Maybe it didn’t have the drama of Casablanca’s last scene, where
Humphrey Bogart, ever the cynical softy, tells the effervescently
corrupt Claude Rains, “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a
beautiful friendship.” But the outcome of last Wednesday’s Santa
Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) meeting was just
as moving. On the table for discussion was how that enormous pot of
gold known as Measure D could be renewed and divvied up within the
county. This is the money exclusively raised from county sales
taxes and designated for transportation improvement projects. It
could be used for anything — widening our freeways, expanding our
bus service, or funding our nonexistent commuter trains. At present
it is used primarily for fixing potholes.
When elected officials start talking about so much money, it
normally turns into a bureaucratic shouting fest, pitting north
against south, public works against mass transit, and cars against
trains. But last Wednesday, a rare contagion of common sense
erupted among a majority of SBCAG boardmembers — who include all
five county supervisors and elected representatives from each of
the county’s eight cities. For one five-hour meeting, sanity
managed to prevail over short-sightedness, vision over venality,
and progress over pork barrels.
We’d especially like to single out Santa Maria Supervisor Joe
Centeno and Santa Barbara Supervisor Salud Carbajal for making the
impossible happen. Politicians representing opposite ends of the
county — both geographically and ideologically — put their heads
together and looked beyond their own safety zones. Due in large
measure to Centeno’s leadership, the SBCAG Board took the first
necessary step toward renewing Measure D. This November, voters
countywide will be asked to approve a bond measure that would
retain the current half-cent tax we have been paying for the last
18 years, and add an additional quarter-cent more. That
quarter-cent represents great political courage, especially if you
consider that a two-thirds majority is needed to pass the measure
which will raise $1.6 billion over its 30-year lifespan. No
politician relishes leading a losing charge, particularly one for
higher taxes. Yet if this measure gets anything less than
unqualified support from all the major interest groups, it will be
difficult to get that two-thirds majority.
Initially, it appeared SBCAG would embrace a well intentioned
but complicated two-part ballot measure that would have effectively
lined up South Coast alternative transit advocates against North
County freeway wideners — a sure-fire recipe for disaster. The
Coalition for a Fair Measure D urged the board to approve a united
bond measure so that all competing camps would equally share the
risk, and gain the glory.
On the South Coast, Supervisor Carbajal stepped up to the plate.
In the north — which has the most votes on the SBCAG Board — it was
Centeno who led the charge. Admittedly this is just a beginning. We
have many opportunities to stumble between now and November.
Certainly Centeno will be hard pressed to keep his fellow Santa
Maria politicians from sabotaging a plan that would fund commuter
rail on the South Coast. The proposed Measure D renewal does just
that. But it also will provide hundreds of millions of dollars for
new and improved roads in the growing North County.
As causes for celebrations go, we recognize last Wednesday’s
vote might seem wonky in the extreme. But consider the stakes
involved: Had no consensus emerged, the chances of renewing Measure
D this November were slight. If you think congestion’s bad now,
just imagine how awful it would become without Measure D funds. For
those of us stuck in gridlock, without any reliable choice for
alternative transportation, it is reassuring to have hope. Once
again, thanks for the moment of sanity.
— Nick Welsh, News Editor