By Susan Gorin | First District Supervisor — Since the October fires, everyone in our community has rightly become more fluent in the language of disaster preparedness, response and recovery. As your county supervisor, I have had the opportunity to meet with experts and testify before Congress on the fires and their effect on our county. This is incredibly important work, but it is not the only important work—we certainly had plenty on our plates on October 7, and none of it disappeared because of the fires. There are still budgets to be passed, permits to be issued, and the myriad functions of county government still need attention.
I rely on my constituents to let me know what issues are important to them. One issue that has always been of constant interest and frustration to my constituents are our roads. Unfortunately, the October fires made an already challenging situation worse. Fire trucks, debris haulers, utilities vehicles, and soon construction vehicles have taken an additional toll on our roads, and this isn’t going to stop any time soon. The Sonoma County Transportation and Public Works (TPW) department is continuing to monitor road conditions in areas impacted by the fires and the debris cleanup effort. We are asking FEMA to take some responsibility for damaging our rural roads, and remain hopeful for a fair resolution.
I receive emails daily from District 1 residents about the sorry state of our roads, those in the burn areas and those in our residential areas in the unincorporated parts of the County. With the rains in March, the patches on the potholes have popped off leaving large holes just about everywhere; and you are right, we haven’t repaved many of those roads in decades, or ever.
It’s no secret that when you cross the county line to Napa or Marin Counties, the pavement is suddenly smoother. This isn’t because Sonoma County doesn’t invest in our roads; to the contrary, we actually spend more discretionary general fund money on roads than any other county in the state. The reason our county’s roads are not the same quality as our neighbors is because of the way funding is allocated.
Roads funding is not distributed based on the miles of roads a county has, it is distributed based only on population—the higher the population, the higher the funding. In unincorporated Sonoma County, we have 1,380 miles of roads, making our road network one of the most expansive in the area. We are also more sparsely populated. All this means that we get below average amounts of funding to fix our roads. With that many road miles, we need you to be our eyes.
If you see a dangerous pothole or other non-emergency road issue, please report it at: http://sonomacounty.ca.gov/Services/SoCo-Report-It/Submit-a-Service-Request/.
To deal with Sonoma County’s unique road maintenance challenges, TPW oversees the Pavement Preservation Program. When the Pavement Preservation map of projects for 2018/2019 came out last month, I was delighted to see some of the roads my constituents have been mentioning for years are on the list: Agua Caliente Road, Riverside Drive, 8th Street East and Trinity Road. (Sonomacounty.ca.gov/TPW/Roads/Services/Pavement-Preservation/).
Also under TPW’s purview is protecting county road users from hazardous trees along roadsides. After the fires, this became a much bigger job than usual—instead of a single hazardous tree, 90 miles of roads in burned areas need to be evaluated with an eye towards the safety of the public when using our roads. Some trees may recover years after being burned, and other trees may look like they are recovering now, but not be healthy enough to make it through the upcoming dry summer.
As the County, it is our duty to protect the public. When the evacuation orders were lifted, crews and contractors removed trees along roads that were an imminent threat to road users. More recently, a professional arborist has been evaluating and tagging the remaining trees that have the potential of falling into a County road, both in the public right of way and from private property.
The arborist report should be finished soon, at which point TPW will hire a contractor to remove or trim the selected trees. We are carefully considering how to best ensure that trees on private property threatening the safety of road users will be removed. Property owners will be informed if they could be responsible for removing a tree. If you have any questions or concerns about a specific tree that’s been tagged, or would like to report a tree that looks hazardous, you can reach out to TPW at 565-2231 or [email protected].
In addition to TPW’s work on this issue, PG&E will also be reaching out to customers in extreme fire danger areas to clear fuel and vegetation from underneath their lines. PG&E is also looking to partner with communities to manage vegetation in the vicinity of power lines.
I know many of my constituents are concerned about the loss of trees, both during the fires and afterwards, and I share that sentiment. I think it’s impossible to live here and not appreciate these trees. They are both beautiful, and an essential part of our local ecosystems—they provide habitats for creatures, prevent erosion and mudslides with their roots, and shade our homes allowing us to use less electricity in the summer. The old oaks and towering redwoods are synonymous with Sonoma County, and are what made many of us fall in love with this area. I understand the need to protect public safety, and I will mourn the loss when the majestic trees lining some of our roads are no longer there.
What we can do is plant some new oaks and redwoods, though it will take quite some time for them to qualify as old, towering or majestic. After such a loss sometimes it’s best to take time to grieve, and then do something concrete to honor the memory.
Supervisor Gorin will host two Neighborhood Meetings for fire survivors: April 11 at the Kenwood Depot and April 16 at the Rincon Valley Library. For more information call the Supervisor’s office at 707-565-2241