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GUEST OPINION: A modest proposal regarding rural roads

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.

Mike Windsor.

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.





25 Responses to “GUEST OPINION: A modest proposal regarding rural roads”

  1. John says:

    Infrastructure maintenance (especially bridge upkeep) has been were gov’t “finds” money for their pet projects. The roads and bridges suffer and then we are treated to the video on the evening news of a bridge collapse during rush hour. When I see a bridge being replaced I wonder if the gov’t lawyer told them to fix it or face a lawsuit. So they have to stop funding clean needles for junkies and high speed rail that no one rides and spend it on road and bridge maintenance.

    The reason the demorrhoids won’t fix the roads is because they hate cars and “big oil.” (Whatever that is.) One of the most certain ways to improve commerce (and by extension, tax revenue) is to have a complete and well maintained infrastructure. It allows the gov’t to charge (!) businesses when they use the roads. It allows business to make more money (and pay more taxes) because they can get their products to market faster and cheaper. The people benefit by not having to drive the Baja 1000 every day.

    And supposedly, all traffic violation fines go to the county road fund. But the state allows each county to move 50% of all traffic fines to the county GENERAL fund. Why not move that money back to the road fund?

    To fix this problem takes one of two things. The will of the current county gov’t to do it, or the will of the people to replace the slackers.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  2. Follower says:

    BEWARE…

    Driving on an unpaved road kicks up dust.

    SHOCKING, HUH?!!

    Well this may not shock some of you but the EPA has classified that “dust” as an air pollutant! They even have a cute little name undoubtedly dreamed up by a committee of over paid collage grads…

    It’s called “Fugitive Dust” and the EPA uses this ridiculous term give themselves jurisdiction over any such “public health hazard”!

    So go ahead & let the roads return to gravel and get ready for the EPA fines.

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  3. Lisa Black says:

    Had to return to this article to share an experience I had… I don’t drive, but push a cart to go to the grocery store…Yesterday my cart fell apart after a bumpy ride on the roads…

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  4. Clay Mitchell says:

    Let me point out as well that this is the same Board of Supervisors that would like to manage a power utility for us as well.

    I hope that voters remember the degree of management success in regards to the roads when they are asked to support this idea that would consolidate more power in the hands of the County administration.

    I’m no huge fan of PG&E, but I see this (and the SMART debacle) as prime evidence of why we should deny the county’s fanciful power project.

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 2

  5. GAJ says:

    We “don’t want to pay taxes”?

    That’s rich:

    *California has one of the highest income tax rates for the top 25% of households by income and one of the lowest income tax rates for lower-income households. The top 1% of income taxpayers in California account for almost 40% of income tax revenue.

    *California has an above-average state sales tax rate, but taxes fewer items than other states.

    *California has one of the highest corporate income tax rates and ranked 5th among the states in terms of per capita corporation tax revenues.

    *California has below-average property tax rates, but because of higher property values, in 2008, Californians paid $1,449 per capita in property taxes compared to the national average of $1,352.

    http://www.budgetchallenge.org/pages/ca_vs_other_states

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2

  6. Skippy says:

    “Ok, all you Tea Party Rebels: what public services do you want to pay for?”
    Here is a short list that should keep fans of Big Govt busy for a while.
    1)Voting Integrity. Require photo ID for anyone attempting to cast a ballot in Ca. That alone will add 20-30% more sane Republicans to the Legislature.
    2)Citizen Support. Ban the payment of tax dollars to any and all illegally invading immigrants. That will free up more than enough tax $ to balance the budget, pave the roads and keep the parks open.
    3)Constitutionalty Requirement. Any laws proposed by the Legislature must have the specific Constitutional clause cited that supports the new law. No citation: no legislation.
    4)Pension Financing. Require Big Govt employees to switch to a retirement system in which they make all the contributions, manage the fund, and live with the results. Just like the rest of us have to do.
    Do these simple things and the State will have a chance to prosper once again.
    Don’t do them, and follow Greece onto the ash heap of history.
    The Tea Party is here.

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 6

  7. Steveguy says:

    Close the parks, close the libraries, let the roads crumble.

    We have outrageous County salaries,pensions, benefits and health care for life to pay for. No money left over.

    We have been owned.

    I want the rank and file to stand up for the citizens. The real workers. I have noticed more coming forth here, that’s a start. You all should be ratting out your lame ‘bosses’, and the layers of stupidity.

    I feel for the front line workers, and have great respect for some. I have zero respect for their bosses.

    Report wasteful things here, the PD may even get on your side. They had to sue the County to get the pension records and won. Whistleblowing can get you fired, so watch out. Let the PD follow up tips.

    Maybe get some real road crews that take pride, instead of the perception of six standing around guys watching one using a shovel, which is ohh so true. Or hire out to small local road companies.

    Another HUGE point. I have maintained asphalt and gravel roads. Private lanes that exist all over, or ranch roads. Not often fixing asphalt.

    Gravel roads shed more dusty and silty run-off into the streams. By having the roads turn to gravel, more silt into the streams mean an adverse effect on the steelhead, salmon and the riparian habitats.

    Use their own tools to sue ? Why not? They sue for everything to stop any development for years.

    Save the Salmon- Save our Roads !

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

  8. Rich County, Lousy Services? says:

    Ok, all you Tea Party Rebels: what public services do you want to pay for?

    Because we’re paying for less and less over the past 30 years. Since Prop 13, services in this once great state have drifted into oblivion. Roads, schools, the UC and CSU colleges, health care, libraries, parks… Except for prisons. Even the precious “public safety” is compromised when it comes to summer fire protection and responses. You want those fire crews when?

    Ok, all you anti-government folks clamoring for smaller government and reduced salaries and equipment: what do you want to pay for, ‘cuz the rest is disintegrating before your eyes, just like the rural roads.

    Cutting pensions, while good fiscal policy, still won’t magically produce enough money to do even your roads. Nor will union busting.

    You don’t want more taxes, so who pays?

    Why do many huge California corporations get away with little to no income or property taxes? Why is the identical house next to yours, that sold 5 years ago, paying 4 times the taxes you are for your house you’ve lived in since 1976? You all ask for and get the same services.

    Time to reform Prop. 13. But so many of you would just knee jerk yell “no new taxes!!” and continue to think that daddy will fix everything if you just yell loud enough. The Republican anti-government acid trip for the last 40 years has brought its chickens home to roost.

    How about all you rural property owners demanding that the county water agency refund all your money paid for Coyote Dam and Warm Springs Dam, since you haven’t gotten a drop of county water?

    Stop whining, face the magnitude of the problem, and propose some real solutions for who and how we’ll pay to restore our great state.

    I know you’ll all give these comments a thumbs-down, but that still won’t pay for our needs. Think seriously about finance of public services for a change, or stop whining.

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 10

  9. Harold Simmons says:

    Poor roads means poor Supervisors. We need new ones.

    Why not get rid of the open space tax for land that can’t be developed or used as parks. Use the money for roads.

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 4

  10. Eileen M. says:

    Efren voted for Dutra. Why do we need an asphalt plant when the county is abandoning the roads.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 5

  11. Lo Sbandato says:

    It’s some people are in fact in favor of Third world rutted roads in one of the wealthiest counties in the state. Hard to figure what political platform that’s supporting, but stupid is everywhere.

    Speaking of stupid: bear, what part of “gross misallocation of available resources” don’t you understand? If the county allows large sections to become so inaccessible you need an off-road vehicle, what, in fact, are these supervisors supervising? Other than failure, obviously.

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 3

  12. Skippy says:

    “What part of “insufficient tax revenues” do you folks not understand?”
    The part where Big Govt thinks we are made of money, and the part where we pay for all their mistakes and bonndoggles.
    You can add the part about unsustainable hallucinatory pensions and lifetime benefits.
    Combine those with the arrogance and hubris of our local Masters…er…Supervisors, make a stack, stand on it, and you can see The Tea Party from there.
    We are gonna shrink Big Govt until it is smaller than the beknighted taxpayers.
    As it should be.

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 3

  13. Disaffected Voter says:

    Most places in the United States the politicans and citizens are very proud of their roads, but not here in progressive Sonoma County.

    I don’t know where the bored of stupidvisors pride is, but it sure isn’t in doing what they were elected to do, maintain and repair public roads and services.

    They seem overly concerned with the little toy train, not maintaining our roads.

    Their answers are not good enough. They are elected to serve the citizens, not the other way around.

    The union echo’s heard on this site represent a clearly marginalized sect with only one objective in mind, their wage and pension increases paid for by guess who, the citizens.

    It is time to say NO to the BOS and their Stalinist ways. Fix the damn roads and fix them now. That is why you are in office, not to collect a huge government check and public pension courtesy of the working folks in this county.

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 5

  14. skeptical says:

    A modest proposal in deed . . . Sonoma County wont fund basic infrastructure, but has promised Sonoma County Law Enforcement up to a 4% cost of living increase this year. That is a lot of money that could be allocated for infrastructure.

    What is the BOS thinking?

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  15. bill says:

    Public safety includes safe roads and our politicians give all of the existing tax income to the cops and none for safe roads. The same mentality is why we have a pension crisis and potential bankruptcy looming for the County. Roads service tax payers. All roads not just major ones.

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  16. bear says:

    What part of “insufficient tax revenues” do you folks not understand? Not to mention the many evil ways that taxes are allocated for specific purposes, including subsidizing the mistakes of state government.

    Clearly, major roads should be maintained. But what about all the little “public” roads that serve very limited populations? Who should pay for them?

    You might consider a parcel tax strictly for main roads, then pay directly for maintainance of the little roads serving your property.

    We just need new categories for “public” roads.

    Enjoy.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 18

  17. Coral says:

    One can only hope the supes read this article and suffer a monumental crisis of guilt. I believe it is time for the citizens of So Co to get a petition that would get a ballot created which would allow we the citizens to demand our priorities become the fundamental job of the Supes. I thought that was why we had Supervisors. We should pass laws that say NO diverting of funds/taxes. Also
    lets all request the accounting records from the CA state Lottery. Schools are closing. Californians buy millions of tickets every week. Where are all the dollars promised by the Lottery going?

    Time for 100% transparency and accountability

    Thumb up 21 Thumb down 2

  18. paul says:

    juvy, most of all old roads were wagon roads. That taxes go into the general fund is the loophole that allows the county (as well as city and state, and fed) to self administered pay raises, fiddleing with job titles and pay rates prior to retirement, absurd pensions. It all seems like free money to them. Earmarks don’t work because it all always goes into the general fund. They should all be in jail.

    West county should sue the county for using its % of funds for other nonroad uses. We’re almost a separate county out here. Maybe we should take a lesson from the Hatfield/McCoy tv series in that county law and justice and taxes is an immoral joke on the poor and those without influence. Pensions, Smart, ridgeline development, roads,……you name it, they can make it worse.

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 2

  19. Skippy says:

    Roads, sewers, storm drains, lighting and parks.
    These are the traditional services for which counties are responsible.
    Toy trains, diversity seminars, foreign language immersion schools, free needles and condoms are a profound waste of scarce tax dollars.
    If any of the Supes ran on a strictly conservative platform, the silent voters of Sonoma Co. would elect them until they retired.

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 3

  20. Billy says:

    I think its ironic that the bike coalition
    in there push for the smart train and transit oriented development will be the fist to suffer in the loss of our rural
    roads. Gravel and skinny bike tires don’t mix.

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 2

  21. Lisa Black says:

    Hi Mike

    What a fine piece about the Somoma County road conditions!! A very serious problem and a solution described with great humor. Go get ‘em!!

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 3

  22. Fiscal Conservative says:

    Mike hits the nail right on the head with his opinion. My wife drives a 4wd becouse her car was going through ball joints.

    A Corvette club was planning a rally through here in wine country last month but changed the venue after seeing the road conditions. The rally is now set up for Napa County.

    Spending our hard earned tax dollars on pension debt rather than much needed infastructure is a complete joke.

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 3

  23. Joe says:

    Isn’t this the same county that gave SMART millions of dollars, and now they don’t have enough money to take care of our rural roads? We that was stupid!

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 3

  24. Juvenal says:

    Most West County Roads are old wagon roads which never were properly constructed. I’m not surprised that they are reverting to same.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 14

  25. GAJ says:

    Ha ha ha, good one.

    The fact that the budget for Road Maintenance is less than the budget allocated just to the Board Of Supervisors is criminal, not just laughable.

    Existing road maintenance is a key measure of Supervisors’ performance.

    Based on that, at least 80% of them should be turned out at each election until they get their priorities in order.

    No new “oh so nice to do” projects until Road Maintenance is under control!!!

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 3

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