The man in charge of getting our Highway 12 sidewalk project constructed —Sonoma County Deputy Public Works Director Tom O’Kane — told me the county is “still working its way through the Caltrans process,” but he plans to advertise the project for construction bids before April 1. O’Kane expects to get the Caltrans encroachment permit in May, which will allow a contractor to start work this summer.
I want to give a shout out of appreciation to Mr. O’Kane and his staff. There’s been a major change in attitude and support from the county public works department in recent years from what we experienced through much of the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s, when the project was on the bottom of public works’ priority list.
The need to construct sidewalks along Highway 12 was identified in the area’s original redevelopment plan written in the mid-1980s. In the early 1990s, Springs residents and business people started pressuring the county redevelopment agency to make installing the sidewalks a priority. An initial short segment from Verano Boulevard to what is now the “Happy Dog” circle was constructed in the late 1990s. It then took another 10 years before the stretch to Boyes Boulevard was installed.
Former Supervisor Valerie Brown also deserves major acknowledgement for what she did in her final weeks in office so that the county would complete the project. The record of what happened is in minutes, staff reports and video recordings of supervisors’ meetings on the board’s website at Supervisors.sonoma-county.org.
During board member announcements at the beginning of the supervisors’ November 13, 2012 meeting, Brown asked if they would consider directing county staff to look for funding to provide $450,000 to finish the Highway 12 project design and to get sign-off from Caltrans. Supervisors Shirlee Zane and Efren Carrillo expressed strong support for the project. However, the board couldn’t take action, as the request had to be scheduled as an agenda item.
On December 11, 2012, at what was Brown’s last meeting as a county supervisor, the board made two decisions that moved the project forward. The first was approving the $450,000 to finish the planning and design. The other was directing staff to return to the board as part of the 2013/14 budget process with options for potentially funding the completion of the Highway 12 project and three other redevelopment projects in Roseland and the Russian River area. During the discussion every supervisor expressed how Highway 12 was a safety issue and that completing the project should be a priority. Brown thanked her colleagues profusely “for getting it.”
Staff returned as directed on May 14, 2013 informing the board the county would have an estimated $24.4 million in available property tax revenue through mid-2017 that could be used to complete the four previously discussed redevelopment projects. The board reiterated its commitment to finishing the projects and directed staff to return with specifics during the budget process, which occurred the following month.
To clarify, the funds the county will use to complete our Highway 12 project, and the three other redevelopment projects, are coming from property taxes collected in former redevelopment zones. These taxes previously went to the redevelopment agency, but are now going into the county’s general fund. By approving the use of these taxes to finish redevelopment projects, the supervisors are simply spending the money as always intended.
The question now is, what will the supervisors do to address other infrastructure and economic development needs in the Springs after the four projects are completed?