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Board balks at abandoning rural roads


The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors gave a chilly reception Tuesday to a proposal to cease all maintenance on 100 miles of rural roads.

The staff of the Department of Transportation and Public Works presented the move as a way to help close a $43 million gap in the county general fund.

But several supervisors looked dubious. Any attempt to release roadways to the elements would spark huge opposition from residents who consider basic road maintenance to be their right as taxpayers, Supervisor Valerie Brown said.

"People will say &‘I don't bother you, I don't get in your way,'" she said. "'But when something happens on the road, I expect it to be taken care of.'"

Brown and other supervisors asked Phil Demery, the county's director of transportation and public works, to present alternatives when they convene again Wednesday to consider the spectrum of cuts facing the county.

"It feels a little disingenuous to score savings like that when you haven't even had public hearings on that proposal," Brown said after the meeting.

But Demery said there's nowhere left to cut after years of insufficient funding for nearly 1,400 miles of county roads, the largest network of rural roads in the Bay Area.

Demery's proposal targets low-volume byways used by 400 vehicles a day or less, excepting roads where property owners have no other way out.

"Plan B," he said, would likely be to seasonally close two of the county's four road yards, which would reduce service levels everywhere.

"I just don't see a way out of the box we have put ourselves in," he said. "We have way too much infrastructure for the revenue that we have right now and that is not sustainable."

The proposed list of roads to be taken off the maintenance rolls includes sections of nearly 40 roads, such as South and North Fitch Mountain roads outside Healdsburg.

Lee Gunnerson, 78, who has lived on South Fitch Mountain Road for 20 years, said the county hasn't done much to care for the road over years, although workers recently repaired a bridge pocked with deep potholes.

But to receive no maintenance at all would be unacceptable, he said. "I would be pissed," he said.

The proposal would hit the western portion of the county hardest. Board Chairman Efren Carrillo's district would have nearly 63 miles taken off the maintenance list.

Supervisor David Rabbit's southwest district would have nearly 20 miles removed from the maintenance list, Supervisor Mike McGuire's northeast district would have 15 miles affected and Brown's would have seven miles taken off the list.

Only the area represented by Supervisor Shirlee Zane, whose Santa Rosa and Rohnert district is mostly urban, would escape untouched. Acknowledging she had no dog in the fight, Zane said she would follow the rest of the board in the matter.

The proposal follows a related vote last fall when supervisors conceded they lacked the money to maintain the county's full road network. Instead, they opted to focus funds on 150 miles of the county's most traveled arteries, leaving the rest to languish with only cursory care, such as pothole patching.