Category Archives: In the News

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.”

Healdsburg roundabout construction delays lead to continued business woes

by Clark Mason
The Press Democrat

September 4, 2017

“Patience is a virtue, that’s a saying we might tout,as we drive that old five-way stop that will be our roundabout. But if you’re a business owner with flagging sales, or little clout, hanging on by just a shoestring, you damn this roundabout.”

Russ Messing, Healdsburg literary laureate

A long-running project to install a roundabout and major infrastructure improvements at the gateway to downtown Healdsburg — now as much as a year behind schedule — has created pain, frustration and anger, especially for businesses in the construction zone having to endure the noise, dust and loss of customers.

The $10.3 million project that started a year ago was supposed to finish Wednesday, according to the contract. But winter rains and other complications have delayed the estimated completion date to next May, according to the contractor, but more likely August 2018, according to city officials.

The disruptions and delay have been blamed for pushing one bar out of business, leaving some shops either teetering on the brink of closing or absorbing significant hits to their bottom line, according to a number of business owners.

“For sure it’s impacted us,” said Sonoma Cider owner Dave Cordtz, whose Mill Street taproom was essentially cut off by heavy equipment for a two-week period last month.

“There’s a large trench in the middle of the road,” he said, explaining that during two recent weeks an excavator was tearing up the ground in front of the taproom’s driveway, posing a seemingly impenetrable barrier to his business.

“It was thousands of dollars we lost because of it,” he said, adding his business suffered a 30 to 40 percent loss in gross sales.

The story is much the same for a number of businesses near the construction epicenter at a busy five-way intersection one block south of historic Healdsburg Plaza.

The temporary traffic roundabout, a prelude to a permanent one that will replace the intersection that had train tracks running through it, has actually improved traffic flow, according to city officials and merchants. But it’s the digging up of streets around it that is causing headaches.

“The roundabout was great when they started construction. It improved traffic flow greatly. No one had to stop,” said Richard Peacock, owner of Spoke Folk Cyclery on nearby Center Street.

But installing new water and sewer pipes, and underground utilities, and rebuilding a badly-deteriorated, near century-old culvert that funnels Foss Creek under the road, led to major disruptions.

Then in July, to allow some of the work to proceed, access to Mill Street from the roundabout was closed off, and expected to last three months.

“We saw a dramatic drop (in business) at the same time they closed the road,” Peacock said. “We were up for the year 20 percent before they closed Mill Street. Now we’re struggling to stay even with last year.”

The roundabout and nearby street excavations are not the only projects that have made parts of the Wine Country tourist destination resemble a job site with congested traffic and unavailable parking spaces. Just up Healdsburg Avenue leading into the plaza, construction is progressing on the new h3 Hotel.

Street resurfacing has been ongoing around town, and there is a major Highway 101 repaving project periodically closing off freeway ramps into Healdsburg.

Temporary pinch next week at roundabout: motorists will be unable to go full circle

By The City of Healdsburg

Partial closure necessary during installation of sewer pipe

The replacement of a 36-inch diameter sewer pipe in Healdsburg Avenue is underway. Beginning Wednesday, April 5, there will be a temporary reconfiguration and closure on the south side of the interim roundabout to accommodate underground work.

This reconfiguration may be delayed due to recent rains, but once reconfiguration is in place it will last approximately one week.

The impact on vehicle traffic will be that it will not be possible to cross Healdsburg Avenue south of the interim roundabout. In order to access Mill Street east of the Avenue, vehicles will not be able to make a full circle and will have to detour.

With the exception of the temporary south side closure and reconfiguration, the interim roundabout will allow for traffic to access all businesses south of The Parish Café located on the west side of Healdsburg Avenue. The city has placed additional signage to make sure routes to businesses remain open and that entrances are clear to drivers.

For more information on the project, and to stay current with traffic closures and rerouting, visit

5-way project a year behind schedule

By Ray Holley, Managing Editor

South entry to downtown will not be ready by the end of 2017 as city hoped

The $10 million-plus project to remake the south entry to downtown Healdsburg is far behind schedule, city officials confirmed this week.

“When all is said and done, the job is going to be a year behind,” said Healdsburg Public Works Director Brent Salmi.

While the project is referred to locally as “the roundabout project” for the traffc circle that will be the most visible result, the work is far more ambitious.

In addition to multiple streets converging in one place, the confluence of Healdsburg Avenue, Mill Street and Vine Street is also an intersection for public utilities, including water, wastewater, stormwater, electricity, gas, cable and a railroad.

It is the massive underground work that has fallen behind schedule, even while traffic rolls by around an ever-changing informal roundabout.

According to Salmi, the wet winter played a major role in the project getting behind schedule. “It’s very difficult to do underground work in the rain,” he said.

Salmi said the contractor, Bay Cities Paving & Grading, “is a bit challenging; they have their own way of doing things and run at their own pace.”

Salmi also said the city may have contributed to the slowdown by being too strict with Bay Cities on job specifications. “We were enforcing the specs more than focusing on getting the job done,” he said.

Salmi said if the weather cooperates for the rest of the construction season, a lot can be accomplished this year and the project may end up looking mostly finished by winter, while final touches like landscaping and sidewalks may be delayed until 2018.

The city’s contract with Bay Cities allows for fines for being behind schedule, but Salmi said the rainy winter will offset some of that and that the contractor can always try to catch up. “We’ll have to wait until the end of the job,” Salmi said.

The project, bid at $10 million, has a $1 million contingency fee and Salmi said it will likely be used.

A call to Bay Cities for comment was not returned.

Traffic flowing in temporary roundabout

By Ray Holley, Managing Editor
Photo by Ray Holley

City hopes to keep traffic flowing as construction intensifies on 5-way intersection project Aug 24, 2016

On Tuesday morning, trucks, cars and bicycles were going in circles at the southern entrance to downtown Healdsburg.

A temporary traffic roundabout has been added to the five-way intersection of Mill Street, Vine Street and Healdsburg Avenue.

“It’s working pretty good,” said Brent Salmi, the city’s Public Works Director. “Once in a while we have to close it for a few minutes to move construction equipment and it backs up, but then it starts moving again.”

Salmi said the temporary roundabout, a circle of orange barrels and flagging, should allow traffic to flow throughout the construction project, a complex, $10 million-plus effort that is scheduled to be complete late in 2017.

Salmi said the circle dimensions may change during the project to accommodate underground construction. “We know it’s a bit of a learning curve for people, but this will allow us to keep everything open.”

Demolition of abandoned Healdsburg gas station marks start of roundabout project

By Clark Mason

Crews demolish an old service station at the five-way intersection on Healdsburg Ave. in Healdsburg on Wednesday. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

With a giant excavator clawing at the wooden, chipped-paint face of the building, it took work crews about two hours Wednesday to make an old gas station in Healdsburg little more than a memory, leaving only an empty slab and rebar in its place.

The eyesore near the entrance to downtown, abandoned for more than 15 years, was demolished Wednesday, signaling the start of a major long-awaited project that includes a new traffic roundabout and infrastructure improvements.

“This is the first really tangible and physical component of the construction,” Healdsburg consultant Jim Heid said of the $10.3 million project that will take more than a year, tear up some streets, and slow down traffic during the time it’s being built.

The gas station razing will facilitate major excavation to replace aging sewer lines and a near century-old box culvert that channels Foss Creek under the property.

It’s part of the city’s plan to “daylight” more of Foss Creek while also remaking the tricky five-way intersection.

The roundabout a block south of the Healdsburg Plaza is being built where Healdsburg Avenue, Mill and Vine streets converge with the railroad tracks. It’s considered by traffic engineers to be a more efficient and safer way to handle vehicles and pedestrians.

In addition to sewer and pipeline replacements, electrical and other utility lines will be buried and the railroad track and safety gates upgraded for eventual commuter passenger train service.

Traffic will still be able to move through the intersection while construction proceeds, although there could be some controls that involve rotating stops.

Contractors are “figuring out how to minimize traffic disruption,” Heid said.

The City Council earlier this year decided to allow traffic to continue to flow rather than shut down the intersection, which would have allowed some construction to be completed faster and saved more than $400,000.

Council members were sensitive to business owners who overwhelmingly wanted to keep traffic flowing and not cut customers off with a blocked street.

Heid said the project is expected to be completed by Aug. 30, 2017.

The city has set up a website,, that provides updates on construction progress. It features a webcam overlooking the intersection that enables viewers to monitor the work.

A telephone hotline has also been set up — 540-9964 — for questions or comments.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or On Twitter@clarkmas

Work begins next week on 5-way intersection

Demolishing old gas station first visible step

An ambitious project that includes rebuilding a creek culvert, placing utilities underground and creating a traffic roundabout begins next week.

The “Healdsburg Avenue Improvements” project is expected to last until the fall of 2017.

A “Notice to Proceed” was issued Monday by the city of Healdsburg to GHD, the contractor building the project. GHD has 451 days to complete the $11 million project, which will involve completely redoing the five-way intersection of Mill Street, Vine Street and Healdsburg Avenue.

The first work residents are likely to see is the demolition of the dilapidated gas station at Mill and Vine. Foss Creek runs underneath the building and a century-old wooden culvert has to be removed and replaced before the next rainy season.

In addition, all nearby utility poles will be removed and the utilities placed underground.

Drainage through the area will also be redone, as well as water supply lines.

In an effort to improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety, new sidewalks will be installed in the area, Healdsburg Avenue south of the intersection will be narrowed to two lanes and a single lane traffic roundabout – the most visible part of the project – will be installed.

A website has been established to inform residents about the project. will be updated regularly and a hotline – 707-540-9964 – has been set up to field questions about the work.

The city has pledged to work with adjacent businesses during the project, to keep traffic flowing and minimize disruption.

An open house to educate the community more about the project is planned for this summer, but no date has been set.

City will keep 5-way intersection open during construction

By Ray Holley, Healdsburg Tribune, Managing Editor

The southern entrance to downtown Healdsburg will be even busier than usual for the next 16 months.

A large public works project begins next month, which includes replacing a century-old creek culvert, placing utilities under ground, improving pedestrian access and building a roundabout in the five-way intersection of Mill Street, Vine Street and Healdsburg Avenue.

Responding to neighboring merchant concerns over possible street closures, the City Council approved a $10.3 million contract with Bay Cities Paving & Grading that includes keeping the intersection open while work proceeds in segments.

City officials will work with the contractor to explore ways to accelerate the project, which is expected to begin next month.

The Tribune will publish a map of the work in the next few weeks and will periodically publish construction schedule updates.

Thumbs up: A direct route on roundabout

By  The Press Democrat Editorial Board

Healdsburg Ave. at Mill Street and Westside Road in Healdsburg, Tuesday April 5, 2016. Work is set to begin at the confusing five-way intersection that will be replaced by a roundabout that could take anywhere from seven to 16 months to complete, depending on what plan of action is taken on the closure of the intersection. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2016
Healdsburg Ave. at Mill Street and Westside Road in Healdsburg: click to enlarge








Let’s not cut corners. Opponents of roundabouts seem locked in circular logic: i.e. roundabouts are confusing to drivers because few have been installed in the county, and Sonoma County shouldn’t install any more because they are confusing to drivers. What’s not confusing are the facts. Studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Federal Highway Administration have shown that roundabouts typically achieve a 37 percent reduction in overall accidents, a 75 percent reduction in injury collisions and a 90 percent reduction in fatal accidents. That’s because when accidents occur at roundabouts, the worst that happens are side-swipes and fender-benders. Studies also show a 40 percent reduction in pedestrian accidents.

All of this is give a big thumbs up to Healdsburg for moving ahead with plans for a roundabout where Healdsburg Avenue, Mill Street and Vine Street converge with the railroad tracks. A community open house and information session on the $10 million project is set for 5 p.m. on April 14 at City Hall. The central question now concerns whether to shut down the intersection entirely and get the project done in about seven months or to allow some traffic to trickle through while doing it in about 16 months. It seems to us that getting done more quickly, and saving $400,000 in the process, is the better route. Either way, until this project is completed, the area will be confusing. Drive around it.

Healdsburg faces impending roundabout construction, closures

By Clark Mason, The Press Democrat

Janet Browning, owner of Shoffett's off the Square, an antique collective, worries the complete closure of Healdsburg Ave. at Mill Street for the construction of a roundabout will cripple her business and cut down on foot traffic, Tuesday April 5, 2016. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2016
Janet Browning, owner of Shoffett’s off the Square. click to enlarge

Construction of a traffic roundabout and replacement of aging water and sewer lines at the gateway to downtown Healdsburg promise to cause disruption for both motorists and businesses just as the busy summer tourist season gets going.

In a little more than four weeks, crews are expected to start digging up the prominent five-way intersection for a job estimated to take as long as seven months, or as many as 16 months, depending on whether the busy crossroads is shut down completely or vehicles are allowed through on a limited basis as work progresses.

“Admittedly, it doesn’t matter which way we do it. Someone is going to be inconvenienced, I guarantee,” Public Works Director Brent Salmi said.

Several community meetings to explain the project are set for next week before the City Council holds a public hearing on April 18, awards the approximate $10  million construction contract and decides which timetable to pursue.

The long-anticipated roundabout that will be built where Healdsburg Avenue, Mill Street and Vine Street converge with the railroad tracks is seen as a more efficient way to handle motor vehicles and pedestrian traffic at the sometimes befuddling intersection. But the work also includes major infrastructure improvements, like rebuilding a badly-deteriorated, near century-old culvert that funnels Foss Creek under the road; clearing a decrepit, abandoned gas station; installing new water and sewer pipes; and under-grounding electrical and other utility lines. The railroad tracks and ties will also be upgraded, along with installing signals and safety gates for eventual SMART train service.

Shutting down the intersection entirely so the work starting May 9 can be completed faster — by Nov. 24 — will save more than $400,000, according to Salmi. But it also will create highly circuitous traffic detours and make it harder to reach some downtown businesses.

The other option would allow vehicles to continue through the five-way intersection during much of the construction by using rotating stop controls, but it adds to the cost. It’s estimated to extend the completion date until Sept. 1, 2017, but the longer time frame would maintain drive-by access to all businesses.

City Council members as well as business owners are split over which option to pursue.

Janet Browning, who owns Shoffeitt’s antiques collective on Healdsburg Avenue, just north of the five-way intersection, said closing it entirely “will hurt us and everybody.”

“We’ve really been concerned about it,” she said, adding that some of her 40 vendors in the building will have trouble paying rent if the intersection is closed down and customers fall off.

“We will lose a lot of meanderers — people who come up and down (Healdsburg Avenue),” Browning said of impulse shoppers attracted to the eclectic mix of art, antiques, clothing, jewelery and furniture.

But Gino Bellagio, owner of an auto body paint and glass shop right next to the intersection, was of the opposite mind. “Do it. Get it done. I don’t want two years to do it. If you have to close it down, close it down.”

Next door at the Valdez wine tasting room, Vice President Adelina Valdez agreed.

“I prefer to have it done in seven months, than 16 months,” she said, adding that people will still find their way to her tasting room.