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Decision Monday on adding $10 car fee to November ballot

A pothole on Joy Road. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat)

Sonoma County transportation planners will consider adding money for potholes in discussions of putting a vehicle registration fee increase on the November ballot.

“In every poll we have ever done, potholes and road repair do well; people are interested in having roads repaired and are willing to pay for it,” said Suzanne Smith, executive director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority. “Adding local roads into a ballot measure will generally help it.”

The authority is meeting Monday to make a decision on whether to put a proposal to increase vehicle registration fees by $10 on the November ballot and how to allocate the money.

The fee increase, which the eight other Bay Area counties have in place or plan to put on the ballot, would raise $105 million in Sonoma County over five years.

Additionally, California voters in November will be asked to increase vehicle registration fees by $18 to fund state parks, which may make it more difficult for local jurisdictions to get their fee proposals passed.

Initially, the authority considered allocating the money to bus transit operations, bicycle and pedestrian paths and the Safe Routes to Schools program.

A poll conducted in May by the Service Employees International Union, however, indicates the chance of getting a measure passed improves if road maintenance is added to the funding formula.

“Sonoma County roads are considered to be the worst in the Bay Area,” said Jake Mackenzie, a Rohnert Park councilman and transportation authority chairman. “From that point of view, there is probably a number of people who feel any money we can get our hands on we would like to see some of it go to help fixing the condition of the roads.”

Valerie Brown, chairwoman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and vice chairwoman of the transportation authority, supports a fee increase for transit and bicycle and pedestrian paths, despite the poll.

“I believe we would get it passed. I think it is heavy lifting. I think we would have to do a lot of information and awareness that would be costly,” Brown said.

The transportation authority officials said it did not ask the union to conduct the poll.

“It did surprise me,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who is a director on the authority board. “They came to me with the results and shared it with me, they said they wanted the measure passed and I want to see it passed, too. I was very appreciative.”

The union has an interest in getting a measure passed since it represents drivers for Sonoma County Transit and Santa Road CityBus, two of the agencies that would receive funds. Petaluma and Healdsburg drivers are members of other unions.

Transit officials have said the funds could restore some of the bus services that have been cut as the result of the state’s budget crisis.

According to the poll of 400 likely Sonoma County voters, conducted by an Oakland consultant, 46 percent said they would likely support the measure if the money went to public transportation and bicycle and pedestrian paths.

The support grows to 55 percent when road paving and fixing potholes is included, according to the poll.

“It indicated 55 percent, and that’s enough,” Smith said. A simple majority vote is required for passage.

“It is not an easy time to ask people to consider paying more for services, but local government is the only reliable place to get things done and we may need local revenues to do it,” she said.

There will be two options presented to the board, Smith said. One would allocate 68 percent of the fee increase to public transportation, including funds for Sonoma County Transit, Santa Rosa CityBus, Petaluma Transit and Healdsburg Transit. There also is 15 percent for Safe Routes to Schools, 12 percent to bicycle and pedestrian safety projects and 5 percent for administration.

A second option would allocate 60 percent to public transportation, 23 percent to street maintenance and pothole repair, 12 percent to Safe Routes to Schools and 5 percent to administration. This option eliminates funding for bicycle and pedestrian safety projects

The authority is meeting at 2:30 p.m. Monday at the county’s Permit & Management Resource Department at the county administration center.

7 Responses to “Decision Monday on adding $10 car fee to November ballot”

  1. Noah says:

    To Steele:
    Where are you getting your statistics? A bus with a passenger seating limit of 47. at 3.7% capacity, would be carrying an average of 1.74 people. Have you looked at the buses lately? They’re stuffed a lot of the time. I do not see any buses with 2 or fewer people in them. I should know. I drive them.

    Bus transit is important for people who can’t drive cars. Without buses, who takes grandma to the doctor? You gonna take the day off from work to do it? Who gets kids to school? What about people with disabilities who can’t drive, or seniors? What about people who want to do something good for the environment and choose to ride the bus? What about wives, or husbands, who ride because they cannot afford two cars and work schedules don’t mesh? What about people who have lost their cars due to unemployment, who are going to job interviews? And yes, what about people who got DUI’s, who cannot drive, and shouldn’t?

    These are all people who are on the buses. Buses are not big, empty tin cans. They have people in them. More than 1.74 of them.

    I question your statistics, and your point of view.

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  2. Steele says:

    Sonoma County has an average daily passenger load of 3.7% of capacity on its buses.
    That means on average 96.3% of the seats on the buses are empty.

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  3. Jim Stewart says:

    The stupidity continues. The government has more off of gasoline sales that the oil companies with heavy taxes on fuel. The money was supposed to be for road and highway maintenance. Oops, they dipped too far into it for pork projects so now they need more money. So many are lining up to give them a new tax. It will pass because the majority is ignorant.

    A bill to allow gax tax road money to only be spent on roads and we would have the best in the nation, large bike laes everywhere and pothole free roads. That won’t happen either for the same reason.

    Tax, Tax, Tax….

    Are they managing the money they get now very well? There’s your answer.

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  4. Bike Supporter says:

    I would only support this fee increase if a portion of it is guaranteed to provide more bike lanes to keep us cyclists safe from cars. It feels like this proposal is simply a supplement to the general fund.

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  5. John says:

    Holding these meetings at 2:30pm on a workday certainly denies public participation by many citizens.

    We don’t need another tax. Unfortunately, Valerie Brown and her union buddies don’t get it.

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  6. Voice of reason says:

    I would only support another $10 fee if all the money went to bus service. Dividing it up would greatly increase the cost of administration, and reduce benefits. Many more people would ride the bus if there were more buses, with better and more frequent routes. That’s the best way to cut down on auto travel. Safe Routes to School is mostly an educational program and should be administered by the school district. Bike routes are frequently included in grants and other transportation funding. There’s already plenty of money for bicycle transit now. Not everyone is capable of riding a bike and most people can’t go very far on one. A good bus system would be available to everyone, even bicyclists. I feel the proposal is too heavily favoring special interests, since the bicycle funding would go to the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition (SCBC) that provides the Safe Routes to School Program. The SCBC is also a political, lobbying, progressive democrat organization. License fees should not be supporting any partisan political groups such a the SCBC. Let’s keep it simple and fair. $10 for buses.

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  7. L Cramer says:

    Goodness knows, our roads are in dire need of repair. But, really, just how far will a $10 car tax go? Not far if you divide up the money too many times, which the board seems poised to do.

    Never mind that the puny amount raised for road repairs is a joke relative to need, a flat tax for this purpose is a bad idea. It’s wrong in principle. Taxing someone who drives 3,000 miles per year the same as a 30,000 mile driver just isn’t fair, even if the amount is small.

    The absence of leadership here is palpable. This is nickle and dime government at its best, I guess.

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