Sebastopol-area neighborhood takes potholes into own hands as county road funds stretch thin
For 30 years, Barry Anderson has made a hobby of fixing severe potholes that regularly form outside his Cunningham Road home south of Sebastopol, helping manage a problem road that hasn’t seen significant investment from the county for at least that long.
“That big one right there in front … was a foot deep,” Anderson said, pointing to a hole he filled near the edge of the driveway of his ranch-style home, which he’s owned since the early 1960s. “This one kept getting deeper and deeper. And there’s another two beyond there that I filled.”
Sonoma County’s Transportation & Public Works department compiles annually a list of resident requests for connector streets and thoroughfares to be repaved.
With more than 2,700 miles, the county has the second largest road network in the Bay Area. However, the state delivers gas tax dollars based on registered vehicles rather than the number of roads, which the department says leaves the county short on funds to fix roads.
The county spent a total of $17.4 million in 2018 as part of its pavement and maintenance program, department spokesman Dan Virkstis said. That resulted in nearly 100 miles of repaved roadway, which was a record for Sonoma County. Between state gas tax dollars and ongoing funding the Board of Supervisors has dedicated toward pavement upkeep, the county expects to spend another $14.7 million in 2019.
However, some neighborhoods will be left without needed road repairs for extended periods, and residents will have little option unless they feel the need to take it upon themselves to fill the holes.
Anderson, a 78-year-old retired road construction foreman, has for the last five years been slowed by a bum hip, and his wife, Shirley, 75, occasionally has asked him to stop taking the sack of filler and shovel out into the street. Now, he and his next-door neighbor, a commercial contractor, take turns patching the most egregious ruts on the 1/3-mile stretch between Bloomfield and Schaeffer roads. With the wet weather and the persistent damage from swelling local traffic, including heavy-duty delivery trucks traveling to and from a nearby dairy and orchards, it’s all they can do to keep the two-lane byway drivable.
They’re far from the only people in the neighborhood dealing with a minefield of craters that occasionally get patched, a bandage some say manages to actually keep lead-foot drivers at or below the posted 35 mph limit.
On Cunningham Road, a makeshift sign was posted on a nearby power pole warning drivers of a primitive road. A local asphalt vigilante group also visited the street last month to tag their skull logo and circle the most serious divots with orange paint.
Hoping to shame the county into taking action, another resident left on the blacktop a message in large white letters: PAVEMENT ENDS AHEAD.
“It’s like a jigsaw puzzle of patches,” said Don Herold, 66, who for 26 years has frequently taken the route to his Schaeffer Road home. “You’re trying to drive and see where it’s flat, but especially when it’s wet, you can’t see where the potholes are. It’s dark on dark and people are swerving all over, which gets to be dangerous with people walking their dogs and things like that.”
The county public works department acknowledged the rural road, which saw 670 vehicles a day in a 2015 traffic count, has not received major attention since the Clinton administration, maybe even longer. The electronic records don’t go further back.