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Where We Stand

[whitespace] Jane Hamilton
Michael Amsler

Vote for Hamilton: Petaluma City Councilmember Jane Hamilton wins our endorsement for the 2nd Supervisorial District. Hamilton has the experience the south county needs to help implement complicated transit improvements and nurture the region's fast-growing economy.

A select list of local endorsements

Edited by Greg Cahill

THE PUNDITS, in their infinite arrogance, say you are a faded, jaded electorate. They say you're too dazed by the glare of the presidential sex scandal to recognize that some of the most important decisions about the future of the North Bay will be made Nov. 3 at the ballot box. They predict you'll sit at home that day and watch Melrose Place reruns.

We don't buy that.

Be smart. Get out and vote. Here is a select list of endorsements to help sort through the issues. (For more endorsements, see "A Quick and Dirty Election Guide").

Measures B and C

Reality check. In a perfect world, you'd get public policy and planning processes that please everyone--something that would be all things to all people.

In the real world, you get back-room deals and compromises that often leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

Meet Measures B and C.

A recent public opinion poll found that 79 percent of respondents support Measure B, which calls for construction of two extra freeway lanes, a passenger-rail line, freeway interchange upgrades, bike lanes, and a few other bells and whistles. Yet respondents are just about evenly split over Measure C, an advisory measure authorizing a 1/2-cent sales tax increase over the next 20 years and requesting, but not requiring, that county officials spend the money on the aforementioned transit package. The sales tax measure is expected to raise about $627 million toward $950 worth of transit improvements (federal funds and other revenue sources will cover the rest).

The measures are the culmination of a decade of planning. Most recently, the proposed transit plan was crafted by a coalition of local conservationists (mostly the leadership of Sonoma County Conservation Action), business leaders, and public officials based on recommendations issued in a report by respected transportation consultant Peter Calthorpe.

Even Calthorpe's report shows that the plan is flawed--expect to shave only about 1/10 of the time off your commute after we taxpayers have spent a billion dollars. And opponents, namely the Environmental Defense Fund, argue that the plan is fiscally flawed as well--it underestimates costs and fails to take into account expected cost overruns.

The supes say there's plenty of funding in the tax measures.

Under the pay-as-you-go plan (in which projects are completed as the sales tax revenue accumulates), the EDF estimates, rail operations would not begin until 2015 and the highway widening would not be completed until 2016. If cost overruns occur, or if the public demands faster action, they say, the county may be forced to defer all other improvements and issue costly transit bonds to begin rail service by 2003 and get the extra freeway lanes built by 2005.

And what about that passenger-rail line? Only about a quarter of the increased sales tax revenue has been set aside for the train--about $175 million, barely enough to make one commute run per hour between Santa Rosa and San Rafael--and the plan doesn't accommodate expensive southern storage facilities and other pricey items.

Indeed, the train is a weak link in the transit plan, since a public opinion poll earlier this year showed that while a majority of respondents favor a passenger-rail service, only 40 percent say they will actually use it and then only if it reaches Larkspur. Here's the problem: At 40 mph, the train will require nearly an hour to travel from Santa Rosa to San Rafael (the proposed rail system won't extend to the Larkspur Ferry to make a San Francisco connection because there's not enough money to fund that stretch), the number of feeder buses from outlying areas will be minimal, and the buses will run infrequently at rush hour.

Not much of a deal, huh?

That said, after a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, Measures B and C still constitute the best plan. For instance, without the money these measures provide it is likely that the existing railway, whose freight operations keep nearly 40,000 trucks a year off Highway 101, will shut down. Even limited rail service is better than none. Also, defeat of the transit plan will deprive the region of $51 million for sorely needed bus improvements and $18 million for bikeways.

We agree with Sonoma County Conservation Action that the rail service should be built first to take advantage of $28 million in state funds that must be used for rail within three years and to lure commuters off the freeway, and we hope that the limited runs are just the first phase of a more complete rail service in the North Bay. We also applaud those conservationists--including members of the EDF, Friends of the River, Greenbelt Alliance, and the Sierra Club--who have either taken a stand against the transit plan or remained neutral (as is the case of the latter two organizations). Their energy and expertise will be needed to fight the bid to mine 6 million tons of gravel from the already damaged Russian River to be used in the freeway paving project, and to find ways to make this plan more workable.

Quite simply, commuters and the private sector need to recognize that the transit plan alone is not going to fix the North Bay's commuter mess. Other steps are needed, and ultimately commuters must accept responsibility for altering their driving habits by embracing car pools and public transit.

And there are other low-cost options that should be considered to augment Measures B and C. For instance, how about better transportation system management plans that feature such incentives as staggered work shifts, telecommuting, or subsidized bonuses for employees who car-pool? And shouldn't regulators fast-track a proposed ferry service from Petaluma to Larkspur? The list goes on.

Most important, Sonoma County residents should acknowledge that extra freeway lanes may help fuel suburban sprawl. Part of the key to the transit plan's success is a campaign to focus growth in transit-oriented, mixed-use developments in downtown areas. In 1996, a majority of voters backed five urban growth boundaries, reining in development to what residents hope will be manageable levels. (Measure I would restrict development south of Petaluma to the Sonoma/Marin county line, and establish a UGB around the River City.) These are powerful land-use tools that must be guarded at all costs if the county is to exhibit economic growth while retaining its pastoral charm.

Vote Yes on Measures B and C.

2nd Supervisorial District

In a crowded field in June, Petaluma City Councilwoman Jane Hamilton stood out as the brightest candidate. However, a close race with Petaluma Police Sgt. Mike Kerns, a virtual political neophyte, forced a runoff election.

Hamilton remains a bright, thoughtful, and able candidate.

Favored by the local environmental community and backed by most of the City Council, this two-term City Council member and telecommunications manager gained kudos a couple of years ago for helping open the public dialogue during the divisive Lafferty Ranch swap debate. While she has been cautious in her support of Measures B and C, Hamilton backs the transit plan and has pledged to make sure that the county Board of Supervisors lives up to the intent of Measure C, if it passes, advising but not requiring supes to spend all funds from the sales tax increase on the transit fixes.

Her opponent is a 25-year veteran of the local police force who rose to prominence as the department's spokesman during the Polly Klaas kidnap/murder case. He has twice been elected as a trustee to the Waugh School District and recently picked up the endorsement of retiring Supervisor Jim Harberson.

Kerns has never been involved in any significant planning decision, and that's a serious shortcoming, considering that the Board of Supervisors is going to make crucial decisions in the next couple of years about the future of the region's transportation and economy.

Those decisions should not be placed in the hands of a rookie.

Vote for Jane Hamilton.

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From the October 22-28, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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