News, music, movies & restaurants from the editors of the Silicon Valley's #1 weekly newspaper.
Serving San Jose, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Campbell, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Fremont & nearby cities.

News and Features

home | north bay bohemian index | features | north bay | open mic

Tit for Tat

Proposed Dutra asphalt plant forces us to consider what is actually important

By Lindsay Pyle

Like myself, almost everyone with an opinion on the potential Dutra Asphalt plant at Haystack Landing in Petaluma also has personal interest. I was born and raised in Petaluma, and my response to its growth has been both pride and concern. The truth remains that with growth comes such burdens as more traffic congestion, more housing units and a greater need for tolerance.

For the last 10 years, Sonoma and Marin counties have looked to widen the Novato narrows but have lacked the funding. After finally getting the green light from Caltrans last year, they're hoping to forge ahead and begin working. They will need asphalt. If the plant goes up in the Haystack Landing zone, just off the Petaluma Boulevard South exit on 101 North, the asphalt source would be very close to the work zone. An asphalt plant anywhere else would involve many miles of travel in order to bring the asphalt to the locale. Sonoma County residents voted to have this area of freeway widened—and even agreed to have their sales tax increased to fund it—yet there seems to be little or no willingness to accept responsibility in terms of asphalt production.

Such concerns are valid. The fumes given off as a byproduct of asphalt production are not good for the environment, nor are they harmless, and the sound of grinding asphalt is noisy. Another concern is the plant's proximity to the Petaluma River, the wildlife preserve at Shollenberger Park, the nearby schools and neighborhoods. The underlying belief seems to be that these areas do not deserve to be exposed to enivronmental nuisance. Petaluma mayor Pam Torliatt said at a board of supervisors meeting in February that an asphalt plant off this particular exit would be "an eyesore to the gateway of Petaluma."

The June 9 reversal of an earlier straw vote held by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has pushed back the final vote until July 21 and is only keeping the larger issue at bay: privilege. When I asked a representative of a special interest group opposed to the plant where she felt a more "appropriate" place would be, she hesitated for a few seconds. Carefully choosing her response, she replied, "Somewhere remote, like out by the landfill on Meecham Road."

I was raised about two miles from that landfill. Just how remote is remote enough? An out-of-sight, out-of-mind philosophy has run rampant in our society, and not just in Petaluma. If we want that eight-mile stretch of freeway to be widened, the negative effects of an asphalt plant will be felt somewhere, even if it isn't directly in downtown Petaluma.

Dutra Asphalt Group has hired an environmental specialist who has deemed the project suitable for Petaluma. No surprise. Also unsurprising is that Dutra only answers questions about the project with very carefully coordinated responses. There is a whole philosophy of feigned innocence that I believe feeds the special interest groups who are protesting against the plant.

It is common sense that, just like cars, asphalt plants hurt the environment—but that doesn't mean that we don't use them. It also seems to be altogether forgotten that it is precisely Petaluma's charm and appeal that has increased its population, thus increasing traffic, thus creating a need for widening the freeway into town.

The people of Petaluma actually voted for this change. Widening the Novato narrows would ensure less traffic congestion, and thus a quicker ride to work and probably more leisure time. Yes, we are willing to make a sacrifice for what we want—the financial one. But it's not enough. If an asphalt plant is needed for this project, and if this project is truly important to Sonoma County, then a compromise must be reached.


The enemy here isn't Dutra. Dutra is a local company, and we should be happy it has been chosen for a large, state-funded project. We should look to ensure its success and work with the company to help it understand that its work is the same as our work. It is not separate from us. We are all working for the same thing. We all want a better community. We all have children and animals and favorite parks and places that we consider sacred. Our values do not overshadow the values of others, but rather mirror them. The difficulty here is meeting halfway.

I hope that this issue reminds us that with great privilege comes great responsibility. Sometimes when we want things, we must work and pay for them, and not just with money. It involves things more valuable—things like time and energy and helping one another.

Lindsay Pyle is a former Bohemian intern. Open Mic is now a weekly feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 700 words considered for publication, write [ mailto:[email protected] ][email protected]


Send a letter to the editor about this story.