Sonoma County transportation planners will consider adding money for potholes in discussions of putting a vehicle registration fee increase on the November ballot.
“In every poll we have ever done, potholes and road repair do well; people are interested in having roads repaired and are willing to pay for it,” said Suzanne Smith, executive director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority. “Adding local roads into a ballot measure will generally help it.”
The authority is meeting Monday to make a decision on whether to put a proposal to increase vehicle registration fees by $10 on the November ballot and how to allocate the money.
The fee increase, which the eight other Bay Area counties have in place or plan to put on the ballot, would raise $105 million in Sonoma County over five years.
Additionally, California voters in November will be asked to increase vehicle registration fees by $18 to fund state parks, which may make it more difficult for local jurisdictions to get their fee proposals passed.
Initially, the authority considered allocating the money to bus transit operations, bicycle and pedestrian paths and the Safe Routes to Schools program.
A poll conducted in May by the Service Employees International Union, however, indicates the chance of getting a measure passed improves if road maintenance is added to the funding formula.
“Sonoma County roads are considered to be the worst in the Bay Area,” said Jake Mackenzie, a Rohnert Park councilman and transportation authority chairman. “From that point of view, there is probably a number of people who feel any money we can get our hands on we would like to see some of it go to help fixing the condition of the roads.”
Valerie Brown, chairwoman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and vice chairwoman of the transportation authority, supports a fee increase for transit and bicycle and pedestrian paths, despite the poll.
“I believe we would get it passed. I think it is heavy lifting. I think we would have to do a lot of information and awareness that would be costly,” Brown said.
The transportation authority officials said it did not ask the union to conduct the poll.
“It did surprise me,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who is a director on the authority board. “They came to me with the results and shared it with me, they said they wanted the measure passed and I want to see it passed, too. I was very appreciative.”
The union has an interest in getting a measure passed since it represents drivers for Sonoma County Transit and Santa Road CityBus, two of the agencies that would receive funds. Petaluma and Healdsburg drivers are members of other unions.
Transit officials have said the funds could restore some of the bus services that have been cut as the result of the state’s budget crisis.
According to the poll of 400 likely Sonoma County voters, conducted by an Oakland consultant, 46 percent said they would likely support the measure if the money went to public transportation and bicycle and pedestrian paths.
The support grows to 55 percent when road paving and fixing potholes is included, according to the poll.
“It indicated 55 percent, and that’s enough,” Smith said. A simple majority vote is required for passage.
“It is not an easy time to ask people to consider paying more for services, but local government is the only reliable place to get things done and we may need local revenues to do it,” she said.
There will be two options presented to the board, Smith said. One would allocate 68 percent of the fee increase to public transportation, including funds for Sonoma County Transit, Santa Rosa CityBus, Petaluma Transit and Healdsburg Transit. There also is 15 percent for Safe Routes to Schools, 12 percent to bicycle and pedestrian safety projects and 5 percent for administration.
A second option would allocate 60 percent to public transportation, 23 percent to street maintenance and pothole repair, 12 percent to Safe Routes to Schools and 5 percent to administration. This option eliminates funding for bicycle and pedestrian safety projects
The authority is meeting at 2:30 p.m. Monday at the county’s Permit & Management Resource Department at the county administration center.