We’re No. 1: Petaluma streets deemed ‘worst in Bay Area’

Until a year ago, Petaluma could claim that its 396 miles of crumbling, potholed streets at least were not the worst in the Bay Area - that title was held by Larkspur.

But that is no longer the case.

Petaluma now has the distinction of having the worst pavement condition in the region after Larkspur passed a sales tax measure to increase street maintenance revenue, according to Jeff Stutsman, Petaluma’s senior traffic engineer.

“They did a revenue measure,” Stutsman said at a recent city council meeting. “That’s why they are now starting to move up on that list because they are now having a lot more money come in to fix their roads.”

The city council this month discussed the abysmal state of the streets and learned that it would take a $20 million investment every year for the next five years to get the city’s streets up to a level considered “good.” Just maintaining the current “poor” pavement level would cost $5 million per year over five years and leave Petaluma with a $121 million backlog in street repairs.

However, the city has budgeted an average of just $3.4 million per year in the next five years, meaning the city streets are expected to deteriorate further by the end of 2024.

Despite the underinvestment, the city is still spending more on streets now than it was three years ago, Stutsman said, due to an increase in state gas tax revenue.

“We’re slowly climbing that ladder, but we’re only climbing to maintain what we have,” he said. “We still have a long way to go to get to that optimal level.”

The council did not discuss increasing revenue to pay for street maintenance, like Larkspur did, but city officials have not ruled out a tax measure on the November ballot. Taxes are expected to be part of the council’s discussion as it formulates a longterm financial plan later this year.

The council did learn what was partly to blame for Petaluma’s pavement woes: The adobe clay on which the city sits.

“The adobe clay that we have is an expansive soil,” Stutsman said. “It wreaks havoc on all our infrastructure. ... When it gets wet, you don’t really notice it, but when it dries out, it really expands and you start to get those long cracks down the road.”

Sonoma Mountain Parkway was one such road that long suffered from a failed base layer. The city last year rebuilt the street at a cost of $1.7 million.

This year, the city plans to tackle Maria Drive from Sonoma Mountain Parkway to Rainier Avenue, a stretch so bad that Stutsman said it has a score of 2 out of 100 on the pavement condition index. Anything lower, he said, would be a gravel road.

“That portion of Maria Drive is really bad,” Councilwoman Kathy Miller said. “Gravel might be better, actually. I’m just saying.”

The 1-mile Maria Drive reconstruction will cost $2.3 million and include bike lanes and curb ramps, Stutsman said.

Beyond that, the city laid out its 5-year plan for pavement repairs. Next year, the city will redo Petaluma Boulevard South from D Street to Crystal Lane as part of a road diet. Various residential streets will also be repaved.

In 2022, North McDowell Boulevard, a badly cracking arterial street, will be rebuilt with sidewalks and bike lanes to reflect the changing residential and commercial uses in the once industrial area. In 2023 and 2024, the city will repave more residential streets, mostly on the east side of town.

Miller, who is Petaluma’s representative on the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, said that the agency is considering renewal of a countywide sales tax for transportation projects on the November ballot. Measure M currently includes funding for Highway 101 widening and rail reconstructions, two projects that are largely complete. She said a renewed Measure M would potentially include more funding for cities to deal with street maintenance.

Petaluma is scheduled to discuss street funding on March 7 as part of the yearlong fiscal organizational stability process.

(Contact Matt Brown at

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