July 10, 2008

StanCOG keeps road tax moving

With no buffer for dissent, transportation officials Wednesday kept a Stanislaus Countywide road tax chugging toward the November ballot.

With no buffer for dissent, transportation officials Wednesday kept a Stanislaus Countywide road tax chugging toward the November ballot.

Rules required approval from 11 of the 17 members of Stanislaus Council of Governments' policy board, composed of elected officials throughout the county, and only 11 attended Wednesday's meeting.

But no one spoke in opposition during a public hearing, and all 11 said "aye" at the appropriate moment.

Specifically, StanCOG members:

  • Approved an ordinance that would raise sales tax throughout the county by one-half of 1 percent, if two-thirds of voters countywide agree in November.
  • Formalized a request to county supervisors to schedule the vote.
  • Certified an environmental study required by state law for major projects.
  • The environmental impact report predicts that more transportation projects will accommodate more vehicles, causing more air pollution and climate-changing greenhouse gases. Also, improved circulation could "induce future population growth," the study concludes.

    A majority of voters in 2006 agreed with Measure K, a similar transportation measure. But that 58 percent approval fell short of the two-thirds mark.

    This year's measure would raise about $700 million in 20 years, officials say. A spending plan reserves $350 million for local improvements and maintenance, $343 million for three regional east-west corridors in the north, central and south parts of the county and $7 million for administration.

    Brochures outlining what people might expect from the road tax, depending on where they live, should be mailed next week to registered voters. A second wave would go out in a few weeks.

    Representatives from the county and its nine cities endorsed the measure recently, all by unanimous votes.

    "This is really a huge hurdle to get over," said StanCOG director Vince Harris.

    Slowing down growth plan

    Voting "yes" Wednesday were county supervisors Bill O'Brien, Dick Monteith, Jim DeMartini and Jeff Grover; Hughson City Councilman Henry Hesling; and mayors Farrell Jackson of Oakdale, John Fantazia of Newman, Becky Campo of Patterson, Anthony Cannella of Ceres, Chris Crifasi of Riverbank and Jim Ridenour of Modesto.

    Absent were county Supervisor Tom Mayfield, Modesto Council members Janice Keating and Brad Hawn, Turlock Councilman Ted Howze, Waterford Councilman William Broderick and Ken Baxter of the California Department of Transportation, an ex officio member.

    Also Wednesday, StanCOG members voted to slow down and take a good long look at a countywide growth vision now being developed with very little input from regular people, despite a battery of public workshops offered in two languages throughout the county.

    "This is not at all a professional planning process," said Grover, claiming that a small number of people are imposing their will by attending multiple San Joaquin Valley Blueprint meetings sparsely attended by others.

    StanCOG members agreed with Cannella to add another layer of public scrutiny by asking all nine city councils and the Board of Supervisors to sign off on preferred growth scenarios.

    DeMartini said he was suspicious that state officials will somehow use visions developed by the valley's eight counties to steal local control of land-use decisions, despite numerous promises to the contrary. Blueprint and regional cooperation advocates say officials can learn much from each other and can plan more effectively if they know what others are doing.

    "It's a flawed process at best," DeMartini said. "To me, this looks like nothing more than a state takeover of our local planning. They say it's not true but I don't believe it. We've been lied to over and over again."

    Ridenour said state officials have threatened to withhold transportation money from regions that don't engage in the Blueprint process.

    Stanislaus is among the last of the valley's eight counties to finish developing its growth scenario. The eight are expected to be melded into one in January.

    Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at or 578-2390 or gstapley@modbee.com.

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