Overwhelming approval of transportation tax Measure A by Santa Barbara County voters included unprecedented support in the North County, where similar measures had met with strong resistance in past elections.
A breakdown of election returns shows that voter approval north of the Santa Ynez Mountains was about 75 percent, well above the two-thirds threshold required for Measure A’s passage.
The measure, which received 79 percent approval countywide in the Nov. 4 election, will extend for 30 more years a half-percent local sales tax for road and transit projects that was first approved for 20 years as Measure D in 1989.
Back then, the majority of North County voters rejected the tax, as they did when a proposal to raise Measure D to three-fourths of a cent per sales dollar failed in November 2006.
Only 42 percent of North County voters — and about 54 percent countywide — favored the 2006 measure, which needed 66.7 percent approval. It drew strong, vocal opposition from groups such as the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association.
This time, “there was essentially no opposition to Measure A,” said Jim Kemp, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG), which administers state and federal transportation dollars throughout the county.
Instead, groups such as the Taxpayers Association; the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business (COLAB); and others advocated for passage of Measure A, which “was huge,” Kemp told the SBCAG board Thursday at a meeting in Santa Maria.
The community consensus for Measure A “was a big part of why this measure was successful,” he said.
It received more than two-thirds approval in every city and community throughout the county, ranging from 92 percent in Isla Vista and UCSB to about 68 percent in Cuyama. It got about 79 percent approval in Santa Maria, nearly 75 percent in Lompoc and 72 percent in the Santa Ynez Valley.
“This vote is a truly historic one for our county,” Kemp said. “To my knowledge there has never been a county tax measure passed by this large a margin.”
Measure A will raise an estimated $1 billion over 30 years for a wide range of road improvements, transit programs and other projects. Of the total, $140 million is earmarked for widening Highway 101 to three lanes in each direction between Carpinteria and Santa Barbara.
The remaining $860 million will be evenly split between projects and programs in the North County and on the South Coast.
“This obviously is a big victory both for the (SBCAG) board and the citizens of the county,” Kemp remarked.
So much so that one board member, county Supervisor Joe Centeno of Santa Maria, suggested running newspaper ads with “a big thank-you letter to the voters of Santa Barbara County, saying we truly appreciate the overwhelming support this measure received.”
County Supervisor Joni Gray of Orcutt, impressed by the broad support from factions of the community that are usually at odds, wished “we could just somehow capture the spirit of Measure A” when dealing with other major issues. “This is the first time I’ve seen this kind of (unified) effort,” she said.
Countywide, the number of “yes” votes cast for Measure A was nearly double those for Measure D in 2006. That was partly due to a record-high turnout for the 2008 election, however.
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