Measure J, the 1/2 cent sales tax increase for roads, has been attacked by several people lately. If I recall correctly, Mesaure J would raise $10 million to widen Highway 25, and $10 million for county roads, mostly for maintenance. I think these are fair goals, so I'd like to make the case for Measure J.
First, let's admit that many of our local roads stink. My driving is typically around downtown and on Highway 25, and there are awful roads there. I can only imagine the condition of some of the roads in the more rural parts of the county.
I recall an article in the Free Lance a couple years ago where it was estimated fixing our roads would cost $12 million -- and that was before the flooding and El Nino. Even worse, if all the flood damage wasn't fixed in six months, the U.S. Government won't cover the entire cost of flood-related repairs, making the bill to our county even larger. For example, the total cost of fixing the Panoche Road landslide was estimated at $7 million (as of August 13). It remains to be seen how much of that will be covered by the federal government.
The $10 million raised for unspecified road projects by Measure J could go a long way to fixing these roads. I understand some people are worried that these projects aren't specified, but sometimes flexibility is a good thing. If some roads worsen quicker than others, it would be useful to be able to reprioritize which roads get repaired first.
Not surprisingly, our local tax critic opposes Measure J, citing a balance of over $8 million remaining in Measure A funds. However, aren't those already designated to go to specific projects as listed in Measure A?
He also cites figures (for the county alone, not the cities) of over $2 million a year for license fee income, $1 million a year for gasoline tax income, and over $850,000 from impact fees. I don't know what happens to the first two sources of income, but since we've had them for a while, and the roads still stink, either they aren't going to the roads (which is Mr. Lusink's point), or they aren't enough.
The impact fees he cites, as I understand them, aren't only for roads, but are supposed (note that word) to cover all impacts related to new development -- parks, schools, roads, etc. Plus, it seems impact fees are typically used for areas around the new development.
We all know the government should be watched so that the money goes to fix our local roads, not for more development. The key is to get involved. Write your supervisor about which roads YOU want fixed. Become part of the process; doing nothing is the best guarantee that your road won't be fixed.
In an August 7 letter, Daniel Maese asked "shouldn't we at least have roads in the town that are decent and passable without losing control or wrecking your shock absorbers?"
Yes, we should. So I find it odd that he opposes Measure J, which would put $10 million into fixing these roads. If you bought a $20,000 car in San Benito County, the additional cost after Measure J would be $100. Isn't $100 worth it to save the wear and tear on the car that our roads cause?
I also find it odd that Mr. Maese opposes Measure J, but supports spending money for blowing up a rock that gets hit with grafitti. Talk about priorities.... I realize that his primary objection seems to be widening Highway 25, which I discuss next.
The most contentious part of Measure J seems to be the $10 million earmarked for widening Highway 25. I drive on this road almost every weekday -- I'm one of these awful Silicon Valley commuters you hear about -- and it really does need widening. The road is too crowded and has severe safety problems.
Have you almost been hit by a car passing other cars and coming head-on toward you? Widening Highway 25 could fix this problem. People would be able to pass in a second lane without having to pass in oncoming traffic. In fact, if CalTrans widens 25, I would hope they would make it a solid double-yellow line all the way to the Bolsa. That would make the road much safer.
Have you been stuck behind a truck going 45 or 50 mph, or been slowed by a tractor driving along the side of the road? Again, widening the road will allow safe passing of these slower vehicles, alleviating the crowded conditions and backups that can occur.
I wonder if those who are so vehemently opposed to widening 25 have considered the above. It doesn't appear so. The detractors focus more on the issue that widening 25 will allow more development here. It may, but in my opinion the widening is needed to accommodate the growth we've already had, not for some future growth. Not widening Highway 25 is just denying the problem already exists.
Some people even lose perspective completely about this. Mr. Maese illustrates this perfectly. At one point, he says that widening 25 goes against his "beliefs" because it is "the conduit of which the out-of-towners are coming and raping our country sides."
As I've only been in the county a little over three years, I must take offense at his comparing me with a rapist. Of course, I seem to recall Mr. Maese stating he moved to Hollister from the Los Angeles area. Since he moved here some years before I did, I guess he must have been one of the early rapists.
Yes, later on he tries to say that wasn't what he meant by saying that it's "not the people that bother" him, but the fact that services haven't kept up with growth. Wake up, Daniel! Measure J is an attempt to improve one facet of these services -- our roads (if you forgot, $10 million goes to roads other than Highway 25).
Of course, other bills aimed at improving our services have been defeated at the polls. Two county measures for library funding went down even though a majority of people supported them. Hollister's utility tax got even less support, even though it could have helped pay for more police and fire services.
Given the record of voting since I've moved here, I don't expect Measure J to pass, but I try to be an optimist and hope it will. Even if it doesn't, I'll still try to be an optimist -- I'll hope one of my loved ones doesn't get involved in a head-on collision on Highway 25 someday because people thought fifty cents for every $100 was too high a price for better roads.
UPDATE: On November 3, 1998, Measure J got over 50% of the vote, but did not get the required 2/3 supermajority.