Healdsburg businesses, city continue clash over roundabout after yearlong construction delay

By Kevin Fixler
Press Democrat

May 21, 2018

The end appears in sight for construction of a roundabout at Healdsburg’s southern entrance, but a year of delays on the multimillion-dollar project is creating growing claims of collateral damage.

City officials said Monday they continue to push the lead contractor, Bay Cities Paving & Grading, of Concord, to expedite work on the job, though they’re confident in its current timeline. All but minor landscaping is expected to be wrapped up this September, with full closeout by mid-October.

For some businesses dealing with declining revenue because the timetable was too long after original plans estimated a fall 2017 completion date. A group of retailers near the construction corridor has for months complained of nosedives in foot traffic that have led to earnings slumps.

At least four businesses along the downtown strip have closed and cited ongoing work on the roundabout — including torn up sidewalks, road closures and temporary signage — as the leading culprit.

Café Lucia is the latest casualty among them. The Portuguese restaurant closed Friday after six years on Healdsburg Avenue.

“We were on a positive trajectory in meeting our projections, and once the construction started, we saw a decline. There’s definitely a correlation,” said Lucia Azevedo Fincher, co-owner of Café Lucia. “So it’s hard not to put the two together for me.”

She also said construction of a new hotel going in next door has affected foot traffic as well.

The other three retailers to bow out are the Sonoma Cider taproom, FLO beer and wine bar and the Valdez Family Winery’s tasting room. Even more fear the same outcome.

“We lost all of our walk-in business because we haven’t had sidewalks for eight months,” said Nancy Van Praag, Singletree Cafe co-owner who estimates a 50 percent drop in patronage. “It’s kind of time to wake up with Café Lucia and the downtown losing other businesses — we could be next.”

Eric Barker, Bay Cities general manager and project manager on the Healdsburg roundabout, did not return messages seeking comment on construction delays Monday.

The city said it fulfilled all of its responsibilities to local businesses during roundabout delays. Larry Zimmer, Healdsburg’s public works director since January, said the city has maintained constant communication with merchants, posted signs to help spur business and worked to keep sidewalks and roads open since work got underway.

“We are required to provide reasonable access to a business during a construction project, and we have,” Zimmer said. “There’s been safe pedestrian access throughout the project. We’ve tried to do everything we can within the contract itself.”

Healdsburg City Council approved the $10.3 million project in April 2016 to address downtown traffic flow and pedestrian safety, expecting it to be finished by September the following year. Hitches, including construction workers damaging underground gas, water and sewer pipelines, pushed back its completion by a year.

The city also contends it should not bear any of the potential costs shouldered by adjacent merchants due to the delays. At least two businesses — Café Lucia and Spoke Folk Cyclery — submitted claims to the city in January for financial losses after the former public works director invited them to do so, but both were rejected during a closed-door City Council meeting in March.

“The claims were not legally valid,” Zimmer said. “We don’t know the issues the businesses are going through, or why some are successful when others are not. We cannot speculate.”