On the go with Supervisor Susan Gorin
Tracking down Sonoma Valley’s busy supervisor can take some doing. We managed to wave as she passed through Kenwood at about 7 a.m. on Jan. 24, heading to Sacramento to attend the 2017 California Symposium on Climate Change, a two-day event bringing together the major players in California. Later that day, we talked about some of the issues she’s facing this year. Not surprisingly, water was as the top of the list.
“The rains really point to the fact that we have a lot of work to do on flooding, creek and road issues,” she said. “Every constituent in the District is calling about potholes. Public Works have been putting in long and continuous hours clearing landslides and debris from flooding.”
According to Jennifer Larocque, public affairs program manager for Sonoma County Transportation and Public Works, the Public Works Department worked on “over 100 roads that were flooded, had slides that caused debris on the road, or fallen trees blocking traffic.” The freezing weather kept the road maintenance crews working long hours every day for the past month.
Sonoma County is notorious for the battlefield appearance of its many rural byways. State and national rankings say the county has some of the worst roads in the Bay Area.
“Potholing” is what county crews call the business of trolling its 2,700 miles of roads to drop hot tar into holes in a never-ending game of rain and ruin.
At the height of the storms, some crews put in multiple 20-hour shifts. “We requested a local asphalt plant to open and allow the crews to pick up material for emergency potholing,” Larocque said, thanking residents for their patience as crews do their best to sort things out.
The county even has a mobile app, Sonoma County Report It, to report potholes, street light outages, slides, trees in the the roadway, and litter.
Gorin is putting flooding, creek and road issues at top of her immediate agenda.
“Most people don’t realize that the county is responsible for just 75 or 80 miles of the creeks and their tributaries,” she said. “The rest flow through privately owned lands. We can’t just go into those lands and clean it out. That needs to be permitted. We don’t own easements to those lands.” Sonoma Creek alone is over 34 miles long and the tributaries quadruple that figure.
She expects the entire Board of Supervisors to find more resources to work on the Sonoma Creek watershed right away. “We need to figure out how to work together to mitigate storm runoff and use that water for potential recharge to the aquifer.”
She’s also hoping that neighborhood groups and homeowner associations can start to address creek issues.
And there are bigger picture water issues to deal with, also highlighted by the recent storms.
Gorin has been working with the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) for years, and she was quick to point out how critical that work is in view of the closure of Highway 37 during the recent storms.
“It’s kind of odd with a new president taking office who denies climate change,” she said. “But I will be working on bay-wide efforts to come up with strategies to increase our resiliency.”
The western end of Highway 37 was closed off between Highway 101 and Atherton Ave. after the recent torrential rains. The eastern segment between Vallejo and Sears Point was also flooded.
The eastern portion of 37 between Vallejo and Sears Point is highly likely to be completely underwater by 2050 if predicted sea level rises come to pass.
Since no single county is responsible for the majority of Highway 37, it’s not a top priority in any county, and there have been suggestions that it be abandoned to nature since it will be so expensive to fix.
“We can’t possibly abandon that highway,” Gorin emphasized. “It’s even more important now than it was five years ago. It has to be elevated and we need to increase capacity.” She serves on a four-county policy committee looking into Highway 37, the primary connector from the East Bay and Interstate 80 to Highway 101 and California’s North Coast, funneling tens of thousands of trips a day across the North Bay. When it fails, a lot of traffic goes up toward Napa and cuts over on Highway 12.
“Highway 12 is not capable of handling the traffic demand for that critical linkage,” said Gorin.
Buildings and land use
Gorin spent the last weekend in January sorting out her 2017 agenda. Some of the items that quickly surfaced include a close look at both the county-owned Chanate and Los Guilicos properties with an eye toward what maintenance is needed, as well as possible uses that could be made of what is currently there.
There’s already a proposal to build 800 units of single and multi-family housing at the 117-acre Chanate Road property vacated by Sutter Hospital last year.
Closer to home, a recently appointed Ad Hoc Committee will continue to assess the existing buildings at the Pythian Road campus, including Los Guilicos Juvenile Hall, Valley of the Moon Children’s Home, office space for CASA and the Grand Jury, Sierra Girls Home, Hood Mansion and the currently used Sheriff’s training facility.
“All of the other buildings on the campus are either boarded up (asbestos and seismic stability issues) or shuttered,” Gorin said.
She noted that any new uses would have to be sensitive to the current uses.
One idea being floated is developing a five- or six-acre farm to be run by at-risk youth or other groups. Gorin has been working with the University of California Cooperative Extension on the idea, but there are no formal plans to consider yet.
Helping local community organizations get organized and funded is high on Gorin’s list this year. Glen Ellen has already gotten underway with its Town Forum, now meeting regularly, and the Springs area (Boyes Hot Springs, Fetters, and Agua Caliente) are clamoring for more community control of a very busy unincorporated area of District One.
This might entail creating what is called a Municipal Advisory Council, which have been cropping up in California counties in the past few years, including Contra Costa, which now has 11 of them.
“I will be advocating for a small budget to provide limited staffing and meeting space,” Gorin said. “The proposal will be publicly discussed in the near future.”
Continuing oversight of the Sonoma Developmental Center closure, developing a bike trail through the Valley, and implementing the state-mandated Groundwater Sustainability Management Act are all top priorities this year.
And that was just January.