Trail through Kenwood raises eyebrows, sparks questions
Public meeting brings out both supporters and detractors
In an atmosphere of concern for growing congestion in the downtown Kenwood area, on Jan. 20 about 50 locals filled the meeting room of the Kenwood Fire Department to hear about plans for the proposed Sonoma Valley Trail, a 13-mile pedestrian, bicycle and (in places) equestrian path to run between Melita and Agua Caliente roads, along the Highway 12 corridor.
Last month, Sonoma County Regional Parks and its consultant company Questa Engineering presented a draft feasibility study of the project to the Board of Supervisors. The feasibility study identified seven segments that will make up the Sonoma Valley Trail, as well as “preferred,” “alternate,” and “potential alternate” routes. One of many steps, the feasibility study will help prioritize construction of the trail segments, once funding can be secured and the appropriate environmental and design studies have been completed.
At the Jan. 20 meeting, top community concerns included questions about so-called “staging areas” at Kenwood’s public parks and a possible “alternate route” that would guide pedestrians and cyclists through the Kenwood village. Representatives of the Kenwood Fire Department questioned the safety of running the “preferred route” across the front of the Kenwood Fire Department’s engine bays, where equipment and vehicles are moving in, out, and around all day. Others wondered if there was enough space to run a paved trail down both sides of the highway through Kenwood (as suggested in the study) or if the construction of a trail would warrant a lowered speed limit on Highway 12 through Kenwood.
These were all valid questions, said Ken Tam, project manager for Sonoma County Regional Parks, but the devil is in the details and the details of the project still need to be worked out. The feasibility study provides an overview of the project in its entirety, and identifies opportunities and challenges, but further design and environmental studies are still needed to work out answers to many of the questions raised.
What is known after the feasibility study is that the preferred alignment will run mostly parallel to Highway 12, will be multi-use for pedestrians, cyclists and (in places) equestrians, utilize as much publicly owned land as possible, and be designed as a Class I paved path, a minimum of eight feet wide. There will most likely be something that separates the trail from the highway, but whether that is gravel, dirt or a planted berm won’t be known until design studies are complete. CalTrans has strict guidelines about trails that run along its right-of-way and those rules will govern much of the design going forward. Whether the trail would necessitate a change in the speed limit would also be referred back to CalTrans.
Tam said that the “alternative route” in Kenwood would not mean a paved trail through Kenwood. Most likely, it would rely on signage to direct users through the surface streets. As for “staging areas,” Tam said the Sonoma Valley Trail should encourage people to walk or bike from their houses, but if people are from out of town, they would need a place to park in order to use the trail. Some in the audience applauded after someone asked dubiously if that meant busloads of cyclists would be unloaded at Shaw Park.
“I hear you quite clearly,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin, an avid cyclist herself, addressing the crowd. “I knew the most complicated part of any trail would be Kenwood. That’s an understatement.”
Gorin said that she didn’t believe for a minute that final plans would create a multi-use path on both sides of Highway 12 through Kenwood or any staging areas would happen in Kenwood, but the trail did present opportunities to safely get through the valley in ways other than a car. “We want a place for us, for our kids, so they can be safe to go to Kenwood and through Sonoma Valley.”
She urged composure: “If you’re of gray hair like me – just breathe – it will take a very, very long time.”
The immediate strength of the feasibility study, which goes before the Board of Supervisors for final approval on Feb. 2, is to get governing bodies, like the Board of Supervisors or the Santa Rosa City Council, thinking about the trail as they consider new applications for development permits in the area. “It’s another tool to consider when these projects come forward,” said Margaret Henderson of Questa Engineering, “People will start looking and say, where will you put the trail?”
For example, in September 2012, when the Board of Zoning Adjustments approved permits for the new Hamel Family Winery near Madrone Road, conditions included that the Hamels dedicate a right-of-way on the property’s frontage to the county for future installation of the Sonoma Valley Trail. The completion of the feasibility study should pave the way for more conditions like this to be placed on future developments.
This is an especially important point for the yet-to-be-developed Elnoka property near Melita Road, which is where the feasibility study shows the “preferred route” of the Sonoma Valley Trail starting. Although the latest plans for Elnoka have yet to be submitted to Santa Rosa City Council for review, Tam said that when the first plans were being vetted by city planning officials in 2010, Sonoma County Regional Parks submitted their conditions for approval to the City Council, and they included an easement for the trail. Tam said that Regional Parks would submit similar conditions again on any new development plans.
If the final feasibility study gets approval from the Board of Supervisors, project planners could begin to apply for grants and funding specifically earmarked for trail projects. With the total cost of the project pegged at $24 million, there is no timeline proposed and construction will likely be piecemeal. Tam also worked on the Joe Rodota Trail in West County, which is still awaiting one final piece after more than two decades.
Trail segments identified as top priorities are those from the Santa Rosa City limits to Oakmont Drive and from Agua Caliente Road to Sonoma Valley Regional Park. Phase II segments are those from Oakmont Drive to Pythian Road, from Pythian Road to Kenwood, and from Kenwood to Sonoma Valley Regional Park.
The full draft feasibility study and route maps can be downloaded on the Sonoma Valley Trail page section of sonomacountyparks.org (parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov/About_Us/Project_Details/Sonoma_Valley_Trail_Proposed.aspx). Questions and comments should be directed to project manager Ken Tam at email@example.com or 565-2041.
Sarah Phelps is an editor and reporter. She was raised in Kenwood and has a BA from Loyola Marymount University.