Stanislaus road tax proponents learned from mistakes

Voters throughout Stanislaus County are receiving colorful mailers with information on an upcoming road tax measure.

Ten versions of the brochure -- one for each of the county's nine cities plus another for unincorporated areas -- say $700 million in proceeds would "make getting around in Stanislaus County safer and easier."

The Better Roads-Safer Streets Program should receive an official letter name soon, assuming county supervisors vote today as expected to put the half-cent sales tax increase on the November ballot.

A similar effort called Measure K won 57 percent of the vote in 2006 but failed to capture the required two-thirds majority. Critics had assailed a brochure produced by an out-of-town consulting firm, showing a photograph of a fatal auto accident that wasn't caused by road problems, which upset survivors.

This time, leaders hired Martino Graphic Design, a Modesto company. Co-owner Marian Martino said the new brochure's six pictures are widely available "stock photos," the photographic equivalent to clip art, chosen quickly to meet a tight time frame.

The closest to a negative image is an ugly pothole. Others include a smiling child learning to ride a bicycle and a generic fire engine.

A second wave of mailers to go out in a couple of weeks "with a different visual appeal" will feature photos of some area streets, Martino said.

Local subcontractors include Jeff Broome Photography, Gowans Printing and Pathways. Former reporter Steve Elliott, who left The Bee in 2002, wrote the brochure's messages, "crafted in a way that wasn't boring governmentspeak," Martino said.

The 10 brochures' first three pages are identical, with the last page tailored to specific areas. Riverbank brochures, for example, list projects that leaders there hope to accomplish with tax proceeds, while Modesto brochures are specific to Modesto.

All versions list answers to four questions: "What will it take to get better roads and safer streets in Stanislaus County?" "Can raising local funds really help us get new state and federal money?" "Where does the money go?" and "How do we know they'll really spend the money this way?"

The questions also are printed in Spanish; readers are directed to www.stancog.org for Spanish translations of answers.

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

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