At last week's city council candidates forum, several council hopefuls said the issue they heard about most on the campaign trail this year is the dilapidated condition of city streets. Indeed, road repair and other transportation issues, like building the elusive Rainier Crosstown Connector, have only grown in importance in voters' minds over the years.
While candidates agree these are two of the biggest issues facing Petaluma, they differ on how, exactly, to tackle them. Here's where candidates stand on funding street repair and building Rainier.
City street repair
Petaluma's cracked and pothole-ridden roads are never far from most residents' minds, and all the council candidates acknowledged that the streets pose an expensive problem that city must tackle.
A report issued last December by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission showed just how difficult that job has become: It found that Petaluma would have to spend $132.4 million over the next five years to bring its network of streets back up to the recommended "optimal" condition.
Just to keep streets at their current level would cost $7 million a year. Currently, Petaluma spends about $2.5 million on all road-related activities in Petaluma. Most of it goes to basic street repairs, with little left over for long-term maintenance.
Candidates have suggested putting a sales tax on the ballot to help fund road work.
Councilmember Mike Healy proposed placing a half cent sales tax measure on the ballot. That would bring in an estimated $5 million annually, of which Healy said he would like roads to receive the biggest share.
Vice Mayor Tiffany Ren? proposed this summer placing a sales tax on this November's ballot, suggesting that some of the proceeds go to road repair. The tax measure did not make it to the ballot.
Business owner Jason Davies expressed concern over passing an additional tax when people are already "hurting" financially. "I would turn every stone possible before moving to increase taxes," he said.
Councilmember Gabe Kearney also spoke tentatively about a sales tax increase, referencing a general wariness of more taxes on the part of many residents. "We can entertain the idea of a sales tax increase for roads," he said, "but it would be important for us as a city to make sure that we had the needed support before going forward."
Former Planning Commissioner Kathy Miller said she would support a "small" sales tax increase to be dedicated to street repair and maintenance.
Healy and Miller also suggested asking voters to extend the countywide tax initiative Measure M, which is currently set to expire in 2024, and dedicate some of the proceeds to city and county road repair.
Ren? also said she supported extending Measure M in 2012 and would like to revisit doing so in 2014.
One low-hanging fruit that most of the candidates said they would consider is an offer by the city's garbage hauler, North Bay Corp., to essentially extend its contract for an additional 15 years in exchange for the hauler paying an extra $500,000 annually in franchise fees to the city. This money could help fund road repair, but only a small portion of what is needed. In the proposed scenario, customers' garbage rates would stay the same.
Doing so would require circumventing the typical competitive bidding process, something Planning Commissioner Alicia Kae Herries said she was uncomfortable with. Ren? said she wanted to see the proposed new contract, which is still being drafted, before saying whether or not she'd support it.