Springs roundabout rocks Valley traffic

PROJECT DESIGNER MOLLYANNE MEYN (left) checks placement of boulders in the center of the roundabout on Arnold Drive and Agua Caliente Road. David Bolling/Index-Tribune

PROJECT DESIGNER MOLLYANNE MEYN (left) checks placement of boulders in the center of the roundabout on Arnold Drive and Agua Caliente Road. David Bolling/Index-Tribune


Sonoma Valley motorists registered car-stopping surprise Monday and Tuesday when they encountered a giant construction crane lowering boulders the size and approximate shape of a Toyota Prius on to the raised island inside the circle of the new Arnold Drive roundabout at Agua Caliente Road.

For drivers familiar with roundabouts in other locations, the first surprise was the high, sharp curbs and the elevated mound, encircled by cement blocks with a rock façade, that suddenly occupied the center of the roundabout circle. Conventional roundabouts typically have rounded curbs and low center mass so that drivers can see opposing traffic from across the circle, and so large trucks have room for error in passage through.

But according to Mollyanne Meyn, a Sonoma Valley native and owner of Mira Landscape company who designed the circle feature, this roundabout has a somewhat different purpose.

“The parameters of this roundabout are a little different,” she said on Tuesday, while watching an operator from Summit Crane lower a sofa-sized boulder into the emerging rock scape of the roundabout circle. “The idea here was to obstruct the view,” she explained. “The idea was to slow traffic down. When you see it, it’s quite clear and obvious your car needs to slow down.”

Indeed. The assortment of boulders adorning the circle includes one weighing 22 tons, another weighing 18 tons, and several smaller pieces, each weighing multiple tons. Together, they tower over the road surface by at least 10 feet.

Meyn said she has had her eye on these rocks for a long time. “I’ve been driving past those rocks for years and years,” she said, seeing them in the yard of Johnson Ornamental & Building Stone, on Santa Rosa Avenue in Santa Rosa.

Meyn said she grew up in Boyes Hot Springs and that “culturally and horticulturally, there’s a lot of ruggedness in the Valley. I was trying to mimic the natural landscape.”

Meyn said the final configuration came together late in the project. “Rocks are so organic. I wasn’t sure what rocks I would use until the bed was made. I wanted rocks that somehow talk to each other. I’m hoping it is dramatic and uplifting.”

A press release from the Sonoma County Transportation and Public Works Department credits Hanna Boys Center with contributing close to $500,000 for roundabout land and its artistic centerpiece. But Tom Angstadt, a member of the Hanna board of directors and chair of the Kivelstadt Group, a commercial real estate development company, said Thursday that the valuations were arbitrary estimates and that Hanna had contractually agreed to donate portions of land it owned at three of the four corners of the Arnold Drive-Agua Caliente Road intersection as part of the permitting agreement for its $15 million capital improvement project.

At the time, Hanna did not know that the final configuration for the intersection would involve a roundabout, but understood that the intersection reconstruction would also involve improvements to the center’s entrance.

Angstadt also said the center’s contribution to the centerpiece design in the roundabout circle involved donated services and that, to his knowledge, Hanna paid no out-of-pocket money for the work. “Hanna has not a put a cent in this thing,” he said. “We were just an adjacent landowner trying to facilitate the plan the county wanted. I have no idea what the value of that land was.”

Hanna, he said, has agreed to maintain the landscaping and watering of the roundabout area.

The design Meyn proposed was vetted by county officials and approved by the Board of Supervisors. Acknowledging it may stir controversy, Angstadt observed, “It’s there. It’s built. I think two years from now, it’s going to look great.”

Meyn admitted it may take people a while to get the picture, which will eventually include a lush carpet of flowers and other greenery, with the bare rocks nestled into the surrounding landscape.

“I felt the risk when I designed it,” she said. “I’m going to have to drive by it every day. I hope people get it.”

One other element will be added sometime in the near future – a memorial feature dedicated to Gen. Hap Arnold, father of the modern Air Force who retired to Sonoma and for whom Arnold Drive is named. The memorial will be built on Hanna property with the blessing of grandson Robert and Kathy Arnold, and will reportedly include a flagpole and an array of five stars, commemorating Hap Arnold’s status as a five-star general.

  • Lank Thompson

    How are you supposed to see traffic coming? Most likely this will lead to cars coming to a stop to check which goes against the idea of “flow.”

  • bob edwards

    A group of regulars at Murphy’s has started a pool: Guess the date when the first drunk drives smack into the Rock Candy Mountain in the dark. Entry is $5.00, payable at the bar. After that happens, a 2nd pool will be started to guess the date when the county installs a stop sign at the roundabout to keep that from happening again. The roundabout story keeps getting stranger by the day. And for only $2 million dollars, too.

    • Bob Dobbs

      Speaking of pools, you might as well start one that guesses the date a motorcyclist will be killed by a car entering the roundabout.

  • William Brinton

    Headline: Dinosaurs Loose in Sonoma Valley at Arnold Dr and Agua Caliente Drive
    around Intersection

    We just had a dinosaur sighting this past week…not a real dinosaur,
    no, and we did not see the real deal, just their droppings, as lo and behold, some dinosaur like eggs or droppings from a bygone era, had been deposited
    at the intersection of Arnold Dr and Agua Caliente on top of a mound of dirt
    surrounded by a rock wall. They hit the target perfectly and left without
    notice, although it appears that part of the wall was damaged by one of the droppings
    hitting it the wrong way.
    As a driver on Arnold Dr every day, I have been watching with fascination as the train wreck
    at Hanna Boys Center new Roundabout intersection has unfolded the last few
    months. From watching the countless county workers and contractors standing
    around waiting for something to happen to the many levels of base rock, gravel ,
    more base rock, double rebarred areas and cement and asphalt going down, this
    has got to be one of the most expensive, smallest intersections (non-signalized)
    and longest construction cycles that I have ever observed. This is at a time
    when many basic roads in Sonoma are full of potholes and have enough deferred
    maintenance to last us a lifetime.

    The Board of Supervisors needs to answer the question: what was the cost of this intersection and who was paid what (actuals, not the budgeted amount!)? When we live in an era of government that cannot keep potholes from developing, with the Supes unable to maintain County Roads….Don’t you all think it’s time for the Supes to reveal their thought process
    on how this absolute monstrosity got approved and who benefitted?

    There is no question that the idea of a drive around at a very clogged intersection was exciting and positive. The idea of a Mini Arc de Triomphe like circle here in the Valley was positively stimulating and progressive. However, with the addition of some rocks floating around high
    above, maybe we should call the drive around the Arc Du Shame. Shame on
    somebody for not having the common sense to provide visibility to all drivers;
    like just about every other comparably sized intersection in the world.

    But the ‘crowning’ was reserved for last: When we had delays
    of 30 minutes waiting for the crane to place the rocks – the $20,000 (or was it $30,000) rocks? That is what I was quoted when I inquired about buying them several months ago for a new dinosaur exhibit I have been planning for the Valley, but the County saved me the money…They placed droppings right in the middle of a busy intersection, trafficked by many of the hardworking, time stressed Valley residents and workers on a daily basis who now have
    substantially reduced visibility.

    Was this design a competitive situation or rammed through because
    the ‘designer’ was someone’s friend? Were other designs submitted? Was the designer part of some ‘packaged’ solution? If so, maybe this info can be
    shared with all of us. If such info cannot be disclosed, why not?

    Now as far as traffic flow goes: Was a traffic engineer
    consulted and engaged to promote speedy and efficient flow through the
    intersection instead of having a landscape ‘designer’ make traffic decisions? She
    wants to slow us all down, how nice of her to socially engineer our lives with
    the backing of local government… just what the heck does she know about traffic
    flows? I just love citizen experts with no apparent training. Why would she have any decision power about what speed anyone drives through an intersection? I thought the reason for the roundabout was to enhance the flow of traffic that was routinely backed up by the stop signs. Almost every roundabout I have ever driven through has a low center to make oncoming traffic highly visible instead of invisible. She should stick to planting
    little rows of daisies at home. I am fairly certain she does gardens well. Please
    ask how she was hired and find out how such an apparent lack of credentials
    could have any say so over a project as important as this intersection…..

    And why are the curbs squared up and not rounded? Most small
    ones have rounded curbs in case drivers don’t have any Grand Prix experience…
    Does the county realize that they have created an engineering disaster for us
    normal slow law abiding drivers when the curbs damage our wheels and possibly

    So enough, can someone let us know why and how she was
    hired? And was she allowed to make engineering decisions normally reserved to
    experts with traffic Graduate degrees and experience? There has got to be a trail somewhere due to the lack of information available.

  • http://www.nokillsonomacounty.org/ NoKill SoCo

    Whoever designed this thing never bothered to look at the designs on the East Coast or Europe were you did not have this huge decorative monstrosity blocking your line of site while entering this roundabout. Also those curbs are not standard height, how many trucks are going to hit them in this very tight roundabout that is not a standard size for those trucks making deliveries along this route? Start checking for tire marks on the thing. It was a very poor design when it could have been a wonderful concept. Thank goodness I only have to hope nothing is coming from the other side a couple times a week because I can’t see a thing with that crazy design in the middle. I have a small car and I don’t have x-ray vision…

  • dd

    When Save Arnold Drive proposed circles at this and the Madrone/Arnold intersections many years ago it was with a typical circle design in mind with clear views across the circle, wide travel lanes and low rounded shoulders to keep traffic flowing with clear visibility. This design used reduces the effectiveness of full traffic engineering benefits and may actually cause a hazard in some cases with regard to the monument in the middle. The narrow lanes and high curbs will (and have) resulted in wheel and tire scraping. The sidewalks around the circle appear wider that the travel lanes which is counter-intuitive.

  • Jessica M

    Agreed – completely bizarre design. What a disaster.

  • Liz Monnet

    As a Brit who learned to drive the roundabouts in the UK in order to obtain her drivers license, this ‘blind corner’ design would be laughable if the result wasn’t so potentially dangerous.

    Mollyanne Meyn, owner of Mira Landscape company, is quoted as saying that her company designed the circle feature in the middle of the roundabout to obstruct motorists view and slow traffic. Any idiot can place enormous boulders on a highway in order to create a big hazard and slow traffic. I would like to know how much prior expertise this landscape company and other involved in this experimental design had in designing safe roundabouts and safely controlling traffic.

    I would also like to know whether the designers of this experimental roundabout have adequate liability insurance coverage to protect and indemnify the Sonoma county taxpayers from any wrongful death or injury lawsuits resulting from this experimental design.

    I hope that Sonoma Valley residents keep pressing for answers and accountability about this expensive design choice and the so-called expertise and funding behind it. We all need to find out how this design was passed without more community review and oversight.

    • Dee Test

      This entire project, in conjunction with the huge remodel/new buildings and fields constructed at Hanna was the brainchild of the Hanna folks and their contractors, with underhanded maneuvers by Valerie Brown, and facilitated by other county officials. Hanna wanted their new roadway entrance/ grand private front landscape and private use of Arnold Dr., paid by the taxpayers. Clearly, safety for motorists and community needs were not a priority. The end-product of this fiasco is that Hanna got what they wanted, paid by the taxpayers, at the expense of public safety and with overwhelming inconvenience for drivers over many months.

  • Sweetsinger

    Tall landscape elements are for parks and courtyards–not intersections. Meyn does not understand that people need visibility when traversing an intersection. I wince at thinking about the first pedestrian who will be hit by a car because the driver couldn’t see around (or was distracted by) that lush carpet of flowers and other greenery nestled into those boulders.

  • Darla Brocco Kobza

    Ridiculous! ’nuff said!

  • Bob Dobbs

    What an incredibly stupid idea…building an intersection designed to obscure–not improve–a driver’s view. This country spends billions of dollars attempting to eradicate blind corners and obscure traffic, not the other way around.

  • Darla Brocco Kobza

    looks like she was trying to build a monument to herself!