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County Mulls Future of Measure D

Higher-Ups Contemplate What Transportation Tax Should Benefit-And Life Without It

— In what was called an “honest attempt to wrestle” with the quagmire that is Measure D, SBCAG (Santa Barbara County Association of Governments) boardmembers are resolved to find a measure which works for both North and South County, daunting though it may be.

The 13-member assembly of the County Board of Supervisors and representatives from each jurisdiction within the county met Thursday in Santa Maria, and while it was decided a measure would be going on the ballot November of next year, it was unclear what exactly the measure would look like.

Currently, Measure D is a half-cent transportation sales tax, 70 percent of which goes to local transportation needs and 30 percent of which goes to regional transportation projects. The measure-voted into being in 1989 and good through 2009-raises $35 million a year. Supervisors are now looking at a similar measure with a similar distribution of money for the next twenty years.

A 2006 ballot measure which would have upped the tax by a quarter cent and brought an additional $500 million to the County only received 54 percent of the vote, 12 percent less than needed to pass. North County voters made it clear in last November’s vote they weren’t interested in funding going to alternative forms of transportation, while many advocates of the cause in the South County are interested in nothing less than equitable sharing of funds.

Solvang City Councilmember Jim Richardson said there was an overwhelming majority of people driving cars, and those people want their roads in good shape and not congested. They’re not interested in paying for alternative forms of transportation catering to the small percentage of people who use them, he said. But Dennis Story, chair of Coastal Rail Now, an organization seeking a commuter train into Santa Barbara from the south, said 70 percent of the funding to locals was out of whack with the rest of the state. And, after $140 million is taken out to go toward widening Highway 101 from Ventura to Carpinteria, little money would remain for alternative transportation.

There has to be specified alternative transportation funds, or the two-thirds majority vote needed for the measure to pass won’t happen, said SBCAG public information and government affairs coordinator Gregg Hart.

Of course, the alternative to Measure D is having no measure at all, leaving no money to maintain infrastructure. Fourth District Supervisor Joni Gray, who voted against putting the measure on the 2008 ballot, said the voters need to see a problem before they’re going to vote to fix it. Until now, public officials have been telling the public what needs to happen, and the public hasn’t responded, she said. But First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal disagreed. “She wants to wait until there are potholes everywhere and the roads are dilapidated before going to the voters,” Carbajal said. “That’s ludicrous. That’s why she’s the only dissenting individual.” And, he continued, that reasoning is why Gray is either the most brilliant official on the dais or something else, which Carbajal would only explain as “I don’t want to say.”

The vast majority of the public doesn’t know the impact of Measure D, officials agree, nor do they care. “But they will begin to care if the roads start to deteriorate,” said Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone.

Jurisdictions are beginning to put more focus on the possibility of not having the Measure D funding. The City of Santa Barbara has already begun discussing what life would be like without Measure D, and Carpinteria began a similar discussion Friday. Firestone said that scenario was a bad one to contemplate. “We’re playing for keeps this time,” Firestone said. “The last time we could play and afford to lose. This time we can’t do that.”

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