WatchSonoma Watch

Plenty of potholes in Sonoma County


John McGill III has been in the tire business a long time, but he never has seen the rash of pothole damage he has this year.

The toll includes burst tires, dented rims and bent suspensions, said McGill, who owns Valley Tire & Brake on Piner Road. One driver recently blew out both right tires on his Mustang, resulting in $4,000 in repairs and replacements.

“Every few years it seems like you get a bad year, and this year topped them all,” McGill said.

Certainly, there have been plenty of potholes of late on Sonoma County roads. Through April, county crews have poured asphalt patches into an estimated 81,175 potholes, 12 percent more than the same period last year.

Prolonged periods of wintery weather haven’t helped. Since July 1, nearly 40 inches of rain have fallen at the Sonoma County airport, 8 inches more than normal — and 2 inches greater than the same period last year.

“It’s the same old story,” said Rob Houweling, operations coordinator for the county transportation department. “With the rains, we’ve got no shortage of potholes.”

Cities haven’t been exempt from the problem either.

“With the heavy rains and the fact we are not able to do the maintenance that we had been able to do in the past because of the funding situation, we are seeing an increase in potholes,” said Joe Schiavone of the Santa Rosa streets department.

But county’s roads face an especially bleak future even when the sunshine returns. Last year, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors bowed to an unpleasant economic reality — the county doesn’t have the funds to maintain its 1,384-mile network of county roads, the largest in the Bay Area.

So supervisors voted to focus paving funds on 150 miles of the most trafficked roads in the county, leaving the rest to languish with only basic care such as pothole repair. Regardless of the weather, the situation will improve only if state funding does, Houweling said.

“What you are going to start finding is that each of those roads are going to start deteriorating worse and worse,” he said. “It’s kind of a no-win situation for us right now.”

Drivers who suffer damage from county potholes face their own no-win situation. As of Thursday, the county had received 46 claims alleging pothole damage since July 1. None had been recompensed.

“The county of Sonoma cannot be held liable for natural weather events that cause this type of widespread damage,” a recent denial letter stated.

As far as McGill is concerned, the best course of action may be to avoid problems altogether by driving more carefully and considering what’s on your wheels.

The spike in pothole damage at his shop isn’t a function of poor roads alone, he said. Cash-strapped drivers are pushing old treads too long. And the increased popularity of low-profile performance tires leaves some vehicles without adequate cushion to withstand the impact of hitting potholes.

“It’s a combination of things,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Sam Scott at 521-5431 or at sam.scott@pressdemocrat.com.

23 Responses to “Plenty of potholes in Sonoma County”

  1. John Dean says:

    And another thing, if the utilities do a repair in the middle of a roadway, sewer or water line repair, they should be responsible for the road they patch for a minimum of 5 years. Many potholes begin with a bad patch job. I lost an oil pan on bad patch job not more than 3 weeks old.

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  2. GAJ says:

    Have you driven on one of the current stretches of “test” gravel roads?

    In a non ABS car, your stopping distance is at least double, (mine certainly was), in a car with ABS stopping distances will be even longer.

    Gravel + ABS = OH OH!

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  3. Sonoma Mtn Man says:

    I have family in the midwest – tons of ice, snow, salt and thats just winter – add Summer rains – and the average house costs maybe $80K. Their county has much less prop tax income and yet their roads are amazing compared to Sonoma. Here I live on a road with many multi-million dollar houses and plenty of tax income – but the road is almost turned to gravel….???!!??!?! Is this rocket science that SoCo can not figure out? Nobody will want to build new homes here or invest in businesses in a county that appears in decay. If this is not addressed soon – we will have gravel roads and all be in need of SUVs and people will leave – creating a downward spiral.

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  4. Jim Flatow says:

    At the last Sonoma Transportation Authority meeting Director Gary Wysocky, who also sits on the Santa Rosa City Council, stated that there were millions to be spent on Sonoma County and Santa Rosa road repair and maintenance.

    So, I wonder why all of this concern about potholes and bad roads. Could he be mistaken? Never, well sometimes.

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  5. Fiscal Conservative says:

    I see the no.1 goal of sonoma county dept of transportation has come closer to being met.

    Yes indeed! we have a county road department that shows it no.1 goal as ‘to preserve air quality’ and it’s last goal is ‘matinence of roads’.

    look for yourselves…


    That’s not my intent for my hard earned tax dollars.

    I see that more county management layoffs are needed!

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  6. Social Dis-Ease says:

    Yeah, I shouldn’t be driving anyway. I ‘wanna do my part to help stop Global Warming. Besides, I can’t afford my home, my taxes or my car anymore. I’ll just ride my bike. Wish I could have a humble, confined, oppressed little existance near a Smart Train. I could probably go downstairs to shop. Then my life would be Sustainable. Then I know I’d be looked after, well…watched anyway.

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  7. J.R. Wirth says:

    This isn’t a big deal, just get rid of your hybrid and buy a 4WD SUV. Eventually the roads will look like some third world African country and we can all pretend to be on Safari when we drive to Safeway.

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  8. Steve Klausner says:

    Well there’s an upside. I’ve noticed that the craterus pot holes are having a calming effect on traffic speed on my rural road. Helpful neighbors spray paint them to make them easy to spot for motorists, cyclists, and the occasional road repair crew (who I always stop and thank).

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  9. Mr. Obvious says:

    The County Transportation Authority is dumping another $3-Million into that worthless black hole to nowhere? What about the $11-Million the PD says the County has already committed to the SMART dead end?

    Let’s see: $14-Million divided by 81,175 potholes works out to about $172.50 per pot hole and they could ALL be filled.

    Imagine that! An obvious choice! Any fool could get this one right.
    A benefit desperately needed by every resident in the county;
    throw the money down the drain to the benefit of a statistical nobody.

    You’d have to be an idiot to get this one wrong. Our SCTA board are not a bunch of idiots; are they?

    PS: If the county doesn’t know how to get a pothole filled for $172.50, give me a call. You don’t even need to worry about facing my unfunded retirement, you’ll have covered mine in advance.

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  10. Carol Martin says:

    Fix the Roads!

    There is a definite conflict of interest on the Sonoma County Transportation Authority and the SMART train Board of Directors when they vote fund transfers to SMART. Many on these two boards are the same people.

    How can the SMART Board ask for $3 million to cover a SMART deficit from another county board where many of the SMART directors also sit?

    Something is rotten in Demark!

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  11. FUBAR says:

    Good point West County Watcher, but I have a better idea. We don’t have to restructure the gubment’ – for the debt problem is easily solved. I can think of a variety of ways.

    The total personal wealth in the United States is around $50 trillion. The government simply chooses a number – say 8 – and then one day seizes the entire wealth of everyone whose social security number ends in that digit. The Gubment’ collects an instant $5T, minus the costs of collection.

    Sure, there will need to be imprisonment of a few people so that everyone else falls in line, but hey, that’s what the IRS is for … right?

    Obviously, 51% of the American population would happily support this, since it doesn’t harm them and they think they’ll get something for nothing. Rinse and repeat. Choose a different number next time, which 51% will once again support. This is simply a frank application of the common gubment’ tactic of subdividing people into groups that are too small to defend themselves and then stealing their wealth.

    Let’s all just get it out in the open…our present system is based on 51% of the US living on the dole…at the expense of their neighbor. Voting is simply the process of electing someone who promises he will steal the most for us, at the expense of someone else of course. Our neighbors, the “rich”, the unborn, whoever. Gubment’ happily mediates this theft, and promotes and abets it, because they take a cut of each transaction. The more theft, the better (from the gubment’s point of view).

    51% will agree that this type of Democracy works just fine, but the truth is ….we were born a Republic, {for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for ALL}.

    All fun aside…I invite all readers to join me and others in raising public awareness regarding the distinction between a Democracy and a Republic.

    A republic and a democracy are identical in every aspect except one. In a republic the sovereignty is in each individual person. In a democracy the sovereignty is in the group.

    Do your own research, but please choose with a sense of history and not blind ideology. We’ve been here before.

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  12. Carol Martin says:

    With all of these potholes and road maintenance issues the Sonoma Transportation Authority is preparing to give the SMART train Board $3 million today to help cover their $21 million plus deficit.

    The Authority’s Chairman is none other than Pothole Jake Mackenzie who also sits on the SMART Board of directors.

    This $3 million donation needs to be spent on Sonoma County road repair and maintenance filling in potholes and not filling in the fiscal pothole SMART has created.

    The Transportation Authority needs to vote a big “NO” to SMART.

    If you can, attend the Transportation Authority meeting today at the Sonoma County Planning Commission hearing room at 2:30 p.m. and voice you opposition to giving SMART a check for $3 million dollars. Check their Website.

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  13. Joe says:

    What it’s all about is quality, or lack thereof. I grew up in Western New York. They have 4 months of snow, ice and freezing temperatures, yet even the local crews can deal with roads better than the contractors hired by the County and Caltrans. The recent repave of 116 from Monte Rio to Jenner was done by out-of-state contractors. They have no vested interest in our county. How about we have some real inspection and rejection of shoddy work? Who cares if the project runs a little late? Get it done right the first time.

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  14. Pothole city says:

    Nothing is worse than Petaluma which is sadly known as the Pothole Capital of the World. There are potholes on main roads, some of which are less than 20 years old, that are enormous. An accident will happen just trying to avoid the craters.

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  15. John bly says:

    One cannot put signs up, collect taxes for, and have crews to maintain County roads, then deny responsibility for not maintaining them due to rain. Sorry, you can maintain the roads now, or pay the attorneys later. Priorities, not pensions.

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  16. Dan Delgado says:

    The County is not turning it’s back on the road conditions. It has no choice because all of its money goes to employee pay and benefit packages. Be sure to thank a deputy when that tierod end breaks off.

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  17. Terry says:

    The county says they have filled an estimated 81,175 potholes. That is just the county property right?? That doesn’t count the thousands of pot holes in the city of Santa Rosa.
    Maybe they shouldn’t just fill the pot holes, resurface!

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  18. John Parnell says:

    I wonder how many potholes could be fixed with the $3 million that the SCTA will be voting tomorrow to give to SMART? Isn’t that about how much was slashed from the budget to fix roads in Sonoma? When they declared their “Roads to Dirt” program, they failed to mention that they would give that money to SMART. This is disgusting.

    Jake Mackenzie, Valerie Brown, Shirlee Zane & Carol Russell serve on both SCTA & SMART Boards. If they represent you, maybe you should let them know whether you want your roads fixed, or if you’d rather them give all that money to their political folly trolley. At the very least, let them know with your vote the next time they’re on the ballot.

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  19. L. Calaran says:

    With regard to the “denial letter” (i.e. “The county of Sonoma cannot be held liable for natural weather events that cause this type of widespread damage,” a recent denial letter stated), its easy to deny accountability but its not always a shield in a civil trial.

    The state repeatedly warns people that “driving is not a right” unless a driver has a license to drive.

    That statement gives implicit liability to the government because the government lays claim to all that happens on the roads by making the ownership claim.

    If someone gets hurt badly or even killed in a car accident that can be attributed to potholes or failure of the government (city, county, or state) to maintain that roadway, liability is established.

    The government cannot take tax money for road ways and then deny liability for the usefulness of that road.

    And, this includes physical damage to vehicles due to lack of roadway maintenance.

    All it will take will be a few dozen denials by government and a follow up in small claims before the county discovers its going to be on the paying end of this matter.

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  20. The Hammer says:

    What amazes me is the roads in Kentucky. Lots of rain there and the roads are beautiful. Makes one wonder what the hell the real problem is here.

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  21. GAJ says:

    So glad we didn’t opt for uber low profile tires on either of our cars.

    Also glad I own a SuperMoto motorcycle that eats potholes for lunch.

    Still, absolutely ridiculous that the County is turning its back on one of its most basic functions…and in a County that heavily depends economically on tourism no less.

    Short sighted stupidity due to horrific budget planning, especially since 1999.

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  22. West County Watcher says:

    Pot holes are just the beginning. We have roadways out in the West County actually falling off the hill side. I was fortunate enough to build a house out here, well over a decade ago and it has been declining since day one. Even though the County forced me to pay a $8000 road impact fee yet, they decided to not maintain the road but, still cashed that check and collect my property taxes every year. Maybe it is time to restructure government. If the City councils can be compensated at around $1000/month why do the County Supes need to be paid $10,000/month? Seems a bit out of whack to me?

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  23. ELIMITATE C.A.R.B. says:

    ITS CALLED SHODDY WORK.Look at the new freeway already the seams are coming apart and its very bumpy and uneven.Check out summerfield rd.,2 years old…looks terrible. how bout some quality control.
    Now travel to another state .The roads are level and smooth with no vertical seams

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