The Springs, CalTrans, The County, and us….

For those of you who live in Sonoma some of this will be a review, for those of you who don’t, here is a nice dose of small town-yet World Class Tourist Destination happenings.

What is commonly called Sonoma is actually 2.2 square miles of Sonoma City Limits and the unincorporated areas of Sonoma County immediately adjacent to the City. As you travel North on Highway 12 you leave Sonoma City behind when you cross over Verano Ave. I found a really cool map that lets you zoom in and see this in full color. (The town of Sonoma is in the lower right area of the map.)

The unincorporated area North of the City Limits is commonly referred to as The Springs due to the names of the communities within this area, Boyes Hot Springs, Fetters Hot Springs, El Verano, and Agua Caliente. I am a resident of the Springs.

The Springs is densely populated area with plenty of houses on small lots, apartment complexes, and mixed use buildings. The section of Highway 12 which passes through the Springs is a heavy pedestrian area with an elementary school , a charter school, a post office, a variety of shops and businesses, restaurants, a coffee shop, a half a dozen small markets, taco trucks in the evenings, etc. It is very common to see mothers pushing strollers up and down the highway. I once counted 50 pedestrians in about one mile at 8:30 pm on a Thursday!

All these folks are walking up and down a state highway isn’t designed for pedestrian safety. In places there is less two feet separating the edge of the road and passing cars, some of which are actually observing the 25 or 30 mph speed limit. At night it is virtually impossible to see pedestrians due to the lack of lighting. For those folks who have mobility issues it is a nightmare. The idea that you could navigate a wheelchair, walker or even a scooter in these conditions is ridiculous. When there are sidewalks, they are often not a standard height, they begin and end within the space of one store front, and the ramps are either non-existent or of a strange grade. Yes, people get hurt. Yes, they get hit by cars. Yes, children walk this highway to school, every day.

What we are asking for is sidewalks, curbs, gutters, and lighting.

Safety and beauty for this part of Sonoma.

Within City limits, the City Council has jurisdiction over things like road improvements. It is somewhat complicated by the fact that a state highway runs through the town, but over all, the city gets to say how things are done and they also get to say how the funds are allocated.

In the unincorporated areas, things are a bit different. As Highway 12 is a state Highway, its maintenance and improvements are handled by CalTrans. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is the governing body for this area.

Since Caltrans manages more than 45,000 miles of California’s highway and freeway lanes and the Board of Supervisors has 466,477 people in its county, you can probably guess that it can take a LOT to get their attention and action for our little stretch (about 1.7 miles) of highway.

Fortunately, it appears that we have managed to do just that. This evening, I attended a meeting of the Sonoma Valley Redevelopment Advisory Committee (RAC). This committee decides how the redevelopment funds (a portion of the property taxes from the Springs area) are spent. At the top of their list, is removal of physical, economic and social blight and safety improvements to the Highway 12 corridor from Verano Ave to Agua Caliente Blvd. YIPPEE!!

Yet, getting all the approvals, right of ways, permits, plans, etc. takes a lot of time. Then you have to actually have to do the construction which costs a lot of money (let’s forget for a moment what the construction traffic will be like).

The estimate that was mentioned tonight was in the $12 million range for the entire project. RAC currently has about $6 million in the bank allocated for Highway 12 improvements.

Two representatives from Sonoma County Department of Transportation and Public Works were on hand to update the RAC on the progress being made on this project. They indicated that CalTrans, County Supervisor Valerie Brown, and Public Works are all motivated to see this project started and consider it a high priority.

It appears that they will be splitting the project into two phases. First they will work on the Southern part of the project area: Verano Ave. to Boyes Blvd. When I suggested that the other end of the project has more pedestrian traffic as well as both of the schools and it should be done first, I was told that there are more ‘right of way’ issues to be worked out in that section so it would mean a potentially long delay before anything could get going if that section was worked on first.

CalTrans already has a lot of the right of ways in place for the Southern section. So, starting there is the ‘path of least resistance’. That made sense to me. I didn’t like it much, but it made sense.

I couldn’t begin to imagine all the steps and people and meetings and paperwork and and and and and it has taken to get this far. Just the small amount of information presented in one hour at tonight’s meeting was enough!

Best case scenario is that bids are solicited in the Summer of 2007 for work to begin as soon as possible after that. Somehow, funds for the other end of the project will have to be raised. It is hoped that the State will assist us.

I wonder if the City of Sonoma might be able to assist us.

The City and the Springs have a symbiotic relationship. When tourists come to ‘Sonoma’, they aren’t only coming to just the 2.2 square miles of the City Limits. Within the Springs is lodging, entertainment, wineries, golfing, and a world class hotel the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn. Additionally, thousands of Springs residents shop, dine, and $pend within the city limits all of which adds to the city coffers. I would love to see this relationship honored by city residents and representatives with some kind of contribution to the beautification and safety of the Springs.

I will now remove my rose colored glasses…… It occurs to me that I have fallen into this us versus them energy during this last bit of commentary. I really don’t like the idea of ‘us here in the Springs’ and ‘them over in city limits’. But, it is hard to talk about this without it coming off that way. Especially when, right now, as I type, all sorts of city streets are torn up because…..drum roll please…..they are putting in new sidewalks.

The RAC meets the first Thursday of each month,7:00pm, at the Boys and Girls Club at Maxwell Park. Of course, the meetings are listed on the Sonoma Valley Calendar. Stop in some time, learn more and add your voice.

If this issue is important to you, let your representatives know how you feel. Our County representative is Valerie Brown . To contact CalTrans and encourage them to keep this project as a top priority, use this link.


  1. Ada Limón said,

    December 10, 2006 at 3:43 pm


    Thanks for listing my reading at Readers’ Books on your blog. I was born and raised in Sonoma & Glen Ellen and actually worked at Readers’ on and off from age 15-20. It’s nice to know this blog exists. Thanks again,


  2. Ada Limón said,

    December 10, 2006 at 3:45 pm

    Sorry, I meant Veronica!

  3. Diva Donna said,

    January 15, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    Hi Veronica,

    For the life of me, I can’t find a way to reach this RAC. I went to the last meeting when it was decided to put copies of the plan out in the community so they could get some feedback before finalizing it. I’ve yet to hear where they can be found and where to give your feedback. I’m concerned that not enough people are hearing about this so I want to get the word out.

    I’d appreciate any assistance you could give.

    Diva Donna

    Here is the link to the on line version of the report:

    Click to access svstrategicplandraft.pdf

    It is long, but very interesting.

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