The five candidates in the race for 4th District Sonoma County Supervisor agree the county’s road network is in bad shape. They differ slightly in their solutions for fixing the 1,370-miles of pavement that is consistently ranked as the worst in the Bay Area.
At a forum on roads that brought about 40 people to the Windsor Grange on Wednesday, current 4th District Supervisor Mike McGuire said that the poor condition of the network is a result of years of underfunding, declining sales and property tax revenue and a formula for distributing gas tax that favors urban counties with fewer miles of roads.
“Improving our county roads is a top priority,” McGuire said. “The county needs to become innovative in bringing in money for roads.”
McGuire is stepping aside to run for state Senate. Those hoping to replace him said the county needs to prioritize road spending.
James Gore, a former Obama administration official, said he would reform the county budget including taking care of unfunded pension liability. He said he did not support new taxes for roads.
“I’m not here to talk about increased revenue,” he said. “I won’t kick the can down the road because it will probably fall into a pothole.”
Ken Churchill, an advocate of overhauling pensions, agreed that solving the county’s pension problem would free up money for roads.
“Pensions are costing us money that is not fixing our roads, helping our homeless and keeping our parks green,” he said. “We have cut our road funding and that is a big mistake. New taxes are not going to do it.”
Windsor Town Councilwoman Deb Fudge said that she is interested in hearing the county’s long-term roads plan, which McGuire said would be released within 60 days. Some strategies officials have discussed for rehabilitating the entire road network — a more than $1 billion project — within 20 years include a sales tax increase or special transportation districts funded by property taxes.
“I would think about a sales tax for road maintenance, but it would be up to the voters,” Fudge said. “I support extra revenues from the general fund that is put into road maintenance.”
The county has increased road spending by $8 million from the general fund in the past two years to repair 40 miles of priority roads.
Former Healdsburg Mayor Pete Foppiano said he would push for a change in the way gas tax is distributed. The current formula favors counties with a high number of registered vehicles and a small road network.
“What I want to push for is a more favorable formula for gas tax allocation,” he said. “We need common sense solutions.”
Keith Rhinehart, a part-time teacher, said he supports overhauling pensions, moving money from bike path construction to road repairs and requiring cyclists to pay for road maintenance through a bicycling fee.
“The idea that we are going to spend millions of dollars on cycling routes that affect 1 percent of the commuting public is unconscionable,” he said. “I will work as hard as anyone to fix this pension crisis.”
The event, hosted by Save Our Sonoma Roads, included spirited questions for McGuire, the candidates and Director of Transportation and Public Works Susan Klassen.
The grassroots road advocacy group has been pressing county officials for more road spending since its founding in 2011, co-founder Craig Harrison said.
“When we look back at the budgets over the last two decades … road funding has failed to keep pace with what we need,” he said. “The people running our county owed us a big apology.”