By MIKE WINDSOR
Nowhere else is it considered normal for youngsters to lose loose teeth and oldsters their kidney stones riding down bone-rattling roads. But in Sonoma County it’s going to get even worse.
The official county road maintenance policy is to allow 80 percent of our roads to deteriorate to gravel. It seems obvious (except to our county supervisors) this policy is bad for business, tourism and property values and terrible for all of our quality of life.
The noisy, dusty gravel roads in our future will have not only potholes but also long, deep ruts. Add chipped paint and broken windshields to the current problems of flat tires, bent rims and ruined front-end alignments.
Commuting to work, driving kids to school, going to the store will take twice as long and be about four times more aggravating, when speed limits and safety require us to drive half as fast yet bounce around twice as much.
Fire and police response times will be much slower, jeopardizing lives and property.
There won’t be cycling races, or even family bike rides, on gravel roads.
Surely the supervisors realize property values go down significantly for houses on unpaved streets.
And yet, despite all the awful implications, they’ve embraced this policy.
The county supervisors are quick to say they wish they could fix the problem, but it’s complex, involving gas tax formulas, the bad economy and decades of neglect. But really, facing the problem is simple: Either county roads are a government priority or they’re not.
For 10 years, county spending on roads maintenance has steadily been diverted to other programs. Suddenly, with elections under way, there has been lots of concern expressed by all the candidates. The incumbents are claiming progress and leadership, but over the past four years they’ve consistently reduced road funding and their true level of concern is reflected in their policy to abandon 80 percent of our roads. What they really wish is for the problem to just go away.
Driving down Gericke Road the other day I realized perhaps their wish could come true.
Gericke is one of many roads in west county that cross into Marin County. You don’t need a sign to know when you’ve crossed the county line; even with your eyes closed it’s obvious when the road changes from horrific to heavenly. In Marin, even the most remote roads are pristine.
That’s when the solution came to me: sell all of Sonoma County west of Sebastopol to Marin County.
In one simple move the supervisors are rid of the majority of their road maintenance responsibilities and the pesky citizens who think county government should responsibly provide and maintain safe, reliable roads and bridges. The county’s general fund would receive enough money to balance the budget, extend library hours back to normal and beautifully pave all of the remaining county roads.
What’s in it for Marin? Well, they get stuck with what the Sonoma County supervisors don’t find worthy of basic infrastructure: hundreds of thousands of acres of beautiful Pacific coastline, Redwood forests, organic farms and dairies and world-class vineyards; they’ll get thousands of self-reliant inhabitants who ask very little of county government; and they’ll get many millions of dollars annually from property and sales taxes.
As a proud resident of west Sonoma County, I can’t say I’m eager to live in Marin. I love Sonoma. But to be honest, in return for decent roads and no more doubletalk about why it can’t happen, I could get used to saying, “I live in north county.”
So let your supervisor know you support downsizing the county, literally, instead of downsizing all the services as they’ve been doing.
Or, tell them you expect county government to responsibly maintain our roads. Vote for supervisors who will make roads a priority. And join Save Our Sonoma Roads (SOSRoads.org).
Or consider opening a windshield replacement and paint-chip repair shop.
Mike Windsor is a retired speech writer who lives in west county and is a member of Save Our Sonoma Roads.