With a framework designed to elicit broad support from Santa Barbara County voters, a potential plan for a Measure D renewal has been okayed by the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG). The measure would extend the 1989 sales tax, which ends in 2009 and whose funds go to county transportation concerns. From funding for large, regional roadway projects to fixing potholes, all transportation expenditures in the area draw at least in part from Measure D sales tax money.
SBCAG officials believe the key to getting the necessary two-thirds vote to pass the measure in the November 2008 election is to take $140 million from the estimated $1.05 billion in revenue expected from Measure D during the next 30 years if it passes and dedicate that money to widening an eight-mile stretch of Highway 101 between Montecito and Carpinteria. The rest of the remaining $910 million would be split between North and South County for projects that the respective regions would pick for themselves. The 101 widening was promised as part of the 1989 Measure D, but was never funded. This time, it’s been made the top priority. Conversely, a project to add lanes to Highway 101 between Milpas Street and Hot Springs Road is funded, with construction scheduled for next year. And another widening project between Carpinteria and Ventura County has received Proposition 1B money from the state.
Along with the lack of highway widening, Proposition 1B-a transportation bond that was on the ballot in November 2006-is one of the reasons SBCAG officials believe the November 2006 version of Measure D failed to get the necessary two-thirds vote. That version featured a quarter-cent increase from the existing half-cent tax that Measure D currently imposes. Under that plan, 50 percent of the revenues would have gone to local agencies to use at their discretion on specific projects and programs, while the other half would have gone toward regional projects. Officials are hoping that the larger percentage of money split between the two ends of the county will encourage voters to embrace the new plan.
The board voted unanimously during a meeting November 15 to support the new plan. “It was a great event,” said Gregg Hart, SBCAG’s public information and government affairs coordinator. “We feel really confident this is a plan voters can support.” SBCAG will be gauging the level of voter support in January, when a poll is to be conducted. After an analysis of the results, the board may modify the plan before putting it before local jurisdictions.
Politicians, especially at the county level, haven’t kept the need to renew Measure D a secret. Should the measure not pass, the county’s unincorporated areas could receive the biggest hit. SBCAG could try again with another form of the ballot measure, but local jurisdictions might be more inclined to try to pass a local measure to take care of their roads. Should this happen, the county will be left out, and many regional projects will stagnate. Five Highway 101 projects in the North County would receive funding totaling $42 million should the new Measure D pass, while the Metropolitan Transit District would receive funding to continue its services on the South Coast. Commuter rail would also receive a large chunk of change, as would the Safe Routes to School Program.
So for now, SBCAG is happy. The two subregional plans represent a “significant accomplishment,” said SBCAG Executive Director Jim Kemp. But Andy Caldwell-executive director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business (COLAB) North County lobbying group, and a regular at Board of Supervisors meetings-said at the meeting that he didn’t think the progress would translate to a positive reaction at the polls. He believes his organization can support the measure as it sits, but told the board he wasn’t so sure it would pass.