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What Money Can't Buy 

Dutra sparks the question: cheap and convenient asphalt vs. lifespan and quality of life?


Petaluma's citizens all live in the same city, but we don't all value the same things. When there's a difference of opinion on, say, whether or not the proposed Dutra Materials asphalt plant should be built next to a wildlife and wetland preserve like Shollenberger Park, those values determine which side we're on. Those of us who prefer clean air to toxic, safety over the risk of industrial accidents, and quietude over high decibel noise have raised our awareness about what this asphalt plant would change for the worse in our lives. Our opinions and our values have been ridiculed and dismissed by those who value easy access to asphalt over a healthy environment. We just don't agree on what is most important for Petaluma.

You can't have it both ways: healthy and convenient. That's why asphalt plants are located in remote areas, not in close proximity to residences, schools, wildlife and wetlands preserves and parks. No matter how many mitigations, safety checks, air-quality meters—no matter how ethical or unethical the managing company—accidents happen, filters malfunction, production exceeds permitted levels. Human error, malfeasance and greed happen.

Will the plant operate 7am to 5pm, or will it operate 24 hours a day? Sonoma County supervisor Mike Kerns assures that 24-hour operation will only take place for major contracts and Caltrans projects like the Novato Narrows. Yet this is exactly the job that Dutra wants to build this plant to serve. So once that job gets going, we can expect nighttime operations for about the next 10 years.

Then there are the diesel exhaust fumes. Dutra says there will only be 175 trucks per day, not 750. To some of Petaluma's residents, another 175 trucks coming in and out of Petaluma Boulevard South is nothing much to worry about, but if your house is at McNear Landing or Golf Club Estates, if you like to walk at Shollenberger Park or if you use the Petaluma Boulevard South exit, 175 trucks per day might get your attention. Daytime hours are 7am to 5pm, that's 10 hours—or 600 minutes. Divide by 175, and that's one truck every 3.5 minutes. All day long. Or let's say they work at night, because it's that high-capacity time. So instead of 175 trucks, it's 750 trucks. Now we have a truck every two minutes all day and all night.

That's a lot of noise, wear and tear on the road, and a lot of diesel exhaust. And that's only from the trucks! What about the off-loading of aggregate, the crushing of old concrete and the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon fumes from hot asphalt in loaded trucks as they leave the site? The picture of a heavy industrial operation emerges, which is why the general plan has to be amended. Measure how far your house is from the site, how close your child's school is, how close your place of employment is. You either breathe a sigh of relief because you think you're far enough away that you won't see the plant or smell it or you might start to make plans to sell your house, change schools, avoid Shollenberger Park and use a different on ramp to Highway 101.

The location of your property determines whether or not you are for the plan. How it affects you and your family personally mobilizes you to start signing petitions, collecting signatures, writing emails to Mike Kerns and the other supervisors, joining Friends of Shollenberger Park, attending county hearings and donating to the legal defense fund. Because you're beginning to put two and two together and realizing that this plant is going to ruin things that you treasure, threaten your peace and quiet, your health and the value of your property—you don't like it, it goes against what you value most, the Petaluma you love.

Will the asphalt plant create a health hazard?

Air quality was evaluated in the final EIR. The report grossly underestimated the effect on air quality because toxic by-products of asphalt recycling were not included in the calculation. Levels of nitrous oxide from diesel exhaust were deemed unacceptable, and that's at the average number of 175 trucks a day, not peak usage. The numbers are clearly being manipulated.


To the supervisors who voted for the Dutra plant, I wonder: where are your houses located? Where do your kids go to school? Which of your family members are sensitive to air pollution? Start thinking about the plant as your neighbor, and then tell us, without a doubt, that we need this plant, right here at the gateway to Petaluma and Sonoma County. Tell us that there's no better place. Tell us that the numbers you have given us are completely true. And tell us what it is you really value.

 Joan Cooper is a founding member of Friends of Shollenberger Park and Clean Air and was the founder of Biobottoms Inc. and co-president from 1981 through 1996. She is 20-year resident of Petaluma and holds a degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania.

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


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