The MGH Report

Michael G. Haran, Proprietor

Pothole Politics

Posted by on May 21, 2014

The official kickoff of the 4th District supervisorial race may have been on April 28th at Cardinal Newman High but the real start was on April 23rd at the Windsor Grange Hall when the five candidates met to say what they would do about Sonoma County’s poor roads if they were elected to replace outgoing Mike McGuire who is running for the state senate.

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Mike McGuire

Sponsored by SOS Roads, a local road improvement advocacy group, the topic drew a group of about forty people.  Bill Finkelstein and Craig Harrison of SOSR were moderators and Mike McGuire was the master of ceremonies. Having McGuire at the meeting was tailor made for the candidates to take pot shots at what the county has done on road maintenance and other things.

Mike opened the discussion by PowerPoint highlighting what the county has done toward road since he became supervisor in 2010.  He said, “This is a legacy problem,” as past supervisors withheld money for road repairs. The county has spent over $8 million from the general fund in the past two years to repair 40 miles of priority roads. He showed slides of new roads on Westside, W. Dry Creek; Eastside; Lytton Springs; and Geyserville Roads. He said a top priority is to put sidewalks in Geyserville. McGuire continued that the county is working on finding more money for more road repair. He then turned the program over to Director of Transportation and Public Works Susan Klassen.

Susan showed slides of how the spending on roads had decreased over the past thirty years. One slide really stood out. It was a vertical bar graph that showed how much money each California County received from gas tax. Because state road maintained allotments are based on population, Orange County, with a population of over three million and 312 miles of paved roads compared to Sonoma County’s population of just under five hundred thousand and 1,370 miles of paved roads, gets about six times what Sonoma gets(Orange County must have really nice roads).

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Susan Klassen

When asked what they would do to improve county road conditions the candidates took turns. Pete Foppiano wants to see a change in the way gas tax is distributed stating that the current formula favors counties with high a number of registered vehicles and small road networks. James Gore targeted unfunded pension liability in wanting to reform the county budget but didn’t support new taxes. “I won’t kick the can down the road, because it will probably fall into a pothole,” he said.

Keith Rhinehart said that the idea of spending millions of dollars on cycling routes that affect 1 percent of the commuting public is unconscionable and that he would eliminate bike path construction in favor of road repairs and tax cyclists. Finkelstein reminded Rhinehart that cyclists also drive cars and so pay the same taxes as everyone else. Rhinehart said that he will work as hard as anyone to fix this pension crisis.

Deb Fudge said she is wants to hear the county’s long-term roads plan, which McGuire said would be released within 60 days, and is interested in the $1 billion plus, 20-year project to rehabilitating the entire road network. When she said that it could be paid for by a sales or property tax increase one women in the audience commented, “No way.” Fudge quickly added, “Only with voter approval.” I don’t think Fudge is getting that women’s vote.

Ken Churchill, a longtime advocate of overhauling pensions, said that pensions are costing us money that is not fixing our roads and new taxes are not going to do it. When McGuire said that the county’s pension liability is now about 80% funded, Churchill challenged that figure saying that it’s closer to 60%. McGuire then said that the new actuarial figures backed him up and Churchill admitted that he hadn’t seen the new figures. McGuire went on to counsel the pension hawks saying that even with futures savings it’s not a dollar for dollar deal.

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SOS Roads Forum

As the debate/conversation continued to intensify McGuire, as only he would do, decided that everyone needed chocolate so he passed around a basket.  Finkelstein spotted Jim Wood, Healdsburg mayor and candidate for the 2nd Assembly district, and ask if he anything to add to the road conversation. Wood said that he didn’t as he was there on a fact finding mission.

Craig Harrison held up a sign that said “Tired of Potholes?” go to SOSRoad.org.” He said anyone who wants a sign should go to the organization’s website which is an excellent resource for information regarding Sonoma County roads. He continued that a statewide pension fix would help improve all nine Bay Area roads. To that end they have filed a “Friend of the Court” brief in the City of Stockton federal bankruptcy case arguing that retirement benefits owed to city workers should not emerge unscathed from a municipal bankruptcy.

All and all it was a fun get-together. The crowd was engaged and even a local climate denier, who kept blurting out “junk science” (about what wasn’t clear), didn’t dull the interchange. Local politics at its best.

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