Bridge battle revisited
On Monday, the Sonoma City Council was forced by its own protocols to endure more than an hour of public testimony and discussion on an issue they had already decided in November of 2009.
That issue was the planned Fryer Creek bicycle and pedestrian bridge that will connect Newcomb Street and the schools it leads to on the east side with the neighborhood and bike path on the west side of Fryer Creek. In principle, the council was merely deciding whether to accept a negative declaration for the project's environmental impact report - meaning that there was no negative impact - in order to proceed. In fact, the whole issue ended up being rehashed.
In January of 2008, a survey of the surrounding neighborhood showed overwhelming support for a bridge that hundreds of people thought made eminent sense as a route to funnel children (and adults) most directly and safely to three schools - covering elementary, middle school and high school grades - within a block of each other.
The route of majority choice empties on to an empty cul de sac where Newcomb Street ends at the edge of the creekside property owned by the Sonoma County Water Agency.
Installing a bridge there will not encroach on or require the condemnation of anyone's private property, but it will introduce a flow of pedal-powered and pedestrian traffic across the creek that has not existed before.
A handful of property owners are understandably upset that the tranquility of their dead-end address may be disturbed in some part by the access the bridge provides to the Newcomb cul de sac. We understand their concern. We also understand that the property over which they would like to lay a protective private claim belongs to the city and, thereby, to all the people of Sonoma, not just those living in immediate proximity to the bridge site.
Some of those residents rose to warn the council of the dire consequences of a bridge there, including threats from cars backing into a steady flow of bicycles, on the one hand, and a contradictory dearth of bicycling kids (and therefore no need for the bridge) on the other.
As a connecting route tying cross-town bicyclists into a safe network of paths, we think Newcomb makes complete sense, and we're glad the council pressed forward, on a 4-1 vote, to approve the negative declaration and clear the way for the needed engineering work.
What we're not glad about is the extraordinary expense of that work - more than $110,000 for design development, environmental review, engineering and plan preparation. All that to prepare for simply dropping in place a 48-foot, pre-fabricated, standard steel-truss bridge? That seems absurdly excessive, when the bridge itself costs only $188,000.
We were also not glad to once again see the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition gratuitously insinuate itself into the discussion - as it did during the debate over a bike lane on West Spain Street - when its staff do not live here, do not bike our neighborhoods and cannot avoid sounding like carpet-bagging interlopers in the municipal and neighborhood business of Sonoma. We appreciate their commitment and their bicycle values, but we question their judgment in presuming to now what's best for us.