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Archive for 2009

Measure ‘A’ wins big!

On an election full of superlatives, the resounding success of Measure ‘A’ at the polls stood out on its own. With 79% of the final count, Measure ‘A’ won the required 2/3 super-majority in every single area in the entire County! It was a dramatic turn-around from Measure D-2006, and a testimony to the wisdom of its creators.

A broader coalition respecting the “no new taxes” dogma succeeded where a more visionary scheme with a minimal increase could not. Transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects got a shot in the arm to last 30 years; rail secured seed money for more to come; and infrastructure maintenance needs will continue be met. It is hard to overlook the fact that, if the “A + B” scheme (two measures: “A” for roads, “B” for transit) that SBCAG originally proposed –and we defeated- had gone forward, the ‘B’ portion (transit) would have failed and transit funding forsaken.

It is said that ‘Politics is the Art of the Possible’. Credit goes to the environmental and civic organizations that coalesced under the banner of ‘Coalition for a Fair Measure A’ (CFFMA); to the staff of MTD, SBCAG and its member agencies; to the civic and political volunteers that lead the Measure ‘A’ campaign; to those that gave money, sweat and tears during the last three years to make this happen; and to those across the political divide with whom we so often disagree.

Forces across the spectrum were able to overcome the geographical, political, ideological and cultural barriers across Santa Barbara County and come together for the benefit of all. A veritable victory for Santa Barbara County!

Click here for complete election results by district, comparison with Measure D 2006 and more!

Read on for our earlier analysis of Measure A:

Introduction

Measure A, which would authorize a 1/2 cent transportation sales tax to replace the current Measure D, will be on the November 2008 ballot. This document has been prepared by members of the Coalition for a Fair Measure D (CFFMD) in order to inform our member organizations and help them reach a decision whether or not to support Measure A.

Historical Background

Our current Measure D was approved by Santa Barbara County voters in 1989, with a 54% “yes” vote. It was approved for a 20 year period, and expires in March, 2010. Seventy percent of the current Measure D funds are “flexible” funds allocated to the cities and the County proportional to population. Local governments have used the lions’ share of the funds for road and street maintenance, and the condition of the roads in most parts of the county has improved substantially.

With the prospect of Measure D funding disappearing in 2010, the SB County Association of Governments (SBCAG) designed a replacement Measure D to be put on the ballot in November 2006. The Coalition for a Fair Measure D (CFFMD) was formed to influence that measure. CFFMD is made up of almost thirty local groups representing environment, labor, social justice, and related causes. The Coalition was instrumental in creating a 2006 measure that would have dramatically changed the direction of transportation funding in Santa Barbara County, with forty percent of the funding going to buses, rail, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and other “alternative” programs.

Unfortunately, Measure D 2006 did not pass. Although it got the same overall share of the vote as in 1989 (54%), state law now requires a two-thirds “supermajority” to pass a dedicated sales tax. The 2006 approval rate on the South Coast was 65%. In the North County, however, less than 50% of the voters approved the measure, in large part because it would have been an increase in the tax from the current 1/2 cent to 3/4 cent on the dollar.

SBCAG is again trying to reauthorize this transportation measure by placing it on the November 2008 general election ballot. The tax rate was reduced to 1/2 cent, and two regional committees were formed to develop separate expenditure plans allocating the use of the measure’s funds. SBCAG decided that $140 million would be used as part of the local matching funds for the Santa Barbara-Carpinteria 101 project (creating a HOV lane for carpools and transit vehicles) and the remainder would be evenly split between the north and south county regions.

Thanks to generous support from the Fund for Santa Barbara, we have been able to keep the Coalition together to play a key role in designing the newest measure, called Measure A 2008. The Coalition’s member organizations had a number of representatives on the two Citizens’ Policy Advisory Committees (north county and south county) that were convened by SBAG to help reach consensus on what projects and services the new measure will pay for. During this process, the Coalition’s Platform has been essentially the same as it was for the 2006 measure. The platform and member organizations are shown below.

CFFMD in session

The remaining sections of this document provide some analysis of the resulting Measure A 2008.

Coalition for a Fair Measure D (CFFMD) Policy Platform

WE, THE UNDERSIGNED ORGANIZATIONS, SUPPORT THE FOLLOWING PLATFORM REGARDING RENEWAL OF THE SANTA BARBARA COUNTY TRANSPORTATION TAX MEASURE KNOWN AS MEASURE D.

1. Measure D is a sales tax, paid by all people, regardless of whether they use a car or other forms of transportation. Therefore, Measure D must benefit all segments of the population and all modes of transportation. It needs to provide for regional and local transportation systems that are balanced and multi-modal.

2. The expenditure plan must ensure that public transportation, bicycle and pedestrian projects and programs receive designated funding allocations in each jurisdiction.

3. The new expenditure plan must contain allocations for:

a. Capital and operating expenses for local and regional public transit, including local and long distance buses, and South Coast commuter rail.

b. Maintenance and improvements for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, Safe Routes to School programs, and Complete Streets provisions.

c. Travel Demand Management (TDM) programs, such as carpooling, telecommuting and flexible work hours.

4. Measure D must establish a balanced oversight committee comprised of interested residents representing the perspectives of all transportation modes and major geographical regions to ensure equitable and sound allocation of Measure D funds.

Coalition Member Organizations

Coalition for Sustainable Transportation (COAST)

SB Bicycle Coalition (SBBC)

SB County Action Network (SBCAN)

CoastalRailNow

Citizens’ Planning Association (CPA)

Our Children’s Earth Foundation

Environmental Defense Center (EDC)

PUEBLO

Sierra Club

League of Conservations Voters of SB County

Energy Independence Now

Committees for Land, Air, Water and Species (CLAWS)

SB League of Women Voters

California’s Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG)

Isla Vistans for Alternative Transportation (IVAT)

Community Environmental Council (CEC)

SB County Democratic Central Committee (SBDCC)

Carpinteria Democratic Club

SB Women’s Political Committee

Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice

The National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ)

Gray Panthers of SB County

Democratic Women of SB County

SEIU Local 620

SB City College (SBCC)

Santa Maria League of Women Voters

Santa Maria Valley Mexican American Political Association (MAPA)

Central Coast Chapter Democratic Club of Santa Maria Valley

What is Measure A 2008?

It is a Santa Barbara County measure on the November 2008 ballot that will ask voters to extend the current 1/2 cent transportation sales tax. The current tax, called Measure D, was approved by voters in 1989 and will expire in March, 2010. The ballot language that voters will see will look something like this…

Example Ballot Measure Language

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY ROAD REPAIR, TRAFFIC RELIEF AND TRANSPORTATION SAFETY MEASURE to:

  • Repair potholes;
  • Complete the widening of Highway 101 from Santa Barbara to Carpinteria;
  • Improve local streets, and highways;
  • Provide safe routes to school;
  • Expand public bus services and passenger rail, with increased senior and disabled accessibility;
  • Improve pedestrian and bike paths;
  • Synchronize traffic signals;
  • Earthquake retrofit bridges, tunnels and overpasses;
  • Mitigate runoff and water pollution from road construction;

Shall the Santa Barbara County voters continue, but not increase, the existing half-cent sales tax for 30 years, with local control, independent financial audits and public review of expenditures?

How much revenue would Measure A raise, and what will it be used for?

Over 30 years, beginning in 2010, Measure A would bring in over 1 billion dollars. The plan is to take $140 million “off the top” to help pay for the completion of widening Highway 101 to the Ventura County line through the addition of a third lane, which would be used as a carpool/bus-only lane during peak hours. Most of the Highway 101 widening will be financed through State funding. With the additional funding from Measure A, it is estimated that the widening project can be completed four or five years sooner than otherwise. The remaining funds will be split 50/50 between North County and South County jurisdictions and programs. The expenditure plans for North and South were created by the SBCAG Board and staff, along with a Citizens’ Policy Advisory Committee in the North County and another in the South. The SBCAG staff descriptions of the expenditure plans can be found at http://www.measurea2008.org and http://www.sbcag.org/measuredrenewal.

The table and graph below summarize the expenditure plan. The amounts in RED are those going towards highway capacity projects, while the amounts in GREEN are those going towards “alternative” uses. The amounts in BLUE are the local flexible funds, which account for over half of the total expenditures. While most local funds are expected to be spent on road and street maintenance, each local jurisdiction has the option of spending them on alternative uses. In fact, each jurisdiction has agreed to spend at least a specific percentage (between 5-15%) of its local funds on “alternative” uses such as sidewalks, new bike lanes, and local transit service, and this dedicated amount is included separately in the table and graph. In total, the percentage dedicated to “alternatives” is 38% for the South Coast, and 14% for the North County. This reflects the fact that the North County officials and committee members who designed the plan have different priorities, on balance, than their counterparts on the South Coast.

Expenditure Category South Coast North County
Widening highway 101 to Ventura County line $ 70 mil. $ 70 mil.
Other highway capacity and circulation projects $ 8 mil. $ 82 mil.
MTD transit capital and operations $ 85 mil. N/A
Specialized transit for seniors, disabled $ 6 mil. $ 4.5 mil.
Inter-regional bus transit services $ 25.3 mil. $22.5 mil.
Commuter/passenger rail $ 25 mil. $ 0
Safe Routes to School / Bike and pedestrian programs $26 mil. $ 3 mil.
Traffic reduction programs (Traffic Solutions) $ 7 mil. $ 2 mil.
Local flexible funds, dedicated to “alternatives” $ 27.3 mil. $ 42 mil.
Local flexible funds, other $ 245.4 mil. $ 299 mil.
Total over 30 years $ 525 mil. $ 525 mil.

How does Measure A 2008 compare to Measure D and to sales tax measures in other counties?

A direct comparison is difficult, because different plans have used different ways of categorizing expenditures. Below is a chart showing the 1989, 2006 and 2008 Santa Barbara measure expenditure plans, compared to other measures that passed around the state in 2004 and 2006, with the expenditures split into three major categories. A few observations:

  • The percentage dedicated to highway capacity projects in the 2008 measure (22%) is lower than the percentage devoted to transit, bike and pedestrian facilities (24%), and is lower than the percentage devoted to highway capacity projects in most of the other measures around the state.
  • The percentage to highway capacity projects is not much different for 2006 (17%) and 2008 (22%) measures.
  • The 24% dedicated to “alternatives” in 2008 is in the low-to-middle range compared to the other counties. However, most of the counties with higher percentages are more urban, either in the Bay Area, Sacramento or San Diego. Even Fresno County is more urban in some ways – it has almost 900,000 people, more than twice as many as in SB County.
  • The Bay Area county most similar to SB County in terms of the mix of (sub)urban, rural, and agricultural areas is Sonoma, and their measure passed (after several failed attempts) with 20% to “alternative” modes and 40% for highway capacity.
  • Although not as extreme as the current 1989 Measure D, the 2008 measure still has the highest percentage toward local flexible funds (52%) anywhere in the state. This leaves some potential for more funding to go toward alternatives over 30 years, particularly if some other funding mechanism comes along to support road maintenance, such as a higher gas tax or some other type of road user pricing. In recent years, cities and the county have directed increasing amounts of their flexible funds to alternatives. We expect that advocates for alternative transportation will continue efforts to expand transit and alternatives using these flexible funds.

Which aspects of Measure A do Coalition members support most strongly?

Dedicated funds for bicycle and pedestrian facilities and Safe Routes to School (SR2S) programs: Each jurisdiction (Cities and County) has committed a minimum percentage (ranging from 5-15%) of its local flexible fund amount (the largest piece of the Measure A “pie”) toward “alternative” uses, which will be mainly for bike and pedestrian facilities, and to fund Safe Routes to School programs. There is also another $26 million in regional funds dedicated to these uses on the South Coast, and $3 million in the North County.

Assured funding for MTD and EasyLift: The South Coast transit agency, MTD, currently relies on a mix of State, Federal and local funds, and MTD has to go to each local jurisdiction every year to secure any local funding. With Measure D due to expire along with some of MTD’s Federal funding, MTD may have to cut back services if Measure A does not pass. Measure A ensures that MTD will have a reliable base of local funds to keep services operating over the next 30 years. With Measure A’s local operating funds, MTD also has a better chance to get additional State and Federal matching funds to improve services where needed. EasyLift, the South Coast paratransit service for disabled and elderly, is also assured of funding.

Improved inter-regional bus service: Between the North and South, almost $50 million will be spent to maintain and improve bus services such as the Clean Air Express, the Valley Express and the Coastal Express. The use of such services has been growing, and with the prospect of dedicated HOV (bus and carpool) lanes on Highway 101, these bus services will be an attractive commuting option when the regular (non-HOV) lanes are congested. These services are expected to expand to regularly scheduled services coordinated through city transit centers, increasing the regional connectivity of local transit systems.

Funds to help start a commuter rail service between Oxnard, Ventura, Carp, Santa Barbara and Goleta: A commuter rail service between Ventura and Santa Barbara counties is sorely needed, a need that will be even more urgent while construction is underway to widen Highway 101. The Measure A funds will help attract matching State and Federal and Ventura County funds to get rail service started.

Which aspects of Measure A do Coalition members not support?

Low funding levels for Traffic Solutions: Traffic Solutions is the County agency that administers traffic reduction programs such as vanpooling and carpooling programs. It also promotes other traffic demand management (TDM) options such as flextime, telecommuting, and other programs to make it easier and more attractive to use options other than driving alone during the rush hour. Measure A alone does not provide sufficient funds for Traffic Solutions to continue its current level of programs, particularly in the North County.

Low funding levels for commuter rail: Measure D 2006, which did not pass at the ballot box, contained about $125 million toward a new commuter rail service, reflecting SBCAG’s stated commitment to “a lane and a train” as the consensus strategy designed during the “101 in Motion” study. In paring down the Measure A expenditure plan to fit within the revenues of a 1/2 cent tax, commuter rail funding was reduced to 20% of the level in the 2006 measure, while funding to widen highway 101 was maintained at the full previous level. We would have liked to have seen a similar level of government commitment for both “the train” and “the lane”.

Low funding levels for “alternatives” in the North County: As mentioned above, about 38% of funds are dedicated to “alternative” uses on the South Coast, but only 14% in the North County. As both parts of the County designed their own expenditure plan, this reflects current preferences of the elected officials and some policy design committee members in the North. Others see the continuing emphasis on highways as misguided in the face of rising rapid North County population growth, rising fuel prices, and concerns about global climate change. On the plus side, most of the North County funding is in the form of local flexible funds, so each jurisdiction will have the option of increasing spending on “alternative” modes as the situation changes over the next 30 years. And even this lesser level of transit funding represents a substantial increase from current levels and will allow the implementation of the North County Regional Transit Plan.

A lack of vision toward long term solutions: The measure includes funding for freeway expansion without recognizing that, according to projections, Highway 101 will be just as congested when widening is completed as it is now. Rather than an emphasis on increasing highway capacity to endlessly address one traffic bottleneck after another, we should be focusing more heavily on alternatives and incentives to reduce peak hour auto use. With increasing construction costs, it is conceivable that completing the widening of 101 to the Ventura County line will cost over a billion dollars. Measure A will only pay for a fraction of that cost. With or without Measure A, widening of 101 is expected to take 10-20 years to complete, and having commuter rail and other transit options in place would help to mitigate the impacts of road construction. Increasing the capacity of Hwy. 101 will also increase the number of vehicles that need to be accommodated on Santa Barbara’s freeway interchanges and local streets, and there is no explicit plan to deal with the increases in local traffic generated by highway improvements.

Is Measure A “fair”?

A great deal of effort was spent in designing Measure A to make sure that various interest groups and user groups were involved, both in the North and the South. While a sales tax is generally a regressive funding mechanism (meaning that lower income taxpayers pay a larger percent of their income compared to wealthier taxpayers), virtually everyone in the county uses some sort of transportation option. Those people dependent on MTD or EasyLift bus services to get around will benefit from the dedicated funding for those services. Everyone who uses roads will benefit from road maintenance, including drivers, bus passengers, cyclists and pedestrians who use the crosswalks and sidewalks. In both the North and South, the percentage of Measure A funds that would go to non-auto modes is higher than the percentage of trips that currently use those modes. With an uncertain future, a thorough analysis of “winners and losers” can only be done after the fact, but it is safe to say that Measure A 2008 is more inclusive and equitable than the current Measure D passed in 1989.

Is a general sales tax the best way to fund transportation projects?

In an ideal world, an increase in the gasoline tax would be superior to a general sales tax as a way to fund transportation projects – particularly for road construction and maintenance. This would be the “user pays” concept, where the amount that any individual pays for roads will be related to how much he or she uses them. Unfortunately, the current State and Federal fuel taxes are not adequate to cover the cost of maintaining road infrastructure, so a further “subsidy” is required, just as transit systems often require “subsidy” because the fare levels do not cover the capital and operating costs.

If the choice was between an increase in the general sales tax versus an increase in the fuel excise tax, most of us would prefer to see an increase in the fuel tax. However, almost all of the largest counties in California, covering 80% of the state’s population, have passed a local transportation sales tax, while NO California county has ever voted for a local increase in fuel taxes. Santa Barbara County is not likely to be the one to finally buck the trend on this and go out on a limb to raise local fuel taxes unilaterally. And if it did, the higher cost for gas in Santa Barbara County would lead to increased out-of-county gas purchases. So, for the foreseeable future, our only options may be to approve a transportation sales tax measure or else forego having any local source of transportation funding. The latter option would also mean foregoing the matching State and Federal funds that are only available to “self help” regions that have a steady source of local funds.

What if Measure A fails at the ballot box?

The Coalition members who have been involved in negotiating the Measure A plan see reasons to support it, as well as reasons not to support it, and those have been discussed in the preceding paragraphs. It is also important to consider what will happen if the measure does not pass in November. Here are some possibilities:

  • The cities put their own sales tax measures on the ballot. This may be the most likely scenario, and could happen as soon as 2009. Any such measures would likely be for general fund purposes, requiring only a 50% margin to pass. Presumably, these funds would be used mainly to fund road maintenance, and regional solutions such as commuter rail, regional MTD and other intercity bus service and Traffic Solutions would be left out, as would highway projects such as widening 101. Any city passing its own measure unilaterally would effectively preempt the chances for a countywide measure since city voters would not vote for a second tax that increased rates above the current half cent..
  • SBCAG attempts another countywide measure: It is unlikely this could happen before Measure D expires in March 2010, since tax measures are more often successful during gubernatorial or presidential elections, meaning November 2010 or later. It is also unlikely that such a measure could get the required two thirds of voters. Although Measure A 2008 is far from perfect, it is a consensus measure that seems to have at least some support from all sides of the political spectrum. If this measure does not pass, it is difficult to imagine any other countywide measure that could.
  • The South Coast and North County create two separate ballot measures: Currently, this option is not possible, and would require a change in California state law. In any case, Measure A 2008 is already two separate sub-county plans rolled into one, so having two separate measures would not drastically change the expenditure plan itself. It would simply make it possible for a measure to pass in one part of the county and fail in the other part. Based on past history, a likely outcome would be that a South Coast measure passes while a North County measure does not, depriving the North County’s large transit dependant populations of needed services.
  • We do without local transportation funding for the foreseeable future: This would be the most likely scenario for those in unincorporated areas, and for those living in cities that cannot pass their own measures. Starting in 2010, this would reduce levels of maintenance of streets and roads, and cause cutbacks in existing transit services.

In closing, members of the Coalition worked very hard to get the best possible package of alternative transportation projects and services, gaining concessions and commitments from every jurisdiction and achieving what is probably the best plan politically possible, given divergent views of transportation priorities throughout the County. For any transportation measure to pass, it will need support from all segments of the community, and thus many of the more problematic components of the Measure are necessary to gain the broad support needed to pass. It is unlikely that any other county-wide transportation measure would deviate substantially from what was achieved in the community processes that resulted in the proposed measure. Virtually all stakeholders left the process unhappy about some portion of the plan. Everyone understood that Measure A is only a part of our transportation future, and more work will be required to either fully maintain the roads or to develop the comprehensive transit, bikeway and pedestrian systems our community deserves. Given the compromises and concessions inherent in the proposed measure, the leadership group of the Coalition has decided to ask its members’ views of the 2008 proposal before considering whether to take a Coalition position.

San Ysidro Road path a reality with COAST’s Help

First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal addressing the crowd

Under threat of rain, community stakeholders came out Wednesday, December 17th to celebrate the recent Federal Safe Routes to School grant that was announced to build a

Eva Inbar of COAST, expressing support for the newly funded path

½ mile decomposed granite pathway along the west side of San Ysidro Road from Montecito Union School to North Jameson Road. This path has been a collaborative effort from the start, according to many of the event’s speakers, which included County Supervisor Salud Carbajal, Montecito Union School Superintendent Dick Douglas, Montecito Association President Bill Palladini, and Montecito Trails Foundation

President John Venable, who has committed to maintaining the path.  Appreciation of the process and the partnerships between many entities, which also included County Public Works staff Matt Dobberteen and Bert Johnson, was echoed by many of those in attendance.  As noted by COAST’s Eva Inbar, “the project was based on a remarkable collaboration between many parties” including previous COAST Executive Director Katharine Bechtel who worked on the project.

Parent and advocate, Stephen Murdoch and daughters, commenting on the collaborative process

This path will not only provide a safer place for students on their way to school but as MUS parent and project initiator Stephen Murdoch noted, “the path will link pedestrians of every age to Miramar Beach, Upper and Lower Manning Parks, Laguna Blanca Lower School and the shopping area of the Upper Village”.
Supervisor Carbajal was one of several who stressed that we should celebrate the success of the San Ysidro path and use the momentum to move forward in identifying other locations where we can focus our efforts next. COAST’s newest project, Santa Barbara Walks, will be working to improve pedestrian access to schools, parks, community centers and other public places throughout the South Coast.

The event was a great reminder to the community of the positive impacts that are possible when we work together towards a common goal.