Taking a first step toward converting to biodiesel, the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District voted on February 13 to start fueling its buses with a blend of 5 percent biodiesel, 95 percent petroleum diesel starting on May 1. In August the board will consider upgrading to a 20/80 blend. Unlike stronger blends, the 5 percent and 20 percent blends can be used with few or no equipment modifications. Biodiesel is slightly more expensive and less explosive than petroleum diesel, which translates into reduced power. However, using biodiesel reduces greenhouse gases and lung-damaging particulate matter.
Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone’s plan to pay for road repairs and improvements by increasing the county gas tax was unofficially put to rest at the February 15 meeting of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG). Dismissed by several fellow SBCAG boardmembers as “dead in the water” and criticized by both tax foes and many alternative transportation activists, Firestone’s proposal first surfaced during the recent unsuccessful campaign to renew and expand Measure D, the half-cent sales tax surcharge that funds road repairs. Critics pointed out the gasoline tax would have to be increased by 21 cents a gallon to generate the same revenues produced by Measure D. But some environmentalists liked the idea, arguing it would cause more people to seek alternatives to the automobile.
If last week’s meeting of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) offers any guide, any future efforts to increase Measure D are dead on arrival. Last November, an effort to increase the sales tax surcharge by a quarter-cent to fund alternative transit and road repairs failed resoundingly. Carpinteria City Councilmember Joe Armendariz boasted that his anti-tax group, along with COLAB, nailed a stake through Measure D’s heart by campaigning against it in the North County. However, Armendariz said he could live with a renewal of the existing half-cent tax. Some activists said they might agree to this plan, as long as the South Coast could distribute its Measure D funds as it liked. The next Measure D election will likely take place in 2008, but all meeting attendees urged “stakeholders” to weigh in much sooner.
Thanks to Assemblymember Pedro Nava’s clout as head of the Assembly Transportation Committee, Santa Barbara County appears slated to receive more transportation bond funds than its population would indicate. Despite constituting 1.2 percent of the state population, the county was recommended on February 16 to receive nearly 7 percent of the first transit bond funds approved by the state legislature. The commission recommended $58 million to widen the bridge connecting Santa Maria with San Luis Obispo County and $131.6 million to add two lanes to the 101 between Ventura County’s Mussel Shoals to Casitas Pass in Carpinteria – a project that could begin in 2011.
Tragedy struck last weekend on Highway 150 when a motorcycle swerved over the yellow line and ran headlong into an oncoming car just east of Rincon Hill Road. The motorcycle was traveling west on the hilly, winding highway when it struck the eastbound Volvo station wagon, killing Steven Botten of Oxnard and sending his wife, Linda, to Santa Barbara’s Cottage Hospital, where she was pronounced dead in the emergency room. Though the investigation is ongoing, authorities do not suspect alcohol was involved.