Voters this month agreed to lock in tens of millions of local dollars each year for road improvements and upgrades to Sonoma County’s bus network and bicycle and pedestrian paths, ensuring transportation officials have dedicated funds for infrastructure projects into 2045.
In an countywide election that saw near-record turnout, Measure DD comfortably passed with 71% support, 4 points clear of the two-thirds majority it needed for approval. The extension of an existing quarter-cent sales tax won’t kick in until spring of 2025, but allows the county and its nine cities to start initial planning and grant work on the next generation of road and transportation projects.
While Measure DD, also known as the Go Sonoma Act, carries forward similar objectives as Measure M, the 20-year tax that voters narrowly passed in 2004, it has a reconfigured spending plan for the projected $26 million in yearly revenue. No major projects were included in the renewal measure after the initial tax allocated 40% of its annual funds to widening Highway 101 from the Marin County line north to Windsor.
The new measure puts more emphasis on smaller upgrades, including a greater share of funding for local roads, transit, bike and pedestrian projects.
Some local officials who split sharply with the anti-tax group said the voting results represented the fall of an inflexible coalition that had lost touch with the electorate.
A powerful coalition of Sonoma County business groups that spent tens of thousands of dollars to fight local tax measures up and down the ballot appears to have lost every race, the group conceded Wednesday, a stinging blow for industry leaders who were piecing together what went wrong.
The 2020 Tax Moratorium Coalition, a group comprised of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, the North Bay Leadership Council and the North Coast Builders Exchange, spent nearly $80,000 to oppose eight county- and city-level tax measures, including a countywide sales tax extension for roads and transit projects and a new countywide tax to bolster mental health and homeless services.
But with preliminary results showing a solid majority of voters backed all measures, rejecting the group’s message countywide, county leaders and political experts say the coalition is due for a reckoning.
“I was dumbfounded when they took this position,” Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chair Susan Gorin said Tuesday night. “And I think this is a repudiation of any coalition of groups to take an inflexible position on every tax measure across the board.”
The February storms that swelled the Russian River to its highest level in more than two decades did $23 million in damage to Sonoma County roads, including more than 100 landslides and slipouts, leaving county crews and contractors with a Herculean repair job that will take months to complete.
The scale, severity and cost of the damage could rise, as assessments are ongoing. Some slides and slope failures remain unstable or are continuing to move, officials said.
“We have been hammered in west county,” Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said, asserting that her district sustained the most damage. “It’s been very stressful.”
In some cases, slides can’t be cleared from roads until the rain-soaked soil dries out because removing muddy earth could prompt renewed slides on steep hillsides, she said.
Six county roads remained closed and eight others were partially blocked, according to the county’s road conditions report on Friday. In late February, more than 50 roads were closed by the deluge.
Storm damage since two waves of rain in February includes 110 landslides and slipouts, said Daniel Virkstis, of the county’s Transportation and Public Works Department.
The public is invited to a meeting Thursday to discuss the state’s Gleason Beach project, a Highway 1 realignment that would shift the roadway inland and away from ocean erosion of cliffs about five miles north of Bodega Bay.
The meeting will be at the Bodega Bay Marine Lab lecture hall, 2099 Westshore Road in Bodega Bay from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Attendees will be able to view and provide input on the latest roadway and bridge project designs.
The purpose of the project is to provide a safe coastside transportation that avoids erosion undermining the coastal highway. Late last year, Caltrans issued an emergency work order to temporarily stabilize Highway 1 near Gleason Beach after damage from multiple erosive forces made the roadway vulnerable, especially in storms and extreme weather. According to Caltrans, at the current rate of coastal retreat, the roadway at Gleason Beach abutting the coastal bluffs is expected to be undermined within the five years.
The project would construct a 3,700-foot, two-lane roadway and 850-foot long bridge span over Scotty Creek, shifting the entire roadway to the east, away from the eroding cliff side. The road and bridge would be 49 feet wide and include 6-to-8-foot shoulders and a 6-foot wide sidewalk in the southbound direction for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The project also includes improving three access roads to Highway 1, plus additional improvements to vehicle turnouts and adding a dedicated parking area.
The realignment project has already conducted and received a certified Final Environmental Impact/Environmental Assessment under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The EIR states that no significant impact is expected from the project, though Caltrans states the bridge structure will change the visual character of the coastal landscaping looking inland from Gleason Beach.
Caltrans has plans to help mitigate impacts to coastal wetlands, the Scotty Creek floodplain, water quality, federally listed threatened and endangered species, including the Myrtle’s silverspot butterfly, and the rural character of the coastal Sonoma County landscape. Caltrans expects the project will improve the environmental baseline of the Scotty Creek floodplain because the bridge will span the floodplain and remove a culvert currently spanning the creek that creates a potential barrier to migrating salmonids.
Read more at: Caltrans moving ahead with Gleason Beach project | News | sonomawest.com
Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to delay until June 2015 a proposed quarter-cent sales tax measure to fund maintenance and repairs on the county’s crumbling 1,382-mile road network.
They also agreed to shorten the measure’s 20-year life to five years.
The move came after county officials, citing public distrust of government spending, said they needed additional time to educate voters about the county’s long-term roads plan and establish support for the tax increase. It was originally set for a March special election after the Board of Supervisors this summer passed on its chance to place the measure on the November ballot.
A half-dozen people spoke in favor of the county’s new approach, including the shorter five-year lifespan for the tax measure.
“The public needs this short leash for accountability,” said John Bly, executive vice president of the Northern California Engineering Contractors Association.
Officials said the cost for the special election next summer would range from $400,000 to $600,000. Public outreach for community meetings and brochures is expected to cost an additional $60,000.
If approved, the sales tax measure would generate $20 million per year, shared between the county and its nine cities. The county’s portion would be $8.7 million per year. The county has pegged its road maintenance backlog at $268 million.
Supervisors on Tuesday agreed to retain 10 percent of the measure’s tax revenue for public transit if it passes. The board scrapped plans for an advisory measure that was to accompany the tax proposal, stating voters’ preference that the revenue go to roads.
Read more via Supervisors postpone road tax measure to June | The Press Democrat.