For some reason, Measure J, the 1/2 cent sales tax increase for widening Highway 25 and improving local roads, had no argument supporting it on the sample ballot distributed. If you want an argument in favor of Measure J, see the letter I wrote which was published in the September 7 Free Lance. That letter is also available on my Web site at http://www.garlic.com/~shm/mj09071998.html for those of you who don't keep two months worth of newspapers.
However, there is an argument in sample ballot arguing against Measure J from Dick Lusink. Unfortunately, there is also no rebuttal to that argument. In the interest of equal time, I would like to make such a rebuttal.
Let's look at each point Mr. Lusink raised against Measure J in the sample ballot.
I'll deal with this first because it's the most outrageous claim. The argument is that widening Highway 25 will cause more growth. However, I defy someone to show me where widening a road caused significant growth.
Don't be misled by this spurious argument. If you're worried about growth, the correct way to limit growth is by limiting housing developments, not by constricting roadways. In fact, both the Hollister City Council and the San Benito County Board of Supervisors are handling things the correct way.
The Board of Supervisors has passed a growth-limiting measure which allows voters to vote on large-scale development that exceeds the General Plan. They even fought off a lawsuit by developers challenging the law.
The Hollister City Council has put a moratorium on new housing plans, and is looking to enact a 3000 house limit for the next ten years. This would essentially mean no new housing permits for five or six years. Houses already permitted will be allowed to be built, of course, so growth will still occur, but this will be regardless of the outcome of Measure J. For more details, see the October 20 Free Lance.
The fact is that the growth is already here. Widening Highway 25 is in response to the growth we've already had and will have. If you attended the Measure J forum, you saw a CalTrans representative state that we're already very close to the point where they would consider widening Highway 25. (If you didn't attend the Measure J forum, be sure to watch it on Channel 34; it will be run from 8 AM Tuesday, October 27, until 8 AM Friday, October 30.)
Don't you think it would be better to widen Highway 25 now, because we know it will be saturated in the near future, rather than waiting for that saturation to occur before dealing with it? We have the opportunity here to use foresight rather than hindsight.
The argument cites an $8 million balance of unspent Measure A funds. This is another spurious argument. That money must be spent on projects listed in Measure A, and can't be spent on widening Highway 25 or improving unspecified local roads.
The argument is that Highway 25 will revert from a four-lane road to a two-lane road at the Santa Clara County line. However, Measure J only says that at most $10 million that IT raises will be spent on widening Highway 25 to the county line. CalTrans certainly can, and wants to, widen it all the way to Highway 101.
At the Measure J forum, a CalTrans representative stated that they intend to widen it to Highway 101, and they think some money from Santa Clara County's Measures A and B will fund that.
However, even if the widening only goes to the county line, that will still be a huge improvement over the current situation. You can view it as a 10-mile-long passing lane. You won't have to worry about having to pass slow-moving vehicles in oncoming traffic. You won't have to be slowed by tractors going along Highway 25, by trucks pulling out from Shore Road, or by drivers who for whatever reasons drive slower than the speed limit.
Don't be fooled by Wayne Gordon's letter in the October 23 Free Lance, where he claims it will be a bottleneck worse than the one at the junction of Highways 101 and 85. At that junction, four lanes of freeway traffic are funnelled into two lanes, and two lanes is not sufficient for the traffic that crosses the hill from San Jose to Morgan Hill. That's why Santa Clara County's Measures A and B are going to widen that stretch of road.
There won't be such a bottleneck on Highway 25. As mentioned above, Highway 25 is still under CalTrans' guidelines for widening to a four-lane road, but just barely. Highway 25's problem isn't saturation like 101 (yet), but problems caused by slow moving vehicles and passing in oncoming traffic. If Highway 25 is widened, faster traffic will have a lane to pass slower traffic in; no longer will you have to play automobile roulette with a car coming head-on.
This is true, but I think that's actually a positive. We know the money will be spent on local roads (45% in Hollister, 45% in the county, and 10% in San Juan Bautista), we just don't know which roads will be improved. Because the tax is not a general tax, the money will not disappear into that governmental black hole -- the General Fund.
While the various government bodies may propose lists of roads to be fixed, as Hollister has (see the October 23 Free Lance for details), they still have the flexibility to fix the roads that need it the most without being locked for 10 years into a fixed list. A fixed list prevents change, even if natural problems, like flooding, or human problems, like development, warrant change.
I've even heard the claim made that a fixed list slowed some of the Measure A projects down. Litigation over the San Benito Street extension, for example, caused lower priority projects to be delayed.
Also, COG has stated it will set up a citizen's committee to help select which roads will be fixed. This should alleviate the concern about only bureaucrats deciding where the money will be spent.
Mr. Lusink is fond of citing that we get $5.5 million per year in funds from the state in gasoline taxes, license plate fees, and impact fees. That sounds like a lot of money, but that's not the issue. The real issue is whether the money is being spent wisely -- are we getting our money's worth?
Other than saying that some (or most) of the money goes to the road department, not actual roads, Mr. Lusink never gives numbers on how the money is spent. If you read Clint Quilter's letter in the October 23 Free Lance, you'll see where that money actually goes.
A large part certainly goes to the road department. However, somebody has to do the work, and as labor is typically the largest cost of major projects, this shouldn't surprise anybody. The rest of the money ends up directly in street repairs or associated items (lighting, signs, and so forth).
Whether we're getting our money's worth is something only you can answer, of course. If you think you are, if you agree that local roads need even more improvement or that Highway 25 needs to be widened, and if you think Measure A worked reasonably well, you should support Measure J.
Remember, your taxes will not go up; they will stay the same because the 1/2 cent from Measure A is going away.
UPDATE: On November 3, 1998, Measure J got over 50% of the vote, but did not get the required 2/3 supermajority.