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September 28, 2022

Street smarts

I strolled around downtown Guerneville the other day basking in
the exposed hot stretches of sidewalk where dangerous tree roots
used to crack the pavement.
Lucky me, I said to myself. I get to walk on a nice smooth
sidewalk free of the treacherous bumps and irregularities that used
to occur when shady old elm trees were allowed to grow
Now instead of looking like irresponsible and negligent street
planners, we can point to our bare treeless stretches of downtown
sidewalk between Mill and Church Street and out in front of Lark
Drugs and the Westamerica Bank and say, “Look at those fine patches
of black asphalt that Caltrans left us after they whacked down all
those hazardous old shade trees. Life is good!”
I may be an exception to the rule, but I’ve noticed that when I
want a nice little downtown area to walk around in to browse or get
something to eat, I tend to go to Healdsburg. I do this despite the
fact that they have a lot of old downtown shade trees there and the
sidewalks aren’t perfectly smooth, but that’s their problem. I’m
not going to worry about it.
I’m sure there are lots of towns that envy our treeless
sidewalks that are so appealing, safe and immune from lawsuit-happy
pedestrians. It’s hard to believe there could be so many other
backward municipalities like Carmel-by-the-Sea or the ritzy Pacific
Heights neighborhood of San Francisco where whole blocks of
dangerous tree-lined avenues are just waiting for people to walk by
and trip and fall and possibly never go shopping again.
“What about the comforting amenity of a tree-shaded sidewalk?”
people ask. “What about heat stroke?”
Well, what about it? You can’t trip over heat stroke. You might
faint and die from it, but who would you sue? The sun?
Other towns have saved their old trees and look what good it’s
done them. In Windsor’s Old Town they saved a bunch of big shady
oak trees and have you noticed how their town commercial district
always seems to be struggling with a glut of vacant commercial
space? Can’t anyone put two and two together?
In Guerneville it’s a different story. We’ve spent the last year
and a half cutting down our old sidewalk shade trees and now we can
see it paying off. The street has a much warmer and less crowded
feeling since several stores have closed and many of the drunks and
vagrants have abandoned the downtown core during the day in favor
of hanging out under the shade trees at the county’s new Riverfront
Park. This is a nice arrangement in other ways too because the new
park has a public bathroom plus picnic tables that serve as
elevated sleeping platforms.
You can just imagine the magic in the air over there when they
finish building the new $385,000 Russian River Redevelopment-funded
performing arts stage. I can hear the applause now.
I walked across the old Guerneville Bridge past Riverfront Park
where a few of the regulars were hanging out, including Brian
Doherty, who asked me for a cigarette.
“I don’t smoke,” I said.
He asked whether I had any spare change, which I didn’t,
although I reached into my pocket to see.
“Good luck,” I said.
“You too,” he said.
In front of Westamerica Bank a guy was lying on the steps
singing, “I’ll be there.”
Yes, we’ve really got it together this summer in downtown
I thought to myself. Just try and sue us over a dangerously
uneven tree-shaded sidewalk. We’ll make you look silly.
Frank Robertson is a contributor to the Sonoma West Times &
News, the Tribune’s sister publication.