Our Children’s Earth, an environmental nonprofit organization, has filed a lawsuit against the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments alleging misallocation of public transportation funds.
According to the OCE, the 2003 Transportation Development Act requires SBCAG to meet the demand for public transportation in Santa Barbara County before allocating leftover funding to road improvements. This year the county received $3.5 million from the state for public transportation. SBCAG is an inter-agency planning organization made up of Santa Barbara County elected officials, including the board of supervisors.
SBCAG Executive Director Jim Kemp said he could not comment because he had not yet seen the lawsuit.
Tiffany Schauer, executive director of OCE, said the purpose of the transportation act is to ensure that everyone has access to public transportation. She said the lawsuit is an attempt to improve air quality as well as government accountability.
“Our organization works to reduce pollution through enforcement of existing regional law. Our country has good laws, but they’re not always enforced,” Schauer said. “Seventy-five percent of air pollution is caused by cars. Public transportation is one of the few ways that we can actually have an impact on air quality. There are very few ways to get air pollution reduced unless we get people out of their individual cars.”
Mark Chaconas, executive assistant to 3rd District Supervisor Gail Marshall, said SBCAG transferred money from public transportation to other areas after conducting a survey which showed adequate alternative transportation in the county.
“A portion of the sales tax goes to all the cities of the county and they have to do a study to prove that there are no unmet alternative transportation needs,” Chaconas said. “If there are no unmet needs, then they can spend the money on road repair.”
SBCAG faced a similar lawsuit two years ago when the Coalition for Sustainable Transportation (COAST) alleged that public transportation funds had been misallocated. SBCAG settled by creating plans for an intercommunity transit service plan, which would create a commuter route for bus riders between Santa Maria, Lompoc and Vandenburg Airforce Base.
Schauer said the OCE lawsuit is separate from the COAST lawsuit, but they both point to larger problem within SBCAG.
“This case that we’re bringing is a totally different case. It’s a different allocation and a different budget,” Schauer said. “This is obviously a recurrent problem, but this case is about the government at this juncture choosing to misallocate funds.”