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Sonoma County debuts Adopt a Road program with clean roads, watershed in mind

A torn beer can. A used paper plate. A drink label and some napkins.

None of it ended up on the side of the road because of anything Saill White did.

But the Two Rock resident and several like-minded friends have decided to take responsibility for that kind of roadside litter anyway, signing up under a new Sonoma County Adopt A Road program to pick up trash along a 2½-mile stretch of Valley Ford Road.

The length of roadway between Bloomfield Road and Highway 1 is frequently used by travelers from Petaluma and points south heading to and from Bodega Bay and, for reasons unknown, is on the receiving ends of loads of discarded garbage, White said.

The road runs along the Americano Creek, so anything passersby chuck from their windows or deliberately dump there is at high risk of washing into the creek, which flows into the Estero Americano and potentially out into the ocean at some point. The fact that Valley Ford Road routinely floods at Highway 1 and Bloomfield Road in heavy rains “makes it even worse,” White said.

“We want to get out there and keep that stretch of road, in particular, clear of litter,” she said.

White, a web developer and home chicken wrangler, requested the road on behalf of a group called Soil Growers — friends and west county neighbors with a shared interest in permaculture and regenerative land management.

White figures the roughly 9 acres of wide shoulder space for which the group will now be accountable “is no different from any other large parcel of land, and the same principles of land management apply, except that grazing it is probably a bad idea …”

They’re among the first to lay claim to a piece of road since the county quietly launched the roadside cleanup program last month after a trial run in 2019 and some recent tweaking.

Modeled after Caltrans’ Adopt A Highway program, the arrangement allows individuals, companies or nonprofits to voluntarily sponsor cleanup campaigns on selected sections of Sonoma County’s 1,368 miles of maintained roadway. In exchange, the county provides signage recognizing the party’s contribution.

Participants must be responsible for at least 2 miles of road — or a mile in each direction — and remove litter at least twice a year, though quarterly is recommended. The minimum commitment is for three years, Sonoma County Director of Transportation and Public Works Johannes Hoevertsz said.

The county provides safety vests, trash grabbers and garbage bags to those who sign up, as well as safety instructions.

About 18 entities — everything from neighborhood associations to local businesses to cycling groups — are queued up and ready to take part, according to Clyde Galantine, a county engineering technician who is coordinating the effort.

The program was first approved as a way of allowing community members to stage one-off trash pickup events. The reboot formalizes the original scheme, adding a three-year commitment, minimum requirements and recognition signs.

Sebastopol Sunrise Rotary Club members Bill Sauber and Chris Brokate, who has devoted his life to ridding the environment of litter as founder of the Clean River Alliance and program director for the Russian Riverkeeper Clean Team, lobbied for the roadside cleanup program. Sauber, 72, works three days a week for Balletto Vineyards and already was picking up trash along Occidental Road four years ago when he started volunteering with Brokate’s watershed cleanup brigade, expanding his own efforts down Occidental Road to the Laguna de Santa Rosa.

When Sauber and Brokate approached Hoevertz and Supervisor Lynda Hopkins about a formal Adopt A Road program, vineyard owner John Balletto, another Rotarian, eagerly came aboard as formal sponsor of the pilot project. The occasion was marked late last month by the first in what will be a series of official blue Adopt A Road signs on the shoulder of Occidental Road.

Sauber and whatever colleagues may be needed will use work time to collect trash from their 1.2 mile-stretch between High School Road and Rancho Caballo Lane, Balletto said. They also are considering a section of Guerneville Road about 1½ miles long near Santa Rosa Creek and the Laguna’s north end, where Sauber and Brokate already have been chipping away at the debris.

“We live in a great community,” Balletto said. “If we all pitch in a little bit, we can keep the roads really clean.”

Brokate said timing is key — getting out ahead of the rainy season each year, when heavy rains can send garbage into the watershed. The roads must be cleared again in spring, before the county sends its powerful mowers out to trim back weeds and grass from the road, grinding up plastic garbage and litter into particles that become impossible to retrieve.

That issue remains a difficult one: the mowing, much of it achieved by massive “tiger mowers” that cut horizontally and vertically, is the kind of work that’s fit in between other demands and doesn’t run on a calendar, public works personnel said. But Brokate and others hope people who adopt roadways can get advance notice from the county if enough public pressure is applied.

Brokate said he hopes that if enough people decide to participate in the program, the community might get on top of a situation that has languished for years, though many would be surprised to know how commonly people still litter.

“The amount of trash — it’s horrifying,” said Brokate, whose own team has taken on River Road, removing thousands of pounds of dumped household goods, litter and junk left behind by all sorts of people, many of them evidently beachgoers, judging from the number of beat-up plastic ice bags, coolers and water bottles they have found. “You can’t even get it all.”

To adopt a section of road or get more information about the program, contact Clyde Galantine with county Transportation and Public Works via email at clyde.galantine@sonoma-county.org.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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