to lend an ear to the bikers' gripes, but to help them learn how they could be more effective advocates within the district's knotty bureaucratic and political landscape: namely, to rival the presence and power of the more established equestrian, hiking, and dog-walking contingents. He didn't mince words, but offered to work with bikers on long-term solutions. "That's how the system works. Advocacy is a long-term proposition, not short-term," Doyle said later.
Although they felt vindicated to finally be acknowledged, the bikers weren't pleased with the tenor of Doyle's presentation. In the following days, popular forums at mountain biking web site MTBR.com buzzed with indignation. "Riders were insulted, disregarded, criticized, and their efforts over the years were ignored. They were accused of setting up this bad situation with the EBRBD. It was appalling," one post read. Though they entered the meeting feeling they were finally making a stand, mountain bikers left with no new solutions and a bad taste in their mouths.
"Measure WW brings everything into focus," said Stroll. "It's our one chance to bring any kind of leverage against the parks district. There really is no downside to opposing Measure WW because the district has given us really nothing in the past and we have nothing to lose." Along with Poussin and Grigsby, he feels that the only way for bikers to finally make their voice heard is to oppose the high-profile measure. "We better take this opportunity because it's gonna be another twenty years before we get another one," Grigsby added.
While it's uncertain whether the mountain bikers are a strong enough group to sink Measure WW, or even if that's the best method of achieving their goals, it's clear that their opposition represents a growing voice within the park community. Regardless of what voters decide on November 4, this escalating struggle could have bold implications on business as usual in the East Bay Regional Parks District.
East Bay residents have long realized the importance of preserving public land. During the Great Depression, more than seven in ten voters agreed to tax themselves to create the East Bay Regional Parks District, which today is the country's largest with 65 parks covering 98,000 acres.
Measure WW is the biggest bond measure proposed by the East Bay Regional Parks District in its seventy-four year history. It would extend Measure AA, which narrowly passed in 1988 and expires this year. Funded by a parcel tax against homeowners at the annual rate $10 per $100,000 of assessed value, AA was initially worth $225 million. Increased home values have more than doubled the amount of money the same tax would bring under WW.
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