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
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
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.


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