.Usual Suspects

Planned November transit measure hits a political roadblock

By Janet Wells

IN THE WAKE of underwhelming voter support for Measure B, its pet widen-the-highway measure, Sonoma County’s pro-development community seems to be busy licking its wounds. It’s got to be a bit embarrassing, after all. With barely a whisper of a campaign, the ballot’s fledgling public-transit initiative, Measure C, mustered more votes than Measure B, whose backers rained down a major blitz the weekend before the March 7 election.

Sam Crump, who spearheaded the Measure B campaign, didn’t return calls from Usual Suspects this week, but his dismay is apparent in published reports: “It’s incredible and absurd,” he says of the election results. “I don’t know if it was a backlash or what. Perhaps the misinformation campaign against us was effective, but I can’t think of anything else we could have done better.

“It’s just very strange.”

The $17,000 “misinformation campaign” of the anti-Measure B forces was successful in thwarting Crump and company’s $827,000 campaign to get the required 66.7 percent of the vote to raise sales taxes. Measure B received 58.4 percent approval for raising taxes one-half percent over eight years to pay for an additional lane in each direction on Highway 101. Measure C received 60.2 percent for raising taxes one-quarter percent over 16 years to pay for local road improvements and public transit.

“I am happily surprised that Measure C did better than Measure B. It demonstrates clearly that there is far more public support for mass transit than for [Highway] 101,” says Mark Green of Sonoma County Conservation Action.

“Some interesting lessons have come out of this,” he adds. “You can’t buy a super-majority under any circumstances. I believe it has always been the back-pocket strategy of business leaders that they would blow right past us with a fat checkbook.”

Green, like many environmentalists, can’t help but gloat just a little over the election outcome. “The big-checkbook employers, the chamber of commerce folks, they have thought of themselves as the rulers of the universe for a long time,” Green says. “In the past 10 years the environmental community has become more and more of a participant, and business doesn’t like it. They are going to have to have some strange bedfellows, and it makes them mad.”

After almost two decades of wrangling over Sonoma County’s increasing traffic problems, and three failed attempts to raise taxes for transit projects, it might seem that the area’s diverse population is fatally at loggerheads. Another ballot measure in November is unlikely. But efforts are once again under way to forge a workable détente.

Rick Theis, chairman of the Sonoma County Transportation and Land-Use Coalition, sent a letter last week to Sonoma County Supervisor Mike Reilly, chair of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, calling for a regional transportation summit.

THEIS envisions a summit that includes representatives of various community groups, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and CalTrans, “so we have definitive answers on what’s in the pipeline and what we can expect to be funded from gasoline taxes and state and federal sources of revenue,” he says. “Until now, it has been our camp against your camp. This kind of narrow-minded thinking has no future when it comes to planning for our quality of life.”

More discussion sounds good to AnnaLis Dalrymple of Greenbelt Alliance, as long as the “average community citizen” is invited to the table and growth and long-range planning are part of the focus.

“We have got to find a holistic solution,” she says. “There are some issues that are not so obviously transportation that have got to be brought into the discussion–housing, jobs, agricultural land protection–all are issues that have to be part of the solution. We can’t address just one piece of the pie and not expect to have a really messy situation on our hands.

“I’ve talked to people who don’t want to widen the highway or to have a train, because they want congestion,” Dalrymple adds. “They want to prevent growth,” she says. “Road rage is ugly, and it’s not a good idea to keep that frustration.

“But before opening the floodgates for sprawl, we need to have a blueprint for the future.”

From the March 16-22, 2000, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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