North and South Coast Politicos Come Together for Measure D
by Nick Welsh
Elected officials representing the often acrimonious polarities of Santa Barbara County — both geographical and ideological — gathered on Tuesday for an unprecedented display of political unity on behalf of Measure D, the sales tax surcharge meant to help ameliorate local freeway congestion. Joining the usual coterie of slow-growth, predominantly liberal South Coast politicians at a press conference held at Santa Barbara City Hall were a handful of conservative North County politicos: 4th District Supervisor Joni Gray, Santa Maria City Councilmembers Marty Mariscal and Alice Patino, and Guadalupe Mayor Lupe Alvarez. Together the group expressed support for the extension of the original Measure D — a half-cent tax surcharge approved by voters countywide in 1989 — and called for a quarter-cent addition to the tax. If approved by voters in November, the new Measure D is expected to generate $1.5 billion over the next 30 years, the great bulk of which will go toward funding freeway decongestion projects. The existing Measure D — which won’t expire until 2009 — has raised $350 million thus far.
Of those gathered, Marty Mariscal’s presence was perhaps the most striking; he has been outspoken in his criticism of the spending priorities insisted upon by his South Coast counterparts, notably a proposed commuter rail projected to cost $26 million. Explaining his newfound support for Measure D, Mariscal said, “I realized the North County will generate $750 million in sales tax revenues and the South will generate $750 million. If they want to spend some of their money on a commuter rail, that’s their business. I hope it works. But if it doesn’t, that money goes back into a kitty to widen the freeway.” The fact that South Coast interests agreed to cede an additional $70 million to the North to make this deal fly also played a role in Mariscal’s change of heart.
Supervisor Joni Gray and Carpinteria City Councilmember Donna Jordan both expressed strong support for the measure. Gray said voters should ask themselves if they’ll be better off with or without Measure D. For those who think they’d be better off without the tax increase, Gray urged a tour of San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties, where no equivalent to Measure D exists. “Then ask yourself, ‘Wouldn’t I be better off with a quarter cent sales tax increase?’” As for Jordan, she said that Measure D has paid for all of Carpinteria’s major road repairs, and pointed out that without it the small city would lose $750,000 a year. “In Carpinteria, we have a saying about Measure D,” she said. “You can’t leave home without it.”
But not everyone in Carpinteria is so enamored of Measure D. Jordan’s fellow councilmember Greg Gandrud has filed a lawsuit charging that some of the ballot arguments made in favor of the measure are false and misleading. For example, he claims that only 39 percent of Measure D’s funds would be allocated to the nine public works departments countywide for road repairs, not the 50 percent claimed. Advocates of Measure D have dismissed Gandrud’s lawsuit as a frivolous measure designed to thwart the county’s publishing deadline for ballot statements and arguments. That deadline is next Monday. Superior Court Judge Denise de Bellefeuille will hear Gandrud’s arguments on Friday.