Free asphalt spurs paving in Bolinas

The possibility of paving the neighborhood roads of the Mesa has sprung up in Bolinas once again. Though the topic has long been controversial, no one seems to be complaining this time around.

Last week, a heap of recycled asphalt worth $100,00 was dropped off—for free.

“It’s a huge gift to the community,” said Andrew Blake, vice president of Mesa Park. “I have been working on these roads, trying to improve them for 20 years. To say there are happy people because of this is putting it mildly.”

The delivery came from the Ghilotti Brothers Inc. construction company, who were contracted to repave parts of the Panoramic Highway.

The process of repaving an old road involves grinding off a thin surface layer in order to bind it with the new material. Typically, the excess material is then saved or given to another private company to be reused—a practice which Blake doesn’t think is fair. “When the county elects to have a road repaired, the tax payers have already paid for the materials that go into it, so they should be able to get it back.”

In this case, that is exactly what happened, after negotiations with the construction company. The pile, which currently occupies a quarter of the parking lot at Mesa Park, was obtained free-of-charge due to Blake’s quick planning. His goal is to make it available to community.

“They have to get rid of what they’ve ground off, so it made sense for us to take it,” said Don Smith, a member of the Bolinas Public Utility District’s (BPUD) Board of Directors. “Besides being free we’re making use of it as a recycled project. Which is great, because we can sure use it— it’s something that’s always needed.”

Before it can be used, however, the intended project must be approved by BPUD. And although they have the final say in whether the roads can be repaired, they lack the jurisdiction to say that the repairs are required.

“The county never accepted these roads, so it doesn’t provide any help in maintaining them,” said Smith. That means that the town also doesn’t have final say, and each of the neighborhoods must decide for themselves whether they want to go through with repairs.

In the past, Bolinas residents have been hesitant to fix their roads, opting instead to keep the large potholes to slow traffic and keep the dust down. But when the roads become so bad that emergency and maintenance vehicles can’t safely maneuver them, Smith believes that something must be done.

“The problem with the current system is public safety. There ought to be some minimal level of drivability that should be maintained,” Smith said. By offering the free asphalt, he hopes to induce more repairs among the community.

And the initial reactions to the asphalt have been positive, said Blake. ”I have to say I’ve been surprised, nobody has called me up screaming.”

He noted that some residents have legitimate concerns over speeding, but that most of them are content with the installation of speed bumps.

If a neighborhood does opt to conduct repairs, they must first form a “neighborhood association” and be in agreement over the improvements. Once established, the association must go to a BPUD meeting and request a permit. Only then can they hire a contractor and commence repairs. And while the material is now free, the neighborhoods still must pay for the labor out of their own pockets.

But because the overall cost is now just 15-20 percent of what it would normally be, Blake believes that it should no longer be much of an issue. “All they have to do is pay for somebody to haul it.”
One group, the West Poplar Road Association—of which Blake is a part—has already applied. They were granted the black-top to start paving.

“They are one of the most organized of the community,” said Vic Amoroso, BPUD’s director. “We may get more [applications] depending on whether more neighborhoods get together and
organized or not.”

Amoroso speculates that demand may be less than supply though. “I expect to see some of it used; it’s interesting to see if it all will though.”

“For the mean time,” said Smith, “we’re just storing it there and using it as projects come our way.”