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Road Again: Environmentalists and Labor Clash Over Transportation Tax Measure

Zach Friend Transportation TaxThere’s an assumption these days in politics that labor and environmentalists have a hard time seeing eye to eye.

Sure enough, a recent meeting for the county’s Regional Transportation Commission broke, more or less, along those lines. The matter this time is a half-cent transportation sales tax measure that the RTC board is leaning toward supporting. Environmental activists, worried about climate change, are taking issue with 25 percent of the proposed money going toward adding merge lanes—also called auxiliary lanes—from off-ramp to on-ramp, stretching from Soquel Avenue to 41st Avenue and back.

After Santa Cruz activists made the case that any improvement would be marginal, the RTC board responded with Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane mentioning that it may not have a huge impact, but it also isn’t a huge chunk of change in transportation dollars. He showed sympathy for the people of Watsonville, many of whom have to commute to Santa Cruz. “Those folks have been waiting, not just in traffic every day, but for our county to do something,” Lane said.

RTC boardmembers, especially those representing South County, said it was time to lend a hand to the predominantly lower-income work force driving northbound every day—and much of the Santa Cruz economy year-round.

District 2 County Supervisor Zach Friend admitted that merge lanes don’t do away with a ton of congestion, and that’s why the RTC tried 11 years ago to build carpool lanes, which reduce traffic and cost more. The board proposed a measure in 2004 that the Campaign for Sensible Transportation lobbied hard against and helped defeat.

With some of those same people in the room for the Dec. 3 meeting, Friend explained that many of his poorest constituents couldn’t make it to the meeting because they were either stuck in traffic or stuck at their jobs, but he insisted they would beg the RTC to “do something. They would say, ‘we didn’t elect you to do nothing.’”

With that, he asked for the activists’ support. “If not, I invite you come down to the South County to sit with people to tell them why we couldn’t get something done,” Friend said.

During a meeting break, Paul Elerick from the Campaign for Sensible Transportation suggested that maybe it would help if more people changed their working hours and reiterated that he didn’t think the lane would make for much change.

“Looking at the EIR [Environmental Impact Report],” he said, “I don’t think it will have the impact people are looking for.”


PICTURED: District 2 County Supervisor Zach Friend

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Jacob, the news editor for Good Times, is an award-winning journalist, whose news interests include housing, water, transportation, and county politics. A onetime connoisseur of dive bars and taquerias, he has evolved into an aspiring health food nut. Favorite yoga pose: shavasana.

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