Sonoma Valley Trail project receives tourist funds
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors set aside $30,000 for the county Regional Parks Department to use for developing the long planned Sonoma Valley Trail project at their regular – though virtual – Tuesday meeting on April 28. The money was part of $90,000 Tourism Impact Fund dollars recently made available to First District Supervisor Susan Gorin for tourist-related projects in her district.
As envisioned in a 2016 feasibility study, a 13-mile paved trail was picked as the preferred trail alignment to connect the City of Sonoma with Santa Rosa in steps, as funding becomes available.
The Tourism Impact Fund is the second source of revenue designed to mitigate tourism impacts. Along with the Transient Occupancy Tax of 12 percent per night on overnight stays, the Tourism Impact Fund comes from a two percent tax on large hotel revenues, over $375,000 a year.
It was established to address needs of areas within unincorporated Sonoma County that are most impacted by tourism. County supervisors allocate these funds twice a year for safety improvements (e.g. lighted and/or marked cross walks, traffic calming devices), environmental impact mitigation (e.g. removing trash from beaches, waterways, and areas with high tourist traffic), public safety (e.g. fire services), and other tourism impact mitigation activities, such as parking enforcement in heavily trafficked areas.
Funds may be used to support organizations that coordinate community improvements, such as Municipal Advisory Councils. Unused funds in a single fiscal year will be accounted for and available in following years.
A separate presentation to the Board of expected tourist tax revenues over the 2020-2021 fiscal year forecasts a 33 percent drop in both revenue sources, with conditions remaining highly uncertain due to the COVID-19 quarantine and the coming fire season, already being exacerbated by low rainfall and unseasonable high temperatures.
The county has pulled back national tourism advertising campaigns and will instead reach out to Bay Area prospects for overnight visits over the coming year.
The trail todayRegional Parks planner Ken Tam is shepherding the trail through what promises to be a long trek.
“The first stage of right of way acquisition can be the most delicate, as each individual property owner needs to support the project.” Tam responded to questions in an email. “Addressing the owners’ concerns such as privacy and trespass can take years. Also, we need willing landowners to sell an easement or a strip of land to the county for trail development. Sections of the trail can be located within publicly owned land, utility easements, and road right of way, but there are other trail sections that will require property acquisition. Preliminary design and right of way engineering work will help us to determine the minimum amount of land needed from each property owner.”
For now, the money will be used for preliminary design and right of way engineering for the preliminary job developing the trail between Lawndale Road and Santa Rosa.
“As of today,” Tam said, “The county has secured three irrevocable offers to dedicate easements for trail purposes, one irrevocable offer to dedicate is in progress (as it relates to a use permit application), and is in early discussions with two different property owners for irrevocable offers to dedicate [easements].”
Regional Parks is also working with Caltrans to incorporate trail improvements when possible, as part of any Hwy. 12 improvement work.
Visit the trail website, sonomacounty.ca.gov/Parks/Planning/Sonoma-Valley-Trail/.