Half-cent tax increase proposed to address county’s transportation woes

by Chris O’Neal

Come November, a cornucopia of initiatives and measures will be on the ballot notwithstanding the presidential contest. Local county and statewide acts will have the power to quite literally reshape the landscape — and none could be potentially more transformative than a proposed half-cent sales tax increase to fund Ventura County infrastructure and transportation needs.

Darren Kettle is the executive director of the Ventura County Transportation Commission. Kettle says that the proposal, a 30-year half-cent transportation sales tax, could net Ventura County $70 million annually to deal with a wide range of Ventura County transportation concerns, including congestion on the 101 and 118 freeways, repairing streets and roads and funding pedestrian projects, to name a few. Without it, he says, the county could face difficult choices in regard to transportation and infrastructure.politics2016

“Right now, we are finding ourselves in a position where we’re not competing and we’re not taking care of our major transportation system needs,” said Kettle, “let alone our infrastructure, bridges and streets, which are completely falling apart.”

But to pass a sales tax increase, the initiative requires a two-thirds majority vote. It’s a feat that will require the coming together of parties not often of the same political opinions. In 2004, a half-cent transportation sales tax measure was rejected by Ventura County voters 59 to 41 percent; this time around, Kettle hopes to instill in voters a sense of urgency.

As it stands, only 19 of California’s 58 counties have a transportation sales tax.

On Thursday, Mar. 10, Kettle will be the guest speaker at a town hall hosted by the Ventura County Climate Hub. Jan Dietrick is on the coordinating committee for the Climate Hub and has concerns over how many green initiatives will be funded by the sales tax, should it pass.

“What we’re very much interested in seeing is a green agenda for our transportation plan,” said Dietrick, adding that she is not a fan of added carpool lanes, citing that perhaps it could increase rather than decrease traffic. “If it was green enough and all of those groups got behind it, it might have a better chance of passing than otherwise.”

“It doesn’t have to be one against the other; this could be something that supports a multitude of interests in a very positive way,” said Kettle, adding that the plan will have to address both environmental and business interests such as moving freight out of the Port of Hueneme, traffic in and out of military bases and so on. “If it doesn’t get the two-thirds support, then we don’t get streets repaired, potholes aren’t fixed and we don’t get express bus lanes. We will have a very real possibility of having to cut or eliminate Metrolink service. You factor all that together, if we don’t do it, we’re anything but green.”

A few of the green concepts involve interconnecting the county’s cities for cyclists, investing in an electric vehicle fleet for city workers and more locations for electric vehicle charging. To incentivize public transportation usage, Kettle says that opening carpool lanes as bus express lanes as well could entice more commuters to hop on a bus.

“What’s the incentive for someone to go to transit unless they feel that’s what they want to do philosophically; we need to make it so that there’s an incentive or benefit to doing that,” said Kettle. “If they’re sitting in the same traffic there’s not a whole lot of incentive.”

The Town Hall on Green Transportation Sales Tax will take place on Thursday, Mar. 10, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ventura, Fellowship Hall, 5654 Ralston St., Ventura, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.