City of Sonora leaders and Tuolumne County transportation officials are hoping to receive a state grant that would help bring one Vision Sonora project closer to reality.
The Sonora City Council authorized city staff at Monday’s meeting to seek funding from the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund for a project aimed at revamping the corridor along Stockton Road, one of the main entrances to the Queen of the Southern Mines.
As envisioned by the Vision Sonora Plan that was adopted in 2013 following multiple rounds of public input, the project would beautify the corridor and improve mobility by adding landscaping, bicycle lanes, lighting, widening sidewalks, creating a multi-use trail and bolstering safety at crosswalks.
Darin Grossi, executive director of the Tuolumne County Transportation Council, said the project’s estimated $4.3 million could be whittled down some in the grant application to improve the city’s chances.
“We certainly think it’s worthwhile,” Grossi said. “It’s a priority for Vision Sonora groups, as well as the transportation council.”
The city will be competing for a total $76 million from the state Natural Resources Agency intended for projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Grossi said the Stockton Road project would reduce such emissions by planting trees that can sequester and store carbon, as well as providing bicycle lanes and better walkways. Part of the project would involve narrowing the roadway, which could also reduce speeds and improve safety along the highly traveled road.
About 7,000 vehicles travel along the road per day compared to about 18,000 on Washington Street, according to Grossi.
However, some people who own businesses on Stockton Road and property elsewhere in the city were critical of the project.
Jim Davis, the longtime owner of Stan and Jim’s Body Shop on Stockton Road, urged the board to scrap the whole idea.
“Planting trees up and down there to curtail greenhouse gases, that’s like me going down to (New) Melones and throwing a bucket of water in there and saying the drought is over,” Davis said. “It’s a ploy to get Vision Sonora funded.”
Mayor Connie Williams has long said, and reiterated at Monday’s meeting, that projects in the Vision Sonora Plan would be completed as funding becomes available.
Davis said he’s concerned about how the trees and other changes proposed would affect parking at his business, as well as his ability to get vehicles in and out of the shop. He said he’s spoken to another business owner who shares his concerns.
“That road, the way it is right now without spending a nickel, is just fine,” Davis said.
Elena Linehan, who owns an historic home in the city and is a staunch opponent of many aspects of the Vision Sonora Plan, read from a written statement that criticized the council for what she believed was a lack of notice about the potential grant.
Linehan said the council’s agenda for Monday’s meeting was released on Good Friday before Easter weekend, describing the timing as a “sneaky way to take action without garnering public input.”
“The city has got to do better at including others in the conversation,” Linehan said. “Telling us that the Vision Sonora Committee meets in the middle of the day, and the transportation council meets on a workday afternoon, does not cut it.”
Williams said the concept that will be submitted for the funding is far from the final project. Grossi said, if the city is successful in obtaining the grant, there will be an engineering and design process that will seek more input from the public and businesses along Stockton Road.
Laurie Lehmann, a Vision Sonora supporter who serves on several committees related to the plan, urged the council to move forward with applying for the grant.
“I’ve never heard anybody say they thought it was a bad idea to plant trees in this world,” Lehmann said. “The fact that this agency (the transportation council) has offered to help you do 99 percent of the work is a wonderful thing, and you should take advantage of that.”
Ultimately, the council mostly agreed and voted 4-1 to approve submitting the grant application.
Councilman Mark Plummer was the only one who voted against seeking the funds, citing concerns from constituents. Though he said he’s open minded about the Vision Sonora Plan moving forward, he’s heard from a number of people who are opposed to it.
“While I like a lot of the general concepts of Vision Sonora,” Plummer said, “at this juncture, since I wasn’t involved in the planning, I’m representing those people who are contacting me.”