Sunday, October 31, 2004
Forget the tax: Measure M's a BOND measure
Measure M was drafted to implement a two-part plan. The first part is a "TRANSPORTATION VISION"--essentially a wish list of proposed Countywide transportation improvements, beginning with the continued widening of Highway 101. The second part is a scheme to fund those proposed improvements.
John McHugh, chair of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce Transportation Sub-Committee, summed it all up in a letter in today's Press Democrat (10/31, "Get moving"). He wrote,
"Both the state and the federal governments seem to have turned their backs on transportation funding. That's why 'self-help' is so important. The Measure M expenditure plan authorizes the Sonoma County Transportation Authority to issue bonds to fund projects in the plan. That's how we are going to leverage our local tax dollars."
There's been a lot of loose talk about "leveraging" the proceeds of a sales tax surcharge, and both the County Counsel and County Auditor have contributed some. County Counsel Steven Woodside's "IMPARTIAL ANALYSIS OF MEASURE M" in the Voter's Pamphlet includes that,
"The revenue raised from the tax would be committed to funding the following improvements and goals: ...
3) Use local revenue to become a 'self-help' county and leverage state and federal funding for transportation needs."
His uncritical analysis doesn't say whether that goal is reasonable, or whether it is attainable at all.
County Auditor Rod Dole's "FISCAL IMPACT STATEMENT" repeats the same list and comments,
"The total transportation improvement expenditures would equal the estimated revenue above ["approximately $17 million to $30 million"]. However, the transportation improvement expenditures could be in excess of the estimated revenues because the Sonoma County Transportation Authority's able to use this local revenue to obtain additional state and federal funding."
And the "ARGUMENT IN FAVOR OF MEASURE M" promises to double the tax money:
"M = matching funds: Measure M willl double our money with matching funds from the state and federal governments. That's our money! And Measure M gets us our share!"
But the "REBUTTAL" to that argument is far more honest and realistic:
"We consider this to be a lie intended to deceive the voting public. If measure M would generate $470 million over twenty years, we know of no law that would require either the state or federal government to provide Sonoma County with an extra $470 million to match it. Proponents themselves tell us that any proposition M money that would be used for local road maintenance would not be matched by the state since the state does not match local road maintenance expenditures."
The little letter from McHugh of the Chamber is far more honest than the glowing promises in the VOTER'S PAMPHLET. He says that if passed, the Sonoma County Transportation Authority would "leverage" the new 1/4-cent sales tax surcharge by selling bonds.
The tax surcharge is estimated to raise $470 million (in 2004 dollars) over the 20-year life of the tax. The plan calls for spending an estimated $465 million: 40% on Highway 101, 40% on local streets and roads, and 19% on transit, rail, and bikes. The other 1% (rounded up to $5 million) would go for administration, management, and audits.
The estimated total $470 million averages $23.5 million a year. Auditor Dole says he estimates the actual annual amount might be "$17 million to $30 million". Section 14 of Measure M ("ESTABLISHMENT OF APPROPRIATIONS LIMIT") sets the SCTA appropriations limit for fiscal year 2004/05 at $30 million, subject to amendment.
If Measure M passes, Section 16 authorizes the SCTA to sell "from time to time" up to $470 million worth of bonds, to finance "any program or project in the Plan". Measure M is a BOND plan, to pay for the SCTA's Countywide wish list.
And that's all there is to that.
Saturday, October 30, 2004
Santa Rosa belongs to SCA
"What does the Sonoma County Alliance PAC have in common with the Press Democrat, the Santa Rosa Police Officers and Firefighters Associations?"
And it answers on the other side,
"We all support these four candidates for Santa Rosa City Council!"
Below are pictures of campaign signs for Jane Bender, Mike Martini, Lee Pierce, and John Sawyer .
I don't know how much the mailer cost, or how the four Council candidates reported SCAPAC's contribution. But the mailer posed a very pertinent question.
So what does SCAPAC have in common with the PD, the Santa Rosa Police Officers Association, and the Santa Rosa Firefighters? And what do they have in common with the four Council candidates listed, including the two incumbent Councilmembers?
The short answer is that almost all of them belong to the Sonoma County Alliance.
The Press Democrat is not an SCA member, nor is Council candidate John Sawyer. Councilmember Jane Bender was listed as a member this April, but no longer is listed. But Martini, Pierce, and both the SR Police and Firefighters associations, are all current SCA members.
The Sonoma County Alliance is the principal countywide lobby for growth and development. It's a sort of Sonoma County Chamber of Commerce--the Santa Rosa Chamber itself is just one of its members. Its leading members are developers and business leaders who stand to make money from continuous growth and development in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County.
The SCA was almost a secret society until this April. If you wanted to know about it, you pretty much had to be a member, or know one well enough to borrow its Membership Directory. But in April it completed a website that had been "Under Construction" indefinitely. Jim Chabaan, PG&E's governmental and PR coordinator for the North Coast, is the current SCA President; and the site is "sponsored by a generous donation from PG&E".
Go here to learn more about the SCA and its members: http://www.sonomacountyalliance.com/default.asp . You can learn about the SCA's Leadership, and search the Membership by Business Type, Company Name, or Last Name.
One Business Type is Elected Official. Listed officials who belong to the SCA are Sonoma County Supervisors Valerie Brown, Paul Kelley, and Tim Smith; Sheriff Bill Cogbill; Santa Rosa Councilmember Bob Blanchard; SR School Board member Wally Lowry; and Healdsburg Councilmember Lisa Schaffner.
But that list is not complete. Three other SR Councilmembers belong to the SCA along with Blanchard. Mayor Sharon Wright is listed as both a Developer and an Individual member, employed by Aegis Senior Living. Janet Condron is an Individual member. Mike Martini is listed under Taft Street Winery, his private business in Sebastopol.
City staff members also belong to the SCA. Listed under Association are Eric Goldschag and the Santa Rosa Police Officers Association. So are Mike Jones and the Santa Rosa Firefighters. And so are Tony Alvernaz and the Santa Rosa City Employees Association. In fact, Goldschag, Jones, and Alvernaz are all on the SCA Board of Directors; and Goldschag and Alvernaz are on the Board's Executive Committee!
It's no surprise that a majority of the City Council, and the City's Police, Fire, and Employees Associations, belong to the Sonoma County Alliance. Current Mayor Sharon Wright, retiring from the Council in December after 12 years, was the SCA's paid Executive Director from the late '80s until 2001. The SCA hired Mike Martini as Executive Director about a year later--when he was Mayor--and he worked for them until this summer.
It looks like the City of Santa Rosa belongs to the Sonoma County Alliance--and SCAPAC is paying to keep it that way.
Friday, October 29, 2004
No tax, no train--Vote "NO" on M!
"There are now many acres of empty land near the rail stations in Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and other cities. Only after passenger rail service is assured will it be attractive for builders to invest in the major developments near rail stations that are necessary for passenger rail to be successful."
Richards says major developments near rail stations are necessary for the success of passenger rail service; but builders will not invest in such developments until rail service is assured. It's kind of the opposite of "If you build it, they will come." From the developers' point of view, it's more like, "If they come, we will build it."
Yet the old NWP Railroad has been gone for years, and the developers continued to build Santa Rosa without it. There's a paved street in front of every home in Santa Rosa, and most of those homes aren't close to the old railroad tracks. Those neighborhood streets feed into collector streets, collectors feed into arterials, and arterials feed the Highway 101 freeway.
The developers and their friends at City Hall didn't worry about overbuilding the existing transportation network, as Santa Rosa tripled in population-- from 50,000 to over 150,000 since 1970. And since Measure A in 1990, they've tried repeatedly to get us to tax ourselves to widen the 101 freeway from Marin County to Windsor. Measure M is just their latest attempt to trick us into paying for the obvious impacts of continuous growth.
Commuter rail advocates have compromised with the development and business interests for years. They've forgotten that the fundamental problem was and is unmitigated GROWTH, for private profit. It's just silly to argue that Santa Rosa can be rebuilt so that we live close to the tracks, and can commute to work on a train that doesn't exist.
If Measure M passes, 80% of an estimated $470 million will be spent on widening Highway 101, and other road and street projects. But some of the 19% for transit will go to keep SMART and commuter rail planning alive.
George Ellman (Sonoma County Transportation and Land Use Coalition) and Ken Wells (Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition) wrote in the PD 10/18 ("Pass Measure M"),
"Without Measure M there will be no funding to continue the planning and environmental engineering of the existing rail line, and the rail project will run out of steam in 2005. Measure M will ensure the SMART passenger rail project stays on the track."
And from the opposite side, Fred Levin (Sonoma County Taxpayers Association) wrote 10/25 ("Why Measure M lacks credibility"),
"Measure M is a ruse. The proponents will tell you that only a mere 5 percent of the proposed sales tax revenue, some $23 million, will go to the SMART district. The actual reason for this measure is to keep the multimillion dollar a year commuter rail going for two more years until it can ask you to pay an additional quarter-cent sales tax to fund the operations of the train to nowhere."
The simple issue is whether it makes sense to spend millions more on a potential rail line that few care about now, and few are likely to use if it's ever built. The greater issue is whether rail advocates should spend their time and our money to accomodate continuous growth, instead of fighting to limit it.
I'm voting "NO" on Measure M, just as I have on all the pro-growth measures since 1990.
Sunday, October 24, 2004
PD reports County is pumping wastewater to The Geysers
"A magnitude-3.4 earthquake rumbled through The Geysers area Saturday, the second day of significant seismic activity in the area this week. The quake, reported at 7:47 p.m., was centered about three miles west of Anderson Springs and 20 miles north of Santa Rosa. A magnitude-3.1 quake was recorded in the same vicinity at 3:14 p.m. Thursday. No damage or injuries were reported. Nine smaller quakes, ranging from 1.4 to 2.5 in magnitude, were recorded in between, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Residents in the small Lake County community of Anderson Springs have complained about increased seismic activity for several years, saying it coincided with the start of a program to recharge steam fields at The Geysers with wastewater from Lake County. Sonoma County recently started pumping some wastewater to the steam fields too. [emphasis added] Anderson Springs residents said Saturday they are scheduled to meet next month with representatives of Calpine, the San Jose-based power company that generates electricity at The Geysers."
No kidding, folks. The PD has discovered that "Sonoma County recently started pumping some wastewater to the steam fields too."
More accurately, the City of Santa Rosa last year began pumping millions of gallons of its near-drinkable treated sewage almost to Lake County, to pour it into Calpine's steamfields at The Geysers. And of course, the PD has been reporting on the progress of The Geysers Recharge Project for many years.
What makes this item so ingenuous is that the PD also publishes the "Seismo-Watch" box every Saturday (www.seismo-watch.com). For example, Seismo-Watch reported 5/29/04,
"Activity at The Geysers geothermal area continued on its 'seismic rampage,' producing its sixth straight week at the century level. Activity this high has never occurred before and follows the controversial Santa Rosa wastewater injection procedure, which began late last year."
And by 7/24, Seismo-Watch was reporting:
"It was another robust week at The Geysers, as the number of man-made seismic events reached the 100 quake-per-week mark for the 13th time in 14 weeks." [emphasis added]
We can probably count on the PD to report allegations of increased seismic activity, when property owners near The Geysers ultimately file a huge lawsuit against the City of Santa Rosa.
Saturday, October 09, 2004
Martini leaving Sonoma County Alliance?
Bob Norberg's story said,
"The proposed site is a 28-acre eastside parcel now surrounded on three sides by residential development and destined for housing in 20 to 25 years, according to city officials. The land has 10 acres of 100-year-old zinfandel vines and another five acres of vines that are 30 years old. Taft Street already buys the grapes from the vineyards for its wines.
The land is owned by Santa Rosa developer Joe Keith of Cobblestone Homes. The winery project will be a joint venture between Cobblestone and Taft Street. ... As part of the proposal, a new Taft Street Winery LLC will be formed and Cobblestone will have an ownership interest, Martini said."
The story wasn't a scoop for the PD. The North Bay Business Journal ran the story 7/26, and I commented following that story below.
Norberg's scoop was about Martini's other private employment--as Executive Director of the Sonoma County Alliance--and he buried that at the end of the story. So far, PD City Hall reporter Mike McCoy hasn't picked it up.
"Martini, a Santa Rosa city councilman and former mayor, said he is stepping down as executive director of the Sonoma County Alliance, a business educational forum, to work full time as Taft Street's chief operating officer."
The SCA hired Martini two years ago, when he was Mayor of Santa Rosa. The PD reported 7/23/02,
"Until last year, Santa Rosa Councilwoman Sharon Wright was executive director of the alliance for 12 years, including three years when she was mayor. There was no conflict deemed then, Wright said.
She said it must be clear that 'they have hired an individual with skills in management. They haven't hired a mayor or councilman.' ''
"The alliance, a powerful countywide coalition of business, labor and agricultural groups, has a political aim to help craft public policy on local issues, including transportation and housing. 'We got an individual with great connections,' said alliance president Greg Hurd. 'Having someone like Mike, with his background and experience and public policy arena, it's nothing but pros for the alliance.' "
The story said,
"Hurd said some members were concerned that Martini might not be able to represent both the city and a countywide political action group. Some issues may require Martini to step away from the alliance to be able to act freely as a mayor ... Alliance leaders are checking with city attorneys and state election officials to ensure Martini's jobs can mix. 'We recognized that perceptions were going to come across, like "the good old boys hired Mike" ' Hurd said."
A PD editorial commented 7/24/02 ("Martini's hats"),
"Anyone worried that people are losing faith in government might contemplate the news in Santa Rosa: Mayor Mike Martini is going to work for a countywide political coalition of business, labor and farm groups. He will be mayor of the city and the executive director of the Sonoma County Alliance.
Considered from a distance, there is a certain surreal quality to this arrangement, as if the same person can serve as referee and quarterback in the same football game.
Mayor Martini: So what is the view of the Sonoma County Alliance on this issue?
Executive Director Martini: I'm glad you asked... "
"Whether he is speaking to voters or to the county Board of Supervisors, people will know that Martini wears two hats, and they will wonder which is having the greater influence this day. City Attorney Brian Farrell will need to identify the parameters of potential legal conflicts -- so that the city doesn't blunder into embarrassing and costly lawsuits.
Legal conflicts or not, Martini's new job sends the wrong signals about government independence."
Wright had been an outspoken advocate for growth and development, as both SCA Executive Director since 1986, and Councilmember/Mayor since 1992. But the City Attorney told the State Fair Political Practices Commission on Martini's behalf that the SCA would pay him $70,000 a year to be no more than an administrator--not a policy maker or lobbyist.
It's reasonable to wonder why Martini--then CFO at Taft Street--took a second job with the SCA in the first place, as well as why he's leaving now. It may be pertinent that Martini boldly ran for Congress against Lynn Woolsey in the March 2002 primary, and was crushingly defeated--reportedly, about the time he and the SCA were talking about the job.
We can speculate that the SCA directors paid Martini $140,000 for his two years as Executive Director, not only for his administrative expertise--but perhaps, in return for his quixotic run against Woolsey, and whatever influence he could bring to bear without being openly in conflict of interest.