On November 6, Marin County voters will elect a new District Attorney. This is an important choice for those who ride bikes in Marin, as the County DA is central to establishing law enforcement priorities, including providing leadership toward protecting the safety of people on bikes.
MCBC wants to help you make a well-informed decision in selecting Marin’s next DA. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, MCBC cannot endorse candidates for public office, but we are able to share information so that you can arrive at your own conclusion.
We have asked the two DA candidates, Lori Frugoli and Anna Pletcher, to answer six questions intended to introduce you to their backgrounds and views, particularly concerning cycling safety.
Below are the candidates’ responses to the questions posed. We have made no content changes, except to edit for length in places (leaving the most pertinent information in place). Thanks to both Ms. Pletcher and Ms. Frugoli for their time and thoughtful answers.
MCBC looks forward to working with Marin County’s next District Attorney to ensure safe streets and roadways for everyone.
1 – What do you want MCBC members to know about you, personally and/or professionally, and your relationship to bicycling or bicyclist safety?
I am a lifelong resident of Marin County and a lifelong Democrat. I was raised in Marinwood and grew up riding my 10-speed bike to Terra Linda High School. Now, I occasionally ride a bike, but for the most part, I have traded my bike for a horse. I have enjoyed sharing the trails with bicyclists in my Novato neighborhood, Pt. Reyes, Sonoma County, and Sacramento riding trails.
When I was growing up, we didn’t wear bike helmets and the term road-rage had yet to exist.
I attended Terra Linda High School, the College of Marin and Sonoma State University while working towards breaking the glass ceiling as a police officer. In 1979 I achieved that goal. I became the second police officer to pass probation at the Santa Rosa Police Department. Later, I came to the Marin County Sheriff’s Office in order to work my way through Law School.
My platform of connecting the community to the courthouse is not without purpose. I know our office can improve our relationship in the community on multiple levels such as meeting with your coalition. If we don’t listen, we won’t know of your concerns. I am committed to maintaining a working relationship with your coalition and other community groups.
As a member of Novato Horsemen’s, I am proud of our collaborative work in the SLOW AND SAY HELLO, Safe Trails Marin program.
During my 28-year career as a Deputy District Attorney, I have represented Marin in thousands of cases and over 100 jury trials. My caseload has included seeking justice for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, home invasions and elder abuse and murder.
I have served in a supervisory position for years mentoring and advising attorneys in the office as a coordinator of a Criminal Department.
My priorities include the safety of all members of our community, including the bicycling community.
I spent ten years as a federal criminal prosecutor. As a Special United States Attorney in the Major Crimes unit, I prosecuted a wide range of criminals, including bank robbers, drug dealers, and gang members. At the United States Department of Justice Antitrust Division, I specialized in fighting white-collar crime, prosecuting corporations, and individuals for price fixing, bid rigging, market manipulation, money laundering, and fraud. I won three national awards for my work as a prosecutor.
I worked my way up to Assistant Chief of my DOJ office in San Francisco, only the second woman to have that job. I managed an office of 40 employees, including 25 attorneys. The first in my family to go to college, I graduated from Yale and Berkeley Law School.
I also have a long record of community service. I served as Chair of the Marin Women’s Commission, where we helped co-found the Marin County Coalition to End Human Trafficking. I have been a volunteer judge for several years on the Marin Youth Court, and I coached mock trial at San Rafael High School.
As an avid cyclist, bicycle safety is very personal to me. I am a mountain biker, my husband is a bike commuter, and our three children (ages 18, 14, and 10) bike to school. My husband and I also ride a tandem road bike. We have done several Marin Centuries and were the first tandem ever to complete La Vuelta, a 375-mile ride in 3 days around the island of Puerto Rico.
2 – Do you believe the District Attorney of Marin County can and should act to improve safety on the road for bicyclists?
Absolutely. The job of the district attorney is to enforce the law and to promote safety throughout the county — that includes on the roads.
As a community, we should encourage bicycling. It is great for physical and mental health and keeps our planet clean. Safety, however, is a significant barrier. The roads are dangerous. Drivers are distracted and many are not aware of the rules, such as the three-foot law. The DA can and must step up to protect cyclists and help build a culture of respect on the roads.
Yes, the District Attorney’s Office can and should act to improve safety on the road for all persons and groups, including bicyclists. It must occur in three ways. Education, Prevention and Enforcement.
Today, our local law enforcement agencies have Facebook and other social media accounts. Partnering with each individual law enforcement agency on safety and public service educational videos should be a part of any outreach program.
My office will do our part by publicizing prosecutions involving vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists.
West Marin should be a focus for enforcement, visual outreach and education at the community and social level. This may require collaboration with the CHP, local law enforcement agencies, Park Police and Park Rangers since safety on and off road should be addressed.
3 – If elected to DA, what would your office do to improve on-road safety for bicyclists?
In addition to the answers to question # 2… As you note on your website, Education and Prevention are key. I would also vigorously prosecute those who violate the law and put bicyclists in danger or harm a bicyclist.
One important factor noted on your website: Incidents must be reported. Knowledge is power and without the information about the crimes and where they are occurring, improvement will be difficult. The important tracking information you obtain and retain would be a great tool for public and law enforcement education.
Once reported, the responsibility lies within my office to attending meetings and forums and aggressively prosecute the cases and publicize the prosecutions of those who endanger the bicycling and other communities. I have already stated my intent to have an open-door policy so that all community members have access to the DA’s office.
As DA, my approach to improving on-road safety would have two components: prevention and enforcement.
Prevention begins with education. We have many wonderful cyclist education options in Marin, such as Safe Routes to School, that start at a young age. But we must also focus on driver education. I would partner with the California Highway Patrol and MCBC to create a new driver curriculum that teaches drivers how to safely share the road with cyclists. I would also work with law enforcement to ensure that patrol officers were well-trained on cyclist safety.
Enforcement is also critical. Cyclists and drivers must obey the law for everyone’s safety. I will work with law enforcement to ensure that when they are on patrol, they are identifying and citing or arresting offenders. For first-time or less serious violations, I would explore creating a diversion program that focuses on education and building a respectful culture. For serious violations, repeat offenders, or where injury has occurred, I would bring charges and seek fines or jail time where appropriate.
Restorative justice is an option as well. Restorative programs focus on holding offenders accountable by repairing the damage they did to the community, as opposed to the traditional, punitive criminal justice system.
4 – How would your office respond to car-bike collisions in which a bicyclist is hurt, the bicyclist or another witness can testify that the motorist violated a law, but no police officer witnessed the violation?
If a driver has broken the law and it resulted in an injury, I would take that case seriously. I would conduct a thorough investigation, evaluate the evidence, and decide what charges to bring, including potential felony charges, based on that evidence.
It is not necessary for a police officer to observe the collision in order to prosecute the case. There could be other evidence, such as evidence of criminal intent or driver impairment, that needs to be considered. The prosecution decision turns on the strength of all of the evidence taken as a whole.
I would never make a blanket statement on actions my office would take in hypothetical situations. Every case submitted to our office is and should be considered on a case by case basis and would be factually driven. Any case involving an injured person is taken seriously.
We regularly prosecute cases with no witnesses other than the victim. I have personally prosecuted cases with no independent witnesses, including a case involving a hiker and a rider on horseback. The conduct was similar to road-rage between a hiker and bicyclist.
You highlight the most important factors helpful to a prosecution in these cases on your website. In addition, it is important to photograph injuries to the victim, bike, victim’s helmet, clothing and surrounding roadway (if any).
5 – How would your office respond when a bicyclist reports they were subject to intentional harassment on the road, including almost being struck by a motorist apparently trying to hurt or threaten them?
This would be a factually driven situation. The issue is what if any charges would be considered for filing.
Factors include witness statements, speed of the vehicle, statements and actions corroborating the driver was intentionally attempting to harm the bicyclist, words that were exchanged, or other actions supporting the fact that the motorist was attempting to hurt or threaten the bicyclist.
Again, I take cases of harassment and threats of physical injury seriously. I encourage cyclists who are victims of harassment to report the case to local law enforcement and the DA. A thorough investigation should be conducted and a prosecution decision made based on the evidence.
6 – How would your office better enforce the Three-Foot Law?
The three-foot law is important for cyclist safety. I have been buzzed by drivers and know how terrifying and dangerous it can be.
Enforcement is challenging because violations can be difficult to prove. Even if an officer witnesses the incident, it can be difficult to judge whether the car was within three feet of the cyclist.
However, there are ways to improve enforcement. In Austin, Texas, for example, plainclothes officers on bikes were sent out to patrol common bike routes. When they saw a car violate the 3-foot law, they would radio to a waiting patrol car who would then pull the driver over and issue a citation. Handlebar-mounted video cameras recorded the incidents.
In general, if the only violation in a case is a violation of Vehicle Code Section, 21760, then the citation would be filed in Traffic Court. If the violation is coupled with a misdemeanor, for example 14601.1 of the Vehicle Code (driving on a suspended license), then the charge would be filed on a misdemeanor complaint.
Enforcement first occurs at the law enforcement level. If the coalition has not already done so, a public awareness campaign including public service announcements and actual visual effects would drive the issue home, particularly with the beginning of the school year upon us and daylight savings and early darkness looming.
This law is one that many are not aware of and needs to stay on the forefront of conversations involving bicycle safety.