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Vote Yes on Measure A - a Trust but Verify Tax for Sonoma County Roads


Vote Yes on Measure A
- a “Trust but Verify” Tax for Sonoma County Roads

By Craig S. Harrison and Michael Troy
Co-founders of Save Our Sonoma Roads ( , an all-volunteer organization that advocates for improved roads and streets. 

After working with the supervisors over the last three years, we are convinced that the supervisors will follow through on their Long-Term Road Plan and will use new revenue to fund fixing roads. Annual audits required by the measure will inform the public on exactly how the revenue was spent. 

Since SOSroads began its efforts the supervisors have increased the general fund road budget 300 percent from its low point in 2011. We expect they will fulfill their commitment to keep that level of funding until the goals of the Long-Term Road Plan are completed with the help of the sales tax revenue. 

Road repair is one of the biggest concerns of Sonoma County citizens. If the supervisors renege on their stated plan, they risk loss of support of the voters in their next election. And in five years, voters will most likely not want to renew the tax or vote for a supervisor going back on their commitment to streets and roads.

We think it is worth the risk to see our streets and roads fixed.

13 Questions About Measure A 

1.    Why are Sonoma County roads so bad? 

California ranks 47th worst among the states for road conditions and Sonoma County ranks 56th worst of 58 counties in Pavement Condition Index (PCI). Sonoma County’s unique combination of wide-spread rural residential housing and agriculture means more large vehicle traffic, such as garbage, construction, propane and farm vehicles, which has an inordinate negative impact on the pavement.

Until recently, there has been a three decade decline in road budgets (recently in absolute dollars and historically when adjusted for inflation). These budget cuts have meant a steady decline in pavement preservation efforts to none on county rural roads as of 2011. In 2012, with SOSroads and citizen pressure, the supervisors committed over $10 million in county general funds for pavement preservation, much of it on rural roads serving recreation and agricultural areas. 

The purchasing power of gas tax revenue for road maintenance has declined by half since the 1990s.

Many county roads were built with little or no road base. Some dirt roads were just chip sealed in the mid-twentieth century. Water and heavy vehicles have been especially destructive to poorly constructed roads.

2.    How will an additional ¼ cent sales tax fix our streets and roads?

The sales tax will generate about $20 million per year for city streets and county roads over the five years covered by Measure A. The amount will increase if retail sales increase with economic growth.

The plan is for about $8.7 million to go to the county and $11.3 million to the cities. Santa Rosa will receive about $5 million and Petaluma about $2 million per year, essentially doubling their road budgets. As retail sales increase, revenue for roads will also increase.

The county will commit a minimum of $11.2 million annually for pavement preservation from its general fund, including  $2.2 million from franchise fees from trash haulers. 

Combined new sales tax revenues, county general fund money and state/federal gas tax dollars will total approximately $21 million for county road pavement preservation. This will allow at least 850 miles of the 1,382 mile county road system to be in good condition within a decade. According to the county Long-Term Road Plan, most of the remaining roads are to be repaired within 20 years assuming continuation of the 1/4¢ sales tax. 

3.    Why do we need an additional sales tax to fix roads?

Declining gas tax dollars are the largest source of funds for road maintenance. 

The most recent increases were 20 years ago and have not been adjusted for inflation, resulting in a decline in purchasing power of about half.

Less gas is being purchased because motorists are using more fuel-efficient vehicles and are driving less.

An infusion of funds is needed because there have been years of underfunding road maintenance at federal, state and county levels.

Currently, state law allows few options for local funding sufficient to provide revenue to address fixing failing streets and roads.

4.    Didn’t the ¼ cent sales tax provided for in Measure M provide money for road maintenance?

Most of Measure M funds are allocated to expanding and modernizing Hwy101.

20 percent of Measure M goes to cities and the county on the same 56/44 percent split formula proposed in the new measure.

The county’s share of about $1.6 million annually is used for corrective maintenance such as clearing brush, filling potholes, signage, etc. 

5.    Shouldn’t my property taxes pay for road repairs?

More than half of your property taxes go to schools. Cities receive about 9 percent of the total and the county receives 27 percent, with the balance to special districts.

Of the 27 percent of property tax the county receives for the general fund, 2/3 of it goes to the sheriff, courts, probation and other law enforcement. Until recently, only 3 percent of your property taxes went to roads ($5.3 million in 2011), mostly for potholes and other safety purposes and not for pavement resurfacing. In the last three budget cycles, the supervisors have devoted $15.5 million per year from the general fund to roads. 

6.    Why don’t the supervisors cut salaries and pensions and use those funds for roads and streets?

It is generally recognized throughout California that public pensions are unsustainable and overly generous, although the public employee unions would dispute this. Unfortunately, salaries, pensions and other benefits are controlled by multi-year union contracts. They can only be changed through the collective bargaining process. Some reforms were made in the last round of contract negotiations that will over time reduce benefits and pension costs. The supervisors’ goal is to reduce pension costs to 10% of payroll from the current 30.2% for safety employees and 22.4% other county employees.

While more can be done, it will take years for further reform to reduce these costs, which could free up more general fund money for roads. Cities that have attempted pension reform (e.g. San Jose and San Diego) have been challenged by unions, costing millions in legal fees and are yet to be successful. 

The problem is that three quarters of county roads are in poor-to-failing condition and will be even more expensive to fix five to ten years from now. 

7.    How much will the new sales tax cost me?

A ¼ cent sales tax will cost you 3¢ for a book that cost $12, 25¢ for a $100 jacket or $2.50 for a $1,000 television. 

The average annual tax per resident calculates to about $40, but since much of this will be paid by businesses and tourists it will likely be more like $20-30 per person. 

Bad roads cost a typical motorist about $700 per year in vehicle repairs, shorter life for tires, and poor gas mileage according to a study conducted by the national transportation research organization TRIP. 

8.    California already has the nation’s highest gas taxes that are supposed to pay for our roads. Why do we have to tax ourselves even more?

Most of the state gas tax funds go to Caltrans for state roads. The funds that are provided to counties and cities are increasingly allocated to large urban areas such as San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose to pay for urban transit projects. 

9.    Measure A is a general tax measure. Doesn’t that mean that there is no requirement to spend the funds on high priorities like roads? Isn’t Measure A just a blank check for the politicians?

Measure A is a general tax – and that’s precisely why our supervisors were careful to include strong accountability provisions to keep voters firmly in control of spending decisions. Measure A requires annual audits be made available to the public and requires elected officials to come back to the voters in just five years to extend the tax. If our elected officials don’t spend our tax dollars wisely, we can simply refuse to renew the tax.

10.     Why didn’t the Board of Supervisors make Measure A a specific tax, restricted only to fund roads?

Everyone agrees that roads are our highest priority. That’s why the Board of Supervisors made Measure A a general tax measure, because general tax measures, which require 50% +1 vote) have a higher chance of gaining voter approval than specific tax measures that require 2/3 of the votes.

In short, Measure A is our best chance to provide funds that can make our roads safer. And it includes tough accountability requirements, such as annual audits and requiring voter approval to keep the tax from expiring after five years.

11.     How will we know that the funds will be spent on roads – both in the county and in our local cities?

All five Supervisors have emphasized the need to repair roads and use the funds generated by Measure A for roads. Measure A requires that annual audits be made available to the public so we can see how the funds are spent each year. If they fail to devote ample funds to fix the roads, we can choose not to renew the tax after just five years. If this is the case, SOSroads will lead the campaign against renewal of the sales tax.

12.     Why is there 10 percent for transit in the county allocation?

The supervisors made a political decision to provide some funds for county transit programs because they believe this feature of the measure will attract more votes. Subsequently they increased the general fund contribution by another $1 million to offset the funds allocated to transit. 

13.     Why does the county get 44 percent of the sales tax revenue when it only has 33 percent of the population? 

Most of the residents in the unincorporated areas shop and pay sales taxes in the cities. They receive few benefits for those taxes because the revenue is spent on programs designed for city residents. 

City residents use county roads to go between cities and to enjoy parks and open space. Roads are a vital link for all residents of the county for agriculture, tourism, bicycling, recreation and overall economic vitality. 

This is the same formula used to split the 20% portion of Measure M revenues devoted to road maintenance (most of the remainder was devoted to Hwy 101).  

Make your voice heard

Sonoma County Board of Supervisors
575 Administration Drive, Rm 100A
Santa Rosa, CA 95403

Telephone: 707-565-2241
Fax: 707-565-3778


1st District: Susan Gorin


2nd District: David Rabbitt


3rd District: Shirlee Zane


4th District: James Gore


5th District: Efren Carrillo


Please send a copy of your letter to


The condition of many of Sonoma County’s roads and streets is deplorable. Almost two-thirds of county roads are poor (pavement condition index 25-49, on a scale of 100) or failed (PCI below 25). Petaluma, once described as the Pothole Capital of California, has the worst streets of our nine cities. Crumbling roads cost motorists $800 per year in worn or flat tires, bent rims, ruined suspensions and lousy gas mileage.

Recently county residents nominated 57 roads and streets to be named “worst” on the Road Warrior blog. They described various roads as “meteor-blasted moonscapes,” “worse than a third world goat path” and a journey “on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.” Especially bad roads had pot holes circled with spray paint and labeled “no fishing.”

Measure A, which raises the sales tax by a quarter percent, is an opportunity to achieve a countywide integrated road system where the pavement, both in cities and on county roads, is in good repair. It will raise $20 million per year, over half of which will be allocated to city streets. Repairing roads today instead of letting them completely deteriorate will save money in the long-run because repairs may cost as much as ten times more if we do nothing now.

Measure A requires annual audits that show where each dollar is spent and implements the supervisors’ October 2014 long-term road plan. While revenue is needed for 20 years, requiring re-approval of the tax after five years enhances accountability. If revenue is diverted elsewhere, voters will not renew the tax. The proof will be in the pavement.

There are no practical alternatives to a sales tax increase. Our situation is a result of a perfect storm caused by a decline in the purchasing power of gas taxes by half and decades-long neglect by the county. Neither Congress nor the California legislature seems interested in increasing gas taxes to address statewide infrastructure problems. We are on our own.

For over three years SOSroads has been asking supervisors to adequately fund the restoration of our county roads. During the past three budget cycles, the current supervisors have greatly increased funding and have improved 150 miles of the county’s 1,383-mile road system. Unfortunately few city councils have made similar financial commitments.

Some are concerned that the new revenue might not be spent on roads because it is a general tax that cannot be legally committed to a specific purpose. State law provides that a general tax needs only majority approval. A specific tax, which could be devoted legally to roads, needs approval by two-thirds of the voters. It is difficult to get two-thirds of Sonoma County voters to agree on anything.

We understand pension reform concerns. We support additional pension reform, but in many respects, the county’s hands are tied pending statewide developments. Voter-approved pension reforms in San Jose and San Diego face expensive and lengthy court challenges. Efforts to put pension reform on a statewide ballot have been stymied. Meanwhile, our roads and streets continue to deteriorate and the cost of eventually fixing them escalates. This problem is not going to disappear on its own.

If Measure A is approved, SOSroads will ask the supervisors to enter immediately into a contract with the Sonoma County Transportation Authority to administer the revenue. We will monitor how funds are spent and carefully review the annual audits to ensure transparency. Ultimately, if funds aren’t spent on roads, SOSroads will lead the opposition to renewing the tax and will oppose any supervisor who fails to put roads first.

Measure A warrants your vote because of its “trust but verify” features.



Craig S. Harrison and Michael Troy are the co-founders of Save Our Sonoma Roads, an all-volunteer organization that advocates for improved roads and streets.


Sonoma County NEWS you can USE


Dear Editor,
After studying the condition of our roads and what Measure A claims it will do, I’ve decided I’m voting in favor of Measure A. There is no question how badly our roads need fixing. The cost only increases exponentially every year we wait. This is a quarter cent sales tax with a 5-year sunset. There are yearly audits in place so we can easily track how the money is being spent. Supervisors have said this money will be spent on roads and transit needs. Have you ever known an elected official to voluntarily set them self up to be caught in an un-kept promise? That’s not very likely. When you consider the facts; our roads are in a terrible state of disrepair, our elected officials have said the money will go to fix them, there’s a way to hold our elected officials accountable and it’s only a 5 year tax. I don’t see how we can not support Measure A. Considering how bad things have gotten, it’s the only right thing to do.
George Steffensen
Santa Rosa