WatchSonoma Watch

Supervisor candidates offer cures for rural road woes

Ken Adelson is concerned about the state of disrepair of Sonoma Mountain Road, where he lives. The road is littered with large cracks and potholes. (Christopher Chung / PD)


Since purchasing their Sonoma Mountain Road property in 1999, Ken and Karen Adelson have grown frustrated watching the narrow two-lane road deteriorate to rock and dirt in some places.

“It’s a dreadful stretch, not just for motorists but for cyclists and anyone who walks up there,” said Ken Adelson, who is a lawyer.

The couple are keeping close tabs on the 1st District supervisor’s race and at what the five candidates propose to fix and maintain roads. The issue resonates not just in Sonoma Valley and eastern Santa Rosa, but across the county, where the voices of complaint get louder with each new pothole.

The question is: with a maintenance backlog of $120 million and only $4.5 million dedicated to long-term road upkeep, does anything the 1st District candidates suggest stand any chance of finding support among the public or generating enough money to put a dent in the problem?

Three of the five candidates in the race say part of the solution lies in asking county residents to raise their taxes.

“We’re going to have to put that choice in front of the voters,” Sonoma Valley energy consultant Mark Bramfitt said. “This is really a case where we simply don’t have enough money.”

Bramfitt mentioned an increase in property or parcel taxes, or a new assessment district, as well as higher gas taxes statewide.

Gina Cuclis, a Boyes Hot Springs communications consultant, said the problem with road conditions “is so large that it’s going to take multiple funding streams and solutions.”

She specifically mentioned increasing the county’s hotel bed taxes by 2 percent and applying that money to roads.

Santa Rosa Councilwoman Susan Gorin said she supports the current Board of Supervisors taking a look at possibly raising bed taxes or creating a new road maintenance district. But she would not say whether she supports either of those options.

“Right now I am supporting looking at every potential source of funding to create the kind of funding we need to bring our roads up to standard,” Gorin said.

Santa Rosa Councilman John Sawyer and Sonoma Mayor Joanne Sanders said they oppose raising taxes.

Sanders advocates conducting an audit of what county employees earn, particularly in administration, and comparing that with what employees in similar jobs in other counties and in the private sector earn.

Sanders said she’d seek $60 million in savings through a 10 percent cut in county payrolls.

The county’s payroll records, however, show that $300 million was paid out in salaries in 2011. Therefore, a 10 percent across-the-board pay cut would generate about half of Sanders’ target amount.

In a follow-up conversation, Sanders said the $60 million savings still would be possible with job consolidations an additional payroll cuts.

Sanders said the money achieved through payroll reductions could be diverted to roads. She said another source of revenue could come through changes to public employee retirements, which so far is the other hot-button issue in the 1st District race. All of the candidates to one degree or another favor such changes.

Sawyer’s focus has been on asking voters for approval to re-apportion Measure M funds and devote a higher percentage to road maintenance. The quarter-percent transportation sales tax was approved by county voters in 2004 and currently generates $1.35 million annually for routine road maintenance out of a total of $17 million.

Sawyer mentioned the Farmers Lane extension in Santa Rosa — a $41 million long-range project that could be eligible for some Measure M funding — as one project that could be delayed because he said growth “has not occurred there as quickly as we thought.”

Measure M also funds Highway 101 improvements and construction related to the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit System.

Sawyer said his desire is for the proposed Measure M changes to make the November ballot, otherwise he said it would require a special election or wait another two years to put the issue before voters. He also advocates extending Measure M for another 20 years.

“I would like to use the tools we have before asking people for more taxes,” he said.

Sawyer’s opponents called his plans off-base.

Cuclis said it would be “robbing Peter to pay Paul” to re-allocate Measure M funds, while Gorin said she was “pessimistic that we’d get all of the parties to agree on what they wanted the re-allocation to be.”

Bramfitt credited Sawyer for “thinking outside the box.” But he said the Measure M plan “does not fill that big hole.”

All of the revenue-generating plans outside of an increase in the state’s gas tax that are being floated by several of the candidates would not generate nearly enough money in the short-term to repair the county’s roads and pay for annual maintenance.

County staff estimates that an additional $6.6 million could be found for road maintenance in unincorporated areas of the county through a combination of a 3-percent increase in hotel bed taxes, a county-wide quarter-percent sales tax and by extending Measure M for another 20 years.

That amount would be just the county government’s portion of those increases, and not all of it would automatically be earmarked for road maintenance but would require supervisors to set spending priorities, said Tom O’Kane, the county’s deputy director of public works.

The county currently budgets $4.5 million a year for upkeep of its 1,382-mile road network, and for now, focuses maintenance efforts on 219 miles of heavily-traveled roads.

The county has received $5 million annually in federal funds in the past for road maintenance. That amount is uncertain for next fiscal year.

Supervisors in February also voted to increase spending on long-term road maintenance — known as “pavement preservation” — by $2.2 million by tapping a portion of the franchise fees paid by solid waste haulers.

“There’s no silver bullet here,” O’Kane said.

15 Responses to “Supervisor candidates offer cures for rural road woes”

  1. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    I have an idea of where the BOA can find some the money for road repairs. The ratio of frontline employees to management is pathetically low. The rank and file got hit with layoffs while managers were ADDED since 2008.

    Layoff 6 managers and save $1M. Lay of 12 and save $2M. Layoff 18 and save $3M. And cut future pension costs as well.

    Hey, candidates for the BOA. The BOA hands over the decisions on budget cuts to top management and the BOA approves those decisions. The BOA also approves added management positions recommended by those same managers. THIS needs to stop. Picking on the rank and file employees who provide the services needs to stop.

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  2. DeeDee says:

    The thing is Sonoma Mt. is an active geological wedge uplift. The Mountain grows by 2 inches a year. Best place in the county to test gravel roads cause maintaining asphalt would be an annual project

    And again, 1/3rd of the 1st District”s B1 Bond money for road work got spent up there in a experimental repair of a slide that has always been there.

    Now if the County were to open up the lands they are holding on Sonoma Mt. to public access (something the neighborhood opposes)there might be an argument to better maintain that road.

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  3. John T says:

    It’s not a question of needing more taxes, it’s a question of setting priorities, and roads are clearly not a priority with the County sups.

    They can spend millions they don’t have on green energy projects they can’t really afford at the expense of the roads falling apart. Sort of like folks who buy beer and cigarettes and don’t pay the rent, they just can’t help themselves.

    Green projects are a good thing, but right now it’s time to be responsible and get back to basics.

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  4. Billy C says:

    It seems the average voter in Sonoma county is OK with letting go of the roads.
    This a quite a surprise to me as I have greatly enjoyed being able to freely drive about the county to go to work, school or friends houses. It is time to face the facts We have chosen progressive leadership that Wants to do away with quarry’s, asphalt plants, roads and most businesses. In place of that they prefer
    bikes,trains and high-density housing.
    With this new environment we will have to accept some harsh financial realities that go with it.

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  5. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    DeeDee-there are other enclaves in Sonoma County that have to fix their own roads. Condo and apartment complexes to too. But before Sonoma Mountain was a popular rich people’s retreat that road was a county road. That’s the problem.
    When I moved to the county I used to drive all the country county roads regularly including Sonoma Mountain road (for the fun of it). I can say that that road has been in worse repair. I agree with you about the big trucks and other traffic. Those grapes need to get to market somehow.

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  6. GAJ says:

    Take some time to think about what Kirstin posted:

    “It is a disgrace that only $4.5 million is dedicated to roads when the 2011-12 total county requested budget was 1.25 billion.”

    Road maintenance is less than one half of one percent of the budget!

    The mismanagement of the Board of Supervisors over the past few decades is completely and utterly stunning.

    Note that on their very own website here is what you will find named as their number one priority:

    “A major task of the Board of Supervisors is to manage the public money which comes to the county from property tax, sales tax, fees, and federal and state income grants. The county budget has funds for services such as:

    *Local road construction and maintenance

    *Law enforcement

    *Land use planning and enforcement

    *Open space preservation

    *Local bus servicePublic health programs

    *Human service programs

    *Regional parks”

    They should remove road maintenance entirely from their list of priorities, let alone having it as their number one priority because inaction speaks louder than words!

    Their first priority should be changed to:

    *Growing the pay and benefits of County Employees…starting with the Board Of Supervisors.


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  7. Roads Are Just One Sign says:

    of the County’s failure to prioritize and adjust to the new fiscal reality. The County is still in denial. The Board is responsible and Administration is complicit. As a regular Board watcher, it is apparent that information for the Board to make informed decisions is not being provided.

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  8. DeeDee says:

    Is there a road in Sonoma County less traveled then Sonoma Mountain Road?

    Is this the same road that sucked up 3 quarters of the 1st District’s B1 Bond money to fix their slide?

    In Sonoma County, could you find more fancy gated driveways then on Sonoma Mt. Rd?

    How much hired help, tucks and equipment does it take to maintain an estate with such a nice view on Sonoma Mt Road?

    What’s the crumbling volcanic geology of Sonoma Mt.?

    You guys are all rich, set up a district and fix your own damn road. You are at the bottom priority list.

    And stop littering the roads with your SOS signs.

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  9. Steveguy says:

    I nknow, let ua apend $30 Million on a bike bridge, $200 MILLION plus on a new courthouse, and countless MILLIONS on ‘studies’.

    Gotta keep the ‘consultants’ that contribute to the campaigns flush with money, same as the administrators, ( I mean the bribe takers), oops.

    Such is politics.

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  10. Jason Brown says:

    All of this points up the fact that the County of Sonoma is broke. The Supervisors have no answers except raise taxes. Most of the candidates have no answers, only raise taxes.

    None of them are willing to come up the obvious solution and address the real problem. Too much spending and too many taxes being spent on the wrong projects.

    SMART comes to mind, huge county pension obligations, too many unaffordable social programs and way too much union influence on the Supervisors.

    Time for some clear thinking, or at least some thinking on the part of those running for supervisor. But alas, given the track record of the band of candidates who have tossed their hats in the ring recently, there is not much hope things will change.

    The ship of state hasn’t sunk yet in their minds, so why worry. Somebody will throw out a life ring into the cruel sea of political discord.

    But captn’ Brown can’t keep his ship off the rocks either. His band of pirates are raiding the state treasury.

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  11. Dan Drummond says:

    Sonoma County pension costs went from $21 million in 2000 to $97 million in 2010 and are expected to reach $209 million by 2020 (source Sonoma County Ad Hoc Report on Pension Reform). That’s where the roads budget went (and parks, libraries, veterans services, senior services, health services, etc.). Reining in employee compensation and pension costs is the key. The county has begun within the past few weeks negotiations with the first of eleven bargaining units with contracts set to expire over the next twelve months. The Supes say they’re going to be firm and extract concessions from the employees. Maybe, maybe not. Keep an eye on the negotiations this summer. That’s where the action is.

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  12. Phil Maher says:

    There is a “Magic Bullet”- Fully reallocate the Measure Q funds from the SMART train and STOP diverting Measure M funds to it entirely. The long-term road maintenance issues will be funded/solved entirely within no more than 5-6 years, given the annual sales tax revenue generated by these two taxes as they currently stand.

    If you can’t fix what you already have wrong with what the taxpayers already give you in order to do so, we would be idiots of the highest order to give you more.

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  13. Jimbo96 says:

    Ask how much the State and Federal Governments make on the sale of fuel sold in Sonoma County, and then ask how much of the fuel tax goes back to Sonoma County? The next question is how much of this is actually spent on roads, and how much on other things? Since this is supposed to be a society that is open, why wasn’t this information provided by the author? This is basic information that would then allow anyone to make a much more informed decision as to what is actually going on. Is there one government agency that takes or gives more than it gets? Do both fed and state take more than they give the county? Then just let the public know exactly how much money the county gets from the state and federal government specifically for roads. Maybe if the voters knew how much was taken from them, how much they got back, how much each layer of government took for itself, it would make for a much more informed voting public. That is the object of the news media, to inform the public of that which the government wishes to hide from you?

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  14. Kirstin says:

    It is a disgrace that only $4.5 million is dedicated to roads when the 2011-12 total county requested budget was 1.25 billion. Road maintenance is a basic function of a county government. It should receive priority when budgets are put together.

    Look at the county budget yourself (http://www.sonoma-county.org/auditor/pdf/fy_11-12_recommended_budget.pdf), and see on what the supervisors spend your tax dollars.

    Before any new taxes are even considered, the BOS must re-order priorities and must allocate more of the existing budget to roads.

    Supervisorial candidates Sanders and Sawyer are most on-track in their proposals. The others seem to think the local taxpayers have bottomless pockets and can fund endless increases in spending. Hopefully, their misconceptions will be firmly corrected by the voters.

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  15. Graeme Wellington says:

    Again Sonoma County, it’s your fault. You keep electing and re-electing the same people who can’t balance their budget using the massive amounts they already collect.

    They want a tax hike? Fixing the roads is one of the few things the government should be doing with tax dollars. Why do I have to pay more taxes because the people we elected decided to spend the money on things the government should not be involved with at all?

    No way do you push a tax hike until you balance the budget and prioritize everything that only the government can do over all the other pet projects you spend the money on to insure re-election.

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