Investing in Sonoma County’s progress

One of the challenges in moving from disaster to disaster as we have done in the past few years is the lack of time and funding for strategic actions to address chronic, pre-existing, big-picture problems. That’s why I’m proud to announce several big investments which will address some of our longstanding critical infrastructure needs. You'll hear one important word throughout this report: community. Years of effort in building outreach to community groups, with the Municipal Advisory Councils (MACs), local Fire Safe coalitions and other community groups have helped us prioritize the projects that are most important to the locals, rather than simply having engineers from outside the area make all the decisions. In several cases, the community created the projects, developed matching funds, and is working with the County to make it happen. My thanks go to all the dedicated volunteers that have worked hard to make progress with us!

Roads and retaining walls

Transportation and Public Works (TPW) is making an historic investment in West County roads that have suffered from floods and deferred maintenance. Working with input from the communities through our MAC and Fire Safe Council representatives, we have identified more than $23 million dollars in West County road, retaining wall and bridge projects to be completed over the next 2-3 years. These projects will be funded by a combination of sources including the State Highway fund, State Senate Bill 1 (SB1), PG&E settlement funds, and quarry mitigation funds. TPW engineers are in final site selection and we will release the list as each project rolls out. This is an unprecedented investment in West County infrastructure that will make a significant impact for safety and live-ability.

We recognize that Cazadero roads were particularly hard hit with 5 FEMA flood sites between 2017 and 2019. Two of the five sites in Cazadero have been completed and the remaining three are in progress, all of which will be completed within 2021. (And yes, then we’ll be able to pave another stretch of Caz Highway.) Expect to see these in progress in late Spring/early Summer.

After much local advocacy from both our office and local residents, we are thrilled to hear that the state is taking action on Highway 1. CalTrans reports that they will be repaving a 7 mile section of Highway 1 through Bodega Bay from Doran Park Road to Rock Point Beach.

Bridges

Moscow Road has proven to be a particularly challenging spot as the environmental and design studies proved that a road replacement is no longer feasible due to the degradation of the foundation. As a result TPW has been working on a bridge design to replace the road. The next step in the process is for the County approval for funds to acquire right of way for the new bridge design.

After a design stage that has included robust community engagement, the building of a Bohemian Highway Bridge in Monte Rio is moving forward to environmental impact review. The new bridge will provide a multi-modal route for vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians. It will be raised to the 100 year flood height and will take approximately three years to be built.

Last fall the Board of Supervisors (BOS) approved funds for a feasibility study for a permanent solution to keep Vacation Bridge open all year as a valuable evacuation route. The study has been contracted and will be completed this year. This project developed in collaboration with the Vacation Beach community group.

Fire season preparation

Vegetation maintenance is a key fire management strategy. Sonoma County Fire and TPW just finished the first TPW major West County grant-funded project removing trees dying in the road right of way and dead trees affected by sudden oak death. And we’re not stopping there — we just learned that a Prop 68 application for fuels reduction in Occidental has been officially approved, in the full amount of $137,552, which will fund 40 days in the project area. This is an exciting collaboration between Conservation Corps North Bay, Fire Safe Occidental, and Transportation and Public Works.

And we want to get vegetation management funding out to other local community groups, too! In March the Board of Supervisors delegated a committee to facilitate the allocation of $2 million to $4 million in PG&E settlement funds for near-term vegetation management projects with an emphasis on activities in high-risk areas and near key ecosystems. The committee, which will consist of representatives of the County Administrator’s Office, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, UC Cooperative Extension and CAL FIRE, was directed to disburse funding as soon as possible, ahead of the upcoming 2021 fire season. The funding represents a portion of the initial $25 million allocated by the Board of Supervisors in October 2020 from PG&E settlement funds for vegetation management to reduce wildfire risk, promote safety and support ecosystems and agriculture. Stay tuned for information on the Request for Proposals; if you’re organizing your neighborhood or community to prepare for wildfire season in a high-fire-risk area, you may be eligible for County funding!

Of course, we know that fire isn’t the only threat to West County residents’ safety. While we had a relatively low rain year, we are still preparing for future floods, power outages, and severe storms. Grants from the flood mitigation program given out last year are funding disaster hardening projects from fiber connectivity at the Cazadero firehouse to generators in community centers such as Monte Rio and Hollydale.

There is much work still to be done, but we are so grateful to have the opportunity to work with passionate local residents who want to make our collective community a better place. Onward!

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