There is an important local issue on the ballot in the Nov. 7 election, called Measure D. This measure would change the amount of sales tax you pay for local transportation from the existing one-half cent per dollar to three-fourths cent per dollar, starting in 2010.
Something like $1.6 billion dollars would be raised, and there is a spending plan that actually provides money for bike paths ($42.5 million), buses ($198 million) and commuter rails ($126 million). All figures are over 30 years. For the 15,000 bicyclists and bus users in the Isla Vista/UCSB community, these figures dazzle. If you just use your car, you’ll like the measure’s widening of the 101 south of here at the Rincon, speeding trips to L.A. It sounds like a no-brainer yes vote, and most Santa Barbara alternative transportation and environmental groups portray it as such.
But there is prominent glitch: It is likely that not one dollar will be spent in the Isla Vista/UCSB community from Measure D. Meanwhile, places like Solvang, which is one-fifth of I.V.’s population, will receive $12 million. If treated like Solvang, I.V. would get $60 million over 30 years. Everyone agrees the absence of sidewalks in I.V. is a travesty, as is the lack of any infrastructure for bicycles. The $60 million is desperately needed, not only so that pedestrians on Friday and Saturday night can walk around safely, but so that schoolchildren can safely get from their homes to the I.V. Market to buy an ice cream.
Remember: Had the four people on Sabado Tarde Road been up on a sidewalk when David Attias insanely barreled his car at over 60mph in Feb. 2001, we’d not have a memorial for them now in Little Acorn Park. There is money in Measure D that could be spent in I.V.: $254 million will be available for unincorporated areas of the county. Supporters of Measure D believe I.V. should get a share of that money.
The problem is Isla Vistans and Gauchos have been paying the one-half cent per dollar sales tax for transportation for the last 17 years. I’ve met with county staffers and pored over various reports, and not a dime of that money has been spent in Isla Vista. Some fancy bookkeeping sometimes makes it look otherwise, because Isla Vista’s share of state gas tax money, Camino Real Marketplace mitigation money and UCSB mitigation money has been shifted out of I.V., and some sales tax money shifted in.
So supporters of Measure D tell me we are victims of the 3rd District’s supervisor’s politics. But I know otherwise… Gail Marshall, the old 3rd District supervisor and her staff, as well as Brooks Firestone – the present one – and his staff have fought quite hard for I.V. road projects. They were and continue to be stymied by unified opposition from the other four supervisors and from most of the staff inside the county buildings. A few staff, such as Jamie Goldstein of the RDA, consistently champion for I.V.
The anti-I.V. people know that Isla Vistans are inept at county politics, disappear after four years, which is an instant in slow-moving county politics, and ignorant of the flow of money and responsibility. Further, many county staffers hold grudges against UCSB, which pays no property tax to the county. When I.V. streets are messy and dangerous, they displace their own responsibility on to UCSB.
I hold little hope that the county as a whole will ever support actually doing its job and providing safe thoroughfares in I.V. So I’ll vote no on Measure D although I strongly support its general goals. I understand how many bicyclists and environmentalists in I.V. will vote yes, because the general goals of Measure D outweigh their concern for Isla Vista. To those supporters I ask: Please help Isla Vista get long-needed infrastructure, like sidewalks, if this Measure D passes.
If it doesn’t pass, we must craft a new local measure paid for with Isla Vista taxes and where work on I.V. streets gets done with I.V.’s money. We should also support a new regional measure, to take care of bus service and Highway 101.
Harry Nelson is a UCSB physics professor.