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Car-Pool Alternative: Clunker-Car Buyouts


Small businesses across Ventura County will soon be able to avoid tough anti-pollution rules that require their employees to car-pool, by instead helping the county get smog-belching clunkers off the road.

The Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 1 Tuesday to allow medium-sized companies--those with 50 to 99 workers--to contribute $17 to $50 per employee to a county fund to purchase old exhaust-spewing cars from their owners and retire them to the junkyard.

County officials estimate this alternative approach could be far cheaper for some companies than the sometimes costly and time-consuming effort to persuade employees to share rides or use other means to avoid driving to work alone.

Businesses will continue to have the option to reduce the number of solo drivers pulling into the company parking lot. County officials estimate it can cost a business as much as $310 a year for each employee to come up with a car-pooling strategy, or package of incentives to get employees to form their own car-pools, take the bus, ride a bike or walk to work.

The supervisors' decision to set up a clunker-car buyout fund was immediately both praised and criticized by business representatives. Some business leaders were thankful that the board offered the alternative; others criticized the supervisors for levying another fee.

"We have another nail in the coffin of Ventura County's economic life," said Mike Fergus, a member of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business.

"I'm for throwing the whole bloody thing out," said Frank Morin, also a coalition member.

But H. Jere Robings, executive director of the Ventura County Alliance of Taxpayers, said the change was a "step in the right direction."

"I think it was appropriate that they took action to ease the burden on small business," Robings said. "It made no sense to impose those strict county standards."

The ride-sharing regulation, called Rule 210, was adopted by the supervisors in response to state and federal mandates to clean up the county's air. Under the program, companies with 50 or more employees must devise plans to reach a car-pooling goal of at least five employees for ever four cars arriving at work in the morning. By 1998, the standard will be raised to three people for every two cars.

Supervisor John K. Flynn, the lone dissenter in Tuesday's vote, said he would prefer that the county exempt small businesses from the rule without charging them anything in return.

He called the move to implement the fee to remove the junk cars an "anti-jobs option."

"This is a negative approach," Flynn said.

But Supervisors Maggie Kildee, Susan K. Lacey and Maria VanderKolk said the clunker-car fund is the county's best option for reducing smog and easing the financial burden on the smaller businesses. Companies with 100 employees or more must still come up with car-pooling plans.

The supervisors asked the county air pollution control officials to return to the board in June with details on how the plan will be implemented.

After the clunker-car fund is established, county officials expect the owners of about 7,500 cars built before 1972 will be offered an average of $1,100 to sell their vehicles, officials said.

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