ENOUGH ALREADY: Some of the recent rants
appearing in the News-Press have
demonstrated that it is, in fact, possible to have too much of a
good thing. The good thing, at least in theory, is the daily
newspaper as a fiercely independent and intensely individualistic
expression of its owner’s moral and civic passions. Love it or hate
it, no one can deny the News-Press — owned by the ever
billionaire-libertarian-environmentalist-and-animal-rights advocate
Wendy P. McCaw — is just that. But in recent days,
the attitudes copped and postures staked out in McCaw’s editorial
pages — written by the poison-penned Travis
, presumably with Wendy’s concurrence and that of
her Right Hand Man Joe Cole — have almost made me
yearn for the homogenized swill of
corporate-clone-cookie-cutter journalism. We all
have our breaking points. They found mine with their gratuitously
perverse opposition to the extension and expansion of
Measure D — the proposed sales tax surcharge that
could be used to fund commuter rail, more bike lanes, and expanded
bus service — on the ballot this November. Like a lot of people, I
take the extravagant stupidity of our car-centric
transportation system personally. It’s not so much that our
dependence upon the automobile has been proven hazardous to Planet
Earth. I resent how much time I’m forced to waste stewing in
traffic. The fact is there are precious few opportunities to change
things. But there is one, and that’s the renewal of Measure D.
Let’s be clear: Measure D is the bastard love child begat when
pork-barrel politics and petty
found themselves in the backseat of a car
parked on Lovers’ Lane. That being acknowledged, Measure D is not
just the best chance we’ve got. It’s the only chance we’ve got.

Last Thursday, the elected officials representing Santa
Barbara’s eight cities and the county supervisors comprising the
Santa Barbara County Association of Governments
(SBCAG) got together to discuss how they’d renew
Measure D — the half-cent sales tax surcharge approved by county
voters nearly 20 years ago to raise the funds necessary to fix
their roads — which expires in two years. The vast majority of that
money went to public works directors of the eight cities and the
county to do with as they see fit: mostly road repairs. Only 8
percent went to anything that could be construed as
alternative transportation. On the table last
Thursday was an infinitely superior model to the status quo.
Hundreds of millions are earmarked for commuter rail, bike lanes,
safe routes to schools, and expanded bus service. This change did
not just happen. It occurred only because 22 different
organizations got together under the Coalition for a Fair
Measure D
and demanded it. They also promised to blow
Measure D out of the water if its scope of funding was not
expanded. Even so, the devil had to be given his due for SBCAG to
embrace the deal, which must be approved by a nearly
impossible-to-attain two-thirds supermajority of county voters. In
this case, the devil demanded freeway widening, and the pork spread
far and wide.

For so many competing and hostile interest groups to be
accommodated, Measure D’s half-cent sales tax surcharge had to be
increased to three-quarters of a cent. And any tax increase, no
matter how minute, is politically dicey. Just a few days before the
SBCAG gathered to decide the fate of this plan, the
News-Press editorial pages denounced it with both guns
blazing. Armstrong strongly objected to the millions set aside for
freeway widening and to the tax increase. I agree that a sales tax
is regressive. I also agree that the freeway widening is
extravagantly futile. Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of
residing on Planet Perfect. On the planet where I
live, gasoline is now selling for over $3 a
, and the oil companies are reaping whirlwind
profits by picking our pockets at the pump. The oil
has either repealed the laws of supply and demand
or they’re rigging the system. Or both. The high gas prices have
nothing to do with the shortage of oil; all the experts acknowledge
oil supplies are at a six-year high. On my planet, we can continue
to be chumps and let Exxon-Mobil’s outgoing
executive Lee Raymond walk away with a
$400 million bonus, after having authorized the
expenditure of only $10 million a year on alternative energy
research. Or we can vote to stick ourselves with a measly
quarter-cent sales tax increase to achieve meaningful
transportation choices that will allow us to protect ourselves
against such highway robbery. Fortunately for the rest of us, Santa
Maria Supervisor Joe Centeno and the rest of the
SBCAG board don’t live on the same planet with Travis, Wendy, and
Joe. In a historic first step, they voted unanimously — with one
abstention — to endorse the new Measure D plan. A few days later,
Travis struck back, charging that SBCAG can’t be trusted because it
failed to live up to promises made when voters first approved the
transportation spending plan. For sheer unadulterated
, this argument wins a prize. That’s because
SBCAG’s biggest shortcoming in this regard was its failure to widen
Highway 101 south of Milpas, which Travis vehemently opposes.

Normally, I might say, “So what?” Travis is entitled to his
opinions. Normally I might be blasé about it, and observe with mock
ironic detachment how the News-Press’s candidate
endorsements in recent years have been the kiss of death, failing
to achieve the statistical benchmark of the proverbial broken clock
that at least manages to get it right twice a day. But I find it
hard to be ironic as I dodge SUVs and potholes while riding my
bicycle to work or navigating Santa Barbara’s metastasizing traffic
jams while picking my kids up from school. Because of the
two-thirds supermajority Measure D needs to win, any two-bit
crackpot with a megaphone and a lungful of hot air can sink my
ship. Our ship. If Travis, Wendy, and Joe want to cut off
their noses to spite their faces, that’s their business. But now
they want to mess with mine. Like I say, if this is the best
locally owned and independently operated journalism has to offer,
bring on the corporate chains.  — Nick


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