Sonoma community feels pain of redevelopment cuts


New sidewalks and streetlights appear to be simple additions to Highway 12 in Sonoma County's Springs neighborhood, but it took 20 years of work by residents and county politicians to get them, in part because county improvements on a state highway involve layers and layers of bureaucracy.

The sidewalks are small improvements making a big difference in pedestrian safety and community pride. George and Jane Holmes have lived in the neighborhood for 30 years. George Holmes said, "Instead of saying that we come from Boyes in a little voice, we come from Boyes Hot Springs and we're damn proud of it!"

But the redevelopment project is only half done. It's supposed to cover a two-mile stretch just north of the city of Sonoma. With phase one completed, phase two is now in jeopardy since Governor Jerry Brown's budget suddenly dissolved all 400 state redevelopment agencies on February 1.

"I think it was generally an unintended consequence of state legislature. I don't think anybody intended for this to happen," said Steve Cox, former redevelopment advisory committee chair. Cox has been fighting for the sidewalks since his now college-age son was in kindergarten.

Schoolchildren and moms with strollers navigate the narrow shoulders daily on Highway 12, which has become more and more congested over the years.

Phase two was fully funded with community taxpayer money -- the only fully funded, vetted and certified state project ready to go out for bid in March.

But Cox is now faced with only half of his dream coming true, and another generation of parents possibly left starting over.

Amy Smith is the mother of a fifth grader and kindergartner. "Sometimes the cars are racing to make the lights and they're not paying attention to what the pedestrians are doing, so it's nice just to have that extra bit of safety on the side of the road and not trying to be in the weeds and the mud."

Sonoma County Supervisor Valerie Brown has championed the project. "I understood the money aspect but for a project like this one, it was just devastating," she said. "When things started happening at the state level in terms of redevelopment, we were really kind of aghast. Part of us were believing that there's no way they could stop this."

Two things could rescue phase two -- an oversight committee whose job it will be to salvage worthy redevelopment projects or clean-up legislation to undo what's been done. The oversight decision is expected in late April.

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