Measure A is the gift that just keeps giving to local governments. At the same time, Measure A also keeps taking from local residents, which makes it possible to give back to governments so they can improve their communities.
Solvang taxpayers got a glimpse of the giving part last week when the City Council approved a five-year spending plan for local roads and bikeways.
As you may recall, Measure A consists of a half-cent retail tax, which was approved by Santa Barbara County voters a decade ago. The strategy then and now is to help maintain and build roadways and bike paths.
There was some debate before Measure A reached the 2008 ballot. Critics didn’t like the long-term nature of the proposal. But voters saw the wisdom of passing the legislation, with nearly 80-percent approval in the final count.
The measure’s lifespan is 30 years, which means there are still a couple of decades to go. The tax add-on is expected to raise more than $1 billion for transportation projects countywide.
Solvang’s slice of the Measure A pie for the next fiscal year is just more than $376,000, and city officials said last week most of that money will go toward fixing existing transportation infrastructure, rather than new development.
Another interesting element of Measure A is that funds passed along to local jurisdictions have a carry-over provision. If Solvang doesn’t use all of that $376,000 in the 2018-19 fiscal period, what’s left can be carried over to the next fiscal period. That happened in the current fiscal period, with a carry-over amount of $150,000.
But that $376,000 isn’t all the city will have. Another $3 million is earmarked for various improvements along Mission Drive, and to replace the Highway 246 bridge.
There was some discussion at last week’s council meeting about the level of spending on widening and otherwise improving local bike paths. Solvang is one of the better walking communities on the Central Coast, but there are places where bicyclists take their lives in their own hands because of competing for space with cars and trucks.
One aspect of last week’s meeting and decision-making on the use of Measure A funds was somewhat concerning. No one in the audience had anything to say or contribute to the conversation about how to improve the town’s transportation network.
We find that a little odd, when you consider the sort of backlash we receive every time a major bike race or other special event crowds Solvang’s streets.
Government works best when the governed join in the conversation, especially when the conversation is about road and bike-path safety. In fact, the general rule is that taxpayers — the folks footing the bill for municipal operations — absolutely should not want elected officials to be making policy decisions in a vacuum. Solvang residents are usually not reticent about speaking up, and sometimes challenging decisions being made by the City Council. Those types of exchanges help to make a community function properly.
Maybe folks are worried about getting involved and speaking up. The current national political climate seems to have morphed into an anything-goes battlefield. That may be a little over the line of propriety and courtesy, but at least those voices are being heard — loud and clear.
We don’t recommend Solvang turn into a us-vs.-them shouting match, but it would be nice to go to a City Council meeting, see every seat in the audience occupied, with the occupants actively taking part in the discussion of issues.