Penngrove to form new municipal council amid traffic concerns

“Why all of a sudden we need to be part of some special organized group to be heard is beyond me,” said longtime activist and Penngrove resident Rick Savel.|

A group of Penngrove residents remains displeased with efforts to address growing traffic problems in the close-knit community after Sonoma County leaders offered to establish an advisory board.

In a Dec. 9 town hall at the Penngrove Social Firemen’s Clubhouse, Supervisor David Rabbitt, representatives from the California Highway Patrol and other officials hosted a forum to address years-long concern over growing traffic congestion along Penngrove’s Main Street area.

The meeting, which drew about 60 residents both in-person and virtually, came after a group of residents wrote a letter to leaders pushing for solutions to escalating traffic problems.

But a key proposal - the formation of a new Municipal Advisory Council to make recommendations - has so far failed to satisfy many residents, who say action is needed now.

“Why all of a sudden we need to be part of some special organized group to be heard is beyond me,” said longtime resident and community activist Rick Savel. “If you can’t hear us now because we don’t have this group badge on, what difference does it make what badge we have on?”

Municipal advisory committees or councils have sprung up across the county during the past half decade as Sonoma County supervisors seek to give residents in unincorporated areas a more formal voice in government affairs. During the meeting, Rabbitt touted the move as a way to help build consensus for important roadwork projects.

“That’ll allow a direct conduit of citizens in a Brown Act compliant meeting to form consensus, to make recommendations to me as a Supervisor, on which projects to move forward,” Rabbitt said in a phone interview.

Resident Lyndi Brown said there’s still more to be addressed, and that the Dec. 9 meeting was “just the beginning.”

“No one even mentioned the problems about emergency services’ lack of access to constituents during gridlock,” Brown said.

Savel, who also serves on the Marin Local Agency Formation Commission providing oversight of local government agencies, said while he supports local officials, he is still dissatisfied with the amount of effort taken to curb the growing traffic problems.

In their letter, residents also urged officials to allocate funds set aside for traffic mitigation in the area, referencing a lawsuit two decades ago that led to the institution of a $3,500 fee for all new housing units, which would be used to reduce traffic problems associated with new development.

Officials have collected about $7 million in mitigation fees so far, Rabbitt said, and have spent $2.3 million so far on transportation projects. That leaves about $4.7 million to go toward eligible projects along the Petaluma Hill Road corridor. Rabbitt said about $19 million in Measure M dollars remains up for grabs countywide, some of which he expects to go to Penngrove as well.

Rabbitt said officials are already working to help ease congestion, adding in stop lights and a left turn pocket heading into Penngrove Elementary School at Old Adobe Road, to create some relief for parents picking up and dropping off their students.

Rabbitt noted that much of the traffic seen in the area is not only caused from people headed back to work after pandemic lockdowns, but also is a product of drivers finding alternative routes to nearby highways.

Residents have acknowledged that reducing traffic counts is unlikely.

“The only thing we can do is damage control,” Savel said, admitting that lowering the number of cars going through town is not a realistic goal, as development projects draw an increase in residents.

Another major discussion at the town hall centered on speed, and how most cars traveling through the area are far exceeding the limit. While Caltrans is responsible for setting speed limits on state highways, California law allows for roadways outside of the state highway system to be monitored by local jurisdictions. Savel said, because most drivers seem to ignore the posted speed limit along Petaluma Hill Road, residents want to see change in regards to speed and are calling on officials to take action on that front.

“It’s really based upon the traffic flows that already exist,” Rabbitt said. “So we can’t arbitrarily lower a speed limit. We’d have to do a speed study and then see if 85% of those cars are traveling faster than that speed. (If so), you can’t lower it. Sometimes you’d have to end up raising it, which drives people crazy.”

Rabbitt said, going forward, safety will remain a top priority as Penngrove sees the formation of the Municipal Advisory Council and future projects.

“Everyone has a different idea of what the best project would be to alleviate what they see as the biggest problem. And we need to do it more as a community to prioritize,” Rabbitt said. “I really want to listen and make sure I carry that forward.”

Amelia Parreira is a staff writer for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at amelia.parreira@arguscourier.com or 707-521-5208.

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