The Mendocino Beacon
Local citizen pushes County to repair popular road
Heeser Drive, the north exit from Highway 1 into Mendocino Headlands State Park, lies along iconic ocean bluffs just north of Mendocino village. It is a popular route for tourists and locals alike. However, a onemile section of Heeser Drive is riddled with potholes, some deep into the roadbed. Vehicle drivers have taken to veering off the road onto the dirt shoulder.
Russ Christoff, a Mendocino
village resident and professional photographer has spearheaded a campaign to convince the County Department of Transportation that road resurfacing is long overdue. Last October, Christoff emailed Howard Dashiell, the Mendocino County Department of Transportation Director, to express citizens’ concern for road safety.
In late November of 2022, Christoff noted the worsened condition on Heeser Drive and emailed Dashiell a second time, including photos of the road damage.
Director Dashiell responded with an email to Christoff. “Pavement rehabilitation,” he wrote, “would cost $350K to $400K.” He added that including a bike and walking path would increase the cost to about $1 million.
Up until 1998, the county had a contract with the California Department of Fish and Game granting reimbursement to the county for road repairs to Heeser Drive. Repairs were designated as “adding road base rock and chip seal.” Responsibility for the road grows murky after that.
In 1992, the renamed CDFW turned over management of the Headlands area to State Parks. At that time, the state asked the county to vacate its rights to the road, but according to Dashiell, that legal process was stopped “by public complaint.” (Note: The Fort Bragg Advocate-News reached out to Howard Dashiell for further comment. He has not responded.)
Dashiell wrote that since 1998, the county maintained the road by filling potholes “because the
public demanded it and technically it is in the County Maintenance System.” He also wrote, “we do spread our resources over the whole county.” He noted that the county’s Road Fund receives no Transit Occupancy Tax (TOT) dollars and, “by the way, State Parks does not pay property tax.”
Dashiell clarified his statement: “Maintaining roads people live on is how we prioritize the funds we have.” Another state reimbursement contract, he noted, would be how Heeser Drive would be repaired.
At the end of December 2022, Christoff contacted Dashiell again to provide photos of the road’s worsened condition, writing that the county had been “putting bandaids on this stretch of road for nearly twenty-five years.” Dashiell responded with an email reinforcing the unlikelihood of any repair beyond filling the holes with gravel.
Dashiell wrote, “The stretch of road that no one lives on will continue to be in the 329 miles of roads in Mendocino County that get ‘bandaids’, or as we call it ‘routine maintenance.’ The county,” he added, “is in the process of implementing a 20-year plan to do a better corrective maintenance fix to 359 miles of more traveled road segments. There are not the resources for anymore.”
Undeterred, on January 17, 2023, Christoff sent Dashiell a new email with photos showing increased road damage following the recent series of rainstorms. He also sent his email to County Supervisor Ted Williams and local newspapers. Christoff does not view his campaign as disrespectful or harassing. He said, “I certainly want it kept in mind so that sooner or later, they do it.”
The following day, Christoff watched a county road crew shovel gravel into the rain-filled holes on Heeser Drive. He described the fix as “bandaids with holes in them, and it’s actually a shame. It’s not effective.”
To Christoff, the issue is primarily road safety. Still, he also points out that the village of Mendocino and the Headlands are a prime tourist draw in a county that heavily relies upon tourist dollars. In regards to the road’s priority status for county repair, Christoff said, “I think the public expected to have it done properly. It’s more than just shoveling stuff in a hole.”
Christoff will continue to pressure the county into action. “This is one mile of roadway that tourists take because it’s right on the bluffs. The scenery is outstanding. They go there to have picnics.” As of now, Christoff surmises, tourists may be risking the cost of car realignment.
Christoff is convinced that “the road around there is in far worse shape than any one stretch of road in the county. It’s in a deplorable state, and they just continue to patch it and patch it not quite right. I’m going to keep sending him new pictures after every rainstorm.”