Sebastopol, which glories in its well-deserved reputation for strict traffic enforcement, is launching a public relations program asking drivers to slow down when going through town.
Police issue more speeding tickets in Sebastopol than any other city of its size in Sonoma County. But that hasn’t stopped residents from complaining about traffic scofflaws.
“The No. 1 complaint is regarding traffic, mostly speeding cars, usually on neighborhood streets,” said police Chief Jeff Weaver. “If I was to add up all the complaints I get about thefts, drug use, gangs or violent crime, it would not equal traffic complaints.”
Since the department doesn’t have the staff to station police officers in the neighborhoods, the next best thing is to post signs asking people to drive slowly, Weaver said.
“The staffing is the same as in 1986. I still have 14 police officers. We don’t have the time to devote to traffic as we once did,” Weaver said. “If this helps fill the gap, great.”
As part of the program, expected to cost $640, signs and banners proclaiming “Slow Down Sebastopol,” with the city seal and police department shield, will be posted at the entrances to the city, on some civic buildings and in some neighborhoods.
In addition, Weaver said the city will install permanent electronic signs that read a vehicle’s speed in the eastbound lanes of Bodega Avenue in west Sebastopol, and a third portable reader will be available to put at areas where speed or collisions are a problem.
There will not be an increase in enforcement, but Sebastopol already writes more tickets than other small departments.
In 2009, the department made 7,144 traffic stops, many related to the burgeoning downtown tavern scene, compared to 6,004 in 2008, Weaver said.
Officers issued 334 speeding tickets, compared to 641 in 2008.
In comparison, in the city of Healdsburg, which has a similarly-sized department, officers made 2,982 traffic stops and wrote 45 speeding tickets in 2009.
In Cloverdale, officers made 1,933 traffic stops and wrote 67 speeding tickets in 2009.
Sebastopol has a reputation for aggressively enforcing speed limits, dating back to 1974, when the department hired an officer with traffic safety funds, Weaver said.
“For a long time, the Sebastopol police had a ruthless reputation for speed enforcement,” Weaver said. “I grew up in Santa Rosa and I knew that when you got to the Sebastopol city limits, you slowed down.”
That officer gave Weaver’s sister a speeding ticket when she was hurrying to church to play the piano, and he also gave the department’s current dispatcher a ticket, Weaver said.
“I love it,” Weaver said. “I am comfortable with the strict enforcement of the traffic laws because it saves lives.”