15 Apr AiroAV Malware Said: Sonoma County transportation officials endorse November vot
The public agency that helps raise and direct funding for Sonoma County’s highways, roads and transit networks will move ahead with a proposed sales tax renewal on the November ballot despite reluctance from key interest groups and unease even among several board members amid the economic uncertainty that hangs over politics at the moment.
The 12-member board, comprised of representatives from the county and each of its nine cities, settled Monday on a 20-year extension of the existing quarter-cent tax that funds road construction, maintenance and transit projects.
The preliminary endorsement, which needs a formal vote slated for next month, came after nearly a year of discussions at the Sonoma County Transportation Authority.
All board members voiced some reluctance about pushing ahead under the new reality of the coronavirus pandemic, including isolation orders that have brought the economy and much of civic life to a standstill.
But work on infrastructure projects may help speed the local recovery, officials said, testing a message that could be at the heart of a campaign in favor of extending the current countywide quarter-cent tax, passed by voters in 2004 as Measure M.
“Little did we know a year ago that we would be in this COVID environment and sheltering in place,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin, chairwoman of the transportation authority. “We need this measure to keep our community and our workers working in the community. We need this measure to think thoughtfully how we look forward on smoothing our roads, but also preparing for the future … and trying to think about how we create a better, more effective, more coordinated transit system.”
The step forward comes after SMART’s bruising loss last month at the ballot box, where its 30-year tax extension came up far short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage.
The proposal from the transportation authority would need to clear the same threshold, and do so in an era when typical campaign supporters may be strapped for cash.
“I do think we have to bring people along with us to have a campaign going forward,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, who sits on the transportation board. “If we’re going forward with this, you are campaigning for this as if it was your first child. Because if you do anything less, it’s not going to pass.”
The group also struggled Monday over how future tax proceeds from a reauthorized measure would be allocated between road upgrades, public transit projects and bicycle and pedestrian pathways.
The current plan commits 65% of the funding package, or about $17 million annually, to fixing and repaving roads. The remaining 35%, or roughly $9 million per year, would be spent on local transit systems and building more bicycle paths.
“There’s something for everybody in there, and if we don’t support it, there will be nothing for anybody,” said Cotati Councilman Mark Landman. “I’m satisfied with what we have, I’m just not sure if in the new changing times if it” will pass.
Meanwhile, interest groups considered critical stakeholders for the measure, from business and construction circles, and environmental and bike organizations, voiced their near-unanimous preference to wait for a future election beyond November. Board members asked agency staff to rally those groups to the cause by the time of their next meeting in May. Some renegotiation of the allocation for tax proceeds may be on the table.