To the members of SBCAG,
I am writing to express my dismay and outrage over the actions and words of Mayor Helene Schneider with regard to her persistent efforts to derail the voter-approved expansion of the 101 freeway — among the most significant and crucially needed public works project in the history of Santa Barbara.
In November 2008, over 79 percent of Santa Barbara County’s residents (voting in unprecedented numbers) approved the widening and expansion of the 101 freeway in order to relieve the hours of gridlock experienced by tens of thousands of residents and commuters every day.
Earlier this year, SBCAG members voted 11-2 to go forward with this much-delayed project, with Mayor Schneider on the losing side.
Nevertheless, Mayor Schneider and her campaign consultant Jeremy Lindaman, have led an unrelenting campaign to subvert this voter initiative — by once again instigating yet another lawsuit to delay and sabotage this vitally needed project.
I understand, from its members, that the Montecito Association was encouraged to file a lawsuit against SBCAG [Santa Barbara County Association of Governments] by the mayor on more than one occasion — and declined to do so as recently as September, which was only a few weeks ago.
According to staffers at City Hall, her own City Council voted 5-1 against her entreaty to file suit in September. However, that did not deter the mayor from insinuating in her recently published opinion piece that the City Council and the majority of the city’s staffers with deeply informed transportation, environmental impact, and financial knowledge about this project were behind her — when in fact the reverse is true. The mayor is now publishing in various local media an incitement that reads: “We fully encourage and will be publicly supporting private parties, to file lawsuits.” This is nothing less than a jaw-dropping solicitation directly at odds with the overwhelming number of voters and all their elected representatives in the county.
It is a sad day indeed for Santa Barbara that the mayor-instigated lawsuit filed at the 11th hour would delay this urgently needed initiative by years and at the cost of tens of millions for taxpayers. Especially when we are at risk of losing $450 million dollars in public funds earmarked for this project by Caltrans, and frittering away hundreds of thousands of extra hours behind the wheels of commuting workers’ vehicles with every 90 days’ delay adding two to four hours to the workdays of every one of our firefighters, nurses, teachers, and other hardworking public servants who are forced to commute into our city because of affordable housing shortages here.
This ill-advised attempt to thwart the overwhelming majority of the citizens in our community and those who work here must be ended — now. Minimally, the mayor needs to immediately recuse herself from any legal or material issues regarding the 101 as she has publicly and privately repeatedly prejudiced herself.
Moreover, Mayor Schneider needs to recuse herself from the chair position at SBCAG when the S.B. Mayor’s “turn” occurs. That time is fast approaching. It is my hope (not necessarily my expectation) that Ms. Schneider will see fit not to accept this post, as the Chair should be impartial when an issue is on the docket — and vote in the best interests of the majority of citizens he or she represents. This is a fundamental principle of a democracy. We do not live in a dictatorship nor in an oligarchy. Our mayor appears to have lost her knowledge of history and government, as well as her sense of fairness and respect for her constituents and their rightful entitlement to honest and honorable representation by their elected officials. Should she decide to turn away from the ethical and honorable course, SBCAG members must vote to ensure that she remembers what is expected of her and by her constituency.