Editor's note: This following correspondence from Spring 2004 concerns safety and liability issues on Sonoma Mountain Road. It is presented in chronological order.

Sonoma County Supervisors
Sonoma County Administration Building
575 Administration Drive, Room 100A
Santa Rosa, California

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Dear Supervisors:

Thank you for your recent efforts to create parks and trails on the eastern and northern slopes of Sonoma Mountain, including the anticipated easement and trail on the Roth property. This acquisition, which appears to be part of a long term strategy to connect Jack London State Park with lands east of the City of Rohnert Park, is the type of project we encourage and expect of the SCAPOSD.

Friends of Lafferty Park is asking for your help in removing a "roadblock" to park and trail expansion on the western side of the Mountain, adjacent to Petaluma.

As you know, the condition of Sonoma Mountain Road has been an obstacle to the creation of a public open space park at Lafferty Ranch. The County and the City of Petaluma have been unable to determine what improvements, short of bringing the entire three mile segment up to the AASHTO standard, are enough to mitigate the environmental impact below the "significant" level and reduce the County's incremental exposure to injury liability claims to an acceptable level.

I hope we can agree that meeting the AASHTO standard for this project -- with the EIR says has a traffic impact equal to that of four single family homes, a ten percent increase above current traffic levels -- would not only be a misallocation of scarce resources and a huge eyesore, but a terrible precedent for other developments in the County. The question remains, however, what is "enough"?

To help the City and County answer that question, Friends of Lafferty Park enlisted Petaluman Joern Kroll, a PhD traffic planner for the City of San Francisco. Mr. Kroll evaluated the road and wrote up his recommendations in a report entitled "Sonoma Mountain Road to Lafferty Park: Safety Analysis & Recommendations."  FLP members presented Supervisor Kerns with a copy of this report on June 17, 2003. Supervisor Reilly also was given a copy not long after. A copy is attached.

Mr. Kroll acknowledged that the focus of his expertise is not rural road design, and submitted his work as a starting point for discussion which would lead to a reasonable plan for addressing the road issue. His recommendations reflect the new thinking about the application of AASHTO, one that grants flexibility in "consideration of community values... avoiding impacts on important natural and human resources (US DOT, FHA)" They emphasize traffic calming measures to reduce speed rather than more pavement to enable higher speeds.

Since we provided this report last summer, we've had no substantive response from the County. Public works officials at first challenged Mr. Kroll's qualifications. Later in the year, when I told them the State was interested in helping with Lafferty Park and would like to see the County's response to our recommendations, the Public Works people told me to have the State people contact them directly.

To help move this process along, we'd like to have a written response to these questions:

  1. Would implementation of the measures outlined in the FLP proposal satisfactorily address the County's concerns about the road, such that the County would not object to opening Lafferty Park for year-round unsupervised use, comparable to Helen Putnam Park?
  2. If other measures, in addition to or instead of the FLP proposal, would be needed to satisfy the County, what would they be?
  3. If the answer to #2 is full AASHTO implementation, would the County apply that standard to other projects with comparable traffic impacts, including other rural recreation projects as well as residential and commercial development? If not, why not (why would the Lafferty Park project be treated differently?)
  4. What is a very rough estimate (rounded to the nearest $50k) of the cost of implementing the FLP proposal, and the additional measures listed in #2?
  5. What else do you suggest Friends of Lafferty Park do to help resolve this issue and make progress toward the opening of Lafferty Park?

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to reading the responses. If you have questions, I can be reached during office hours at xxx-xxx-xxxx (cell), or evenings/weekends at xxx-xxx-xxxx.

Bruce Hagen

Bruce Hagen
Friends of Lafferty Park
145 Grevillia Drive
Petaluma, CA 94952

Petaluma City Manager and City Council Members
State Senator John Burton
State Assemblyman Joe Nation
Petaluma Argus Courier
Santa Rosa Press Democrat


David D. Knight, Director

Sonoma County Seal

DATE: April 20, 2004

TO: Supervisor Mike Kerns

FROM: David Knight, Director

SUBJECT: Friends of Lafferty Park March 23, 2004 Letter

The following reflects my department's response to each of the five questions presented in this letter:

  1. The FLP preoposal offers some low-cost measures that would provide some improvements to traffic safety. However, we do not believe they provide strong enough measures to reduce the liability exposure if a new park is opened. Some of the measures, such as intentionally leaving the road in a "rough" condition, may increase our liability and increase overall road maintenance cost.
  2. As stated in previous discussions, we ned to se a clear plan of how AASHTO standards will be satisfied. The park cannot be opened until road improvements are implemented. The AASHTO standards are the nationally recognized standards for road development tht provides a baseline level of liability protection. A phased program that progressively moves toward these standards can be approved by the Board of Supervisors if a clear funding program exists. Since the proposed park is the only likely development foreseen on this roadway for many years into the future, the responsibility falls upon such developers to demonstrate how they can fund the necessary road improvements. We recognize this places a considerable financial burden on this single development.

    The city of Petaluma traffic engineer, in a July 24, 2000 letter, clearly outlined a rough esitmate of improvments and costs (attached). These improvements primarily deal with correcting many of the curves, widening, and sight distance problems.

    The $3.5 million cost to meet AASHTO standards appears to be a large cost for one park. However, the liability for one accident can easily exceed this amount. Existing liability claims and losses are growing with a significant impact on our department's budget. We cannot afford to create additional loss exposure as proposed by this new park.
  3. We apply the same AASHTO standards to all projects presented. The Board of Supervisors determines the level of liability exposure acceptable. As mentioned, a phased improvement program is often necessary which comes with a certain level of risk. County-sponsored parks are perhaps easier to phase since the Board of Supervisors controls their budget and can ensure progressive improvement through annual budgeting of funds for specific improvements.

    The extent of improvements depends on the physical layout and safety constraints of the roadway in question. Sonoma Mountain Road is simply one of the more difficult and expensive roadways to address. In addition, if the park is not County controlled, we can only expect some initial financial commitment. An applicant only wants to pay once and then may complain mightily about bad roads after they are operating.
  4. See #1 above.
  5. We are available to meet with representatives for Friends of Lafferty Park. We cannot recommend permitting operation of the park until road safety is addressed. It is also desirable that the meeting be attended by the implementing party who will be responsible for operating the park and paying for the road improvements or other measures considered.

Some suggested ideas for discussion include:

  1. Phased Improvement Program -- Outline conceptual improvement plan and rough costs. However, if there is no funding support support, this is not a good use of limited resources. We will need funding to develop a specific phased implementation program.
  2. Explore abandonment of the roadway to another party releasing County from liability. I am not certain this can be accomplished from a legal standpoint nor am I convinced the neighbors along the roadway would support this approach.
  3. Examine some form of insurance arrangement that would deal with the liability exposure issue. This could be problematic in the insurance climate we find ourselves.
  4. Find another way to access the park other than Sonoma Mountain Road.
  5. Locate a new park site on a better roadway.
  6. Establish Lafferty Park as an open space conservation area with trail access, but not permit auto access to the site, avoiding road improvments.

NOTE: In these difficult budget times, we do not have the resources to develop extensive studies on this project. The city of Petaluma has expended considerable funds on studies which we are using to make the above comments. The public policy question here is: Should the general public bear the road cost and liability exposure for this park? Or should the park developers pay some or all of the road improvements? Currently, no public funds exist to address this project. Also, according to the newspapers it doesn't appear that any government unit, including the state, has an interest in developing this park site.

David Knight

David D. Knight, Director
Department of Transportation and Public Works


NOTE: The following attachment, which accompanied Mr. Knight's letter, was written by a Petaluma City Engineer as part of the EIR process, after the county told the city the road would have to meet AASHTO standards. - Ed.

Post Office Box 61
Petaluma, CA 94953

June 24, 2000

Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger
396 Hayes Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Attention: Richard S. Taylor, Esq.

Dear Richard:

Recently we discussed the costs of construction and reconstruction of Sonoma Mountain Road as part of the Lafferty Ranch project. I have reviewed the roadway and costs for various construction elements and have calculated the costs of construction for three alternatives. These are:

Minor Widening
Minor widening of Sonoma Mountain Road from Adobe Road to Lafferty Ranch Access adding 10 feet to the existing width; using a widening of 10 feet at a cost of $10.00/sq. ft., together with a length of 2.7 miles (3 miles less County slide repair project 0.3 miles). The cost is projected to be $1,425,600.00. Adding engineering and administrative costs, this project would be $1,860,000.00

Sight Distance Improvements
Sight distance improvements are anticipated to require approximately 1200 feet of roadway reconstruction. The cost of grading and reconstruction is estimated at $20.00/ sq. ft. Given a 24 foot wide roadway over a distance of 1200 feet and at a cost of $20.00/sq. ft, the cost is projected to be $576,000. Adding engineering and administrative costs, this would would be approximately $$750,000.00

Full Reconstruction
Full reconstruction of Sonoma Mountain Road, less the slide repair by the County of Sonoma, is estimated at $1,000,000.00/mile of roadway. The projected cost to reconstruct would be $2,700,000.00 Adding engineering and administrative costs, this project would be $3,510,000.00

The estimates presented here are order of magnitude assessments of cost and do not include right-of-way acquisition or environmental evaluations.

I hope this will assist you in your evaluations.

Very truly yours,

Allan Tilton

Allan G. Tilton, P.E.
Traffic Engineer

NOTE: The following cover letter by Supervisor Mike Kerns accompanied the David Knight's letter, above, as sent to Petaluma City Manager Mike Bierman. Notice that neither Mr. Knight nor Supervisor Kerns had the courtesy to respond directly to, or even CC, Bruce Hagen of FLP who initiated the correspondence. - Ed.


(707) 565-2241

Sonoma County Seal

May 11, 2004

Mr. Michael Bierman
City Manager
P.O. box 61
Petaluma, CA 94953

Re: Friends of Lafferty Park Letter dated March 23, 2004

Dear Mike:

Attached is a copy of the resopnse from David Knight, Director of the County of Sonoma Department of Transportation and Public Works, relating the Bruce Hagen's letter of March 23, 2004 concerning Lafferty Park (also attached).

If you have any questions regarding this letter, please contact me at 565-2241, or call Dave Knight directly at 565-3584.


Mike Kerns

Mike Kerns, Second District Supervisor
Sonoma County Board of Supervisors


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