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Panel Backs Transit Levy

The Ventura County Transportation Commission votes 5 to 1 to send a half-cent sales tax, proposed for the fall ballot, to supervisors.

June 05, 2004|Lynne Barnes | Times Staff Writer

The Ventura County Transportation Commission voted Friday to recommend that a proposal for a half-cent sales tax be put on the November ballot.

The commission voted 5 to 1, with Linda Parks dissenting, to send the proposal to the county Board of Supervisors, who must decide by July 2 whether to add the initiative to the Nov. 2 ballot.

If approved by voters, the tax would raise about $1.5 billion over 30 years for local roads, highway projects and transportation services. The tax would add a half cent to the county's current 7 1/4% sales tax.

It would be the second countywide sales tax measure on the ballot. Supervisors voted May 4 to put a 10-year, quarter-cent tax before voters, with the money earmarked for acquisition and preservation of open space.

Parks and Board of Supervisors Chairman Steve Bennett are among that initiative's backers. Bennett, who also heads the Transportation Commission, was absent Friday.

The vote to pass the tax initiative on to the Board of Supervisors came quickly after the item was called. Then commissioners began discussing their votes.

Parks, whose supervisorial district includes Thousand Oaks, called the measure growth-inducing and excessive, saying that $1.5 billion was too much to spend on transportation and highway projects.

Referring to the current freeze in state spending on new road projects, she said, "I think it's a temporary budget crisis we're in

She also decried the lack of public transportation funding. The sales tax money is to be split, with 40% used for highways, 40% for local needs and 20% for public transportation.

A light-rail project, she said, would get the county "beyond the vision we seem to be stuck in; that is, continuing the car culture."

Keith Millhouse, a Moorpark city councilman, took issue with Parks' remarks.

"If you're going to talk about mass transit, talk about coming up with a funding mechanism for it," he said, suggesting that the money made from the tax could free up other money for public transit.

He also took a swipe at Parks' comments on the state budget.

"You may want the people of Thousand Oaks to sit in gridlock until this temporary crisis passes," Millhouse said. "But I'm not sure it is temporary."

Bill Davis, an alternate commissioner and a Simi Valley city councilman, took issue with the idea that additional road projects necessarily spur growth.

"If you look at the birth rate, it's greater than the death rate," he said. "So if you don't widen another street, there's growth."

Davis also alluded to traffic congestion.

"I'd rather see [commuters] moving on through my city than sitting there idling," he said.

Commissioner Dean Maulhardt, an Oxnard city councilman, said his city supported having voters make the decision, and pointed out that it would take a two-thirds vote to pass.

"It's the ... democratic system," Maulhardt said. "I would appreciate the Board of Supervisors not putting politics into it."

Kerry Forsythe, deputy director of the Transportation Commission, said he expected the supervisors to consider the initiative June 15.

Earlier in the meeting, the board voted unanimously to pass the Transportation Commission's 2004-05 budget of $29.5 million and voted 4 to 2 to give staff members a 2.5% cost-of-living raise.

Parks and Commissioner Jay Scott, who represents the unincorporated portions of the county, voted against the pay increase.

"The county of Ventura, even the city of Thousand Oaks, has chosen not to give cost-of-living adjustments," Parks said after the meeting. "Now is a bad time to be giving more money when people are getting laid off."

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