City gets transportation update

It’s one of those classic good news/bad news scenarios — Santa Barbara’s air quality is improving, thanks at least in part to electric buses, but because the air quality is improving, we’re no longer going to be eligible for congestion mitigation and air quality grants that have been helping to fund those buses.

That was just one of many challenges outlined last week in the city’s Transit Assistance Workshop, where representatives from the City Council, MTD Board of Directors, Downtown Parking Committee, Planning Commission and the Transportation & Circulation Committee got together for the first time to talk about big picture transportation issues.

Other key issues include the expiration of Measure D in 2010, which provides for a one-half cent sales tax and dedicates that revenue to transportation projects and programs. Over $270 million has been collected since the program began in 1990 and advocates are already working on a new Measure D ballot measure to ensure its continuation. However, one potential stumbling block may be the shift of population growth from the south county to the north county, which means a shift in the distribution of those sales tax revenues as well, regardless of where those dollars are actually spent.

Councilman Dr. Dan Secord, who represents the city on the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) Board of Directors, the entity which distributes most of the transportation funding, expressed frustration with the disproportion of money going to Santa Maria, where it is primarily spent on roads rather than mass transit development and congestion mitigations, as is done in Santa Barbara.

The fair allocation of resources was a hot button topic for many who attended. Both commission members the public commented on the disproportionate amount of money spent on downtown transportation compared to other parts of the city, as well as the fact that Santa Barbara foots the bill for the lion’s share of MTD services with minimal contributions from the county and the cities of Carpinteria and Goleta.

Perhaps we could figure out some kind of a matching funds challenge, suggested Councilwoman Helene Schneider. “Even a two to one match would be something.”

Delegates from each of the groups will work together over the next 60 to 90 days to tackle some tough transit questions, outlined by Public Works Director Tony Nisich: “Should the city provide additional assistance to MTD? Which services should receive additional funding? How should they be funded?”

We have to figure out how to make sure that our land use decisions and our transportation decisions are addressing reality and not fantasy, said Councilman Das Williams, who volunteered to participate in the study group. “I don’t know that we’re really wrestling with anything else as a city that’s this important.”

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on July 28, 2005.