Even as mail-in ballots went out on Monday, a group gathered on the Santa Barbara Courthouse steps to oppose one of the measures listed on those same ballots that will ask voters to approve keeping county roads and other facilities at status quo or in better condition.
Opponents organized two news conferences Monday to speak out — one event in the North County and one in the South County — and urged voters to say no to Measure M, a ballot measure authored by Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam.
Adam is the newest member of the board, and Measure M has become his signature issue this election year. It aims to force the hand of the county to do something about rising costs that have resulted from delaying maintenance of county infrastructure.
On Monday, however, four other supervisors, including Adam's North County neighbor, Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, spoke out against Measure M.
"There's no way to be able to cut $30 million to $40 million in discretionary funds without going after significant cuts in public safety," he said. "I would challenge the proponents to lay out the cuts and let people decide what their priorities are."
Right now, people are just being asked to preserve roads in safe condition, he said, and not being told about the impacts to other areas.
The board has tackled some huge issues in the past four years, he said, naming pension reform, funding for the North County jail as well as working to close a massive budget deficit.
"Our road maintenance is looking for the same thing — a long-term, phased-in approach that will fix the problem without devastating our services," Lavagnino said.
First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, who has been against the measure since the beginning, called it an "unfunded mandate" and said it would force the county to spend up to $44 million "we currently do not have."
"I've not heard any financial plan that would pay for that unfunded mandate," Carbajal said.
Sheriff Bill Brown also spoke, calling the measure "well-intended but misguided."
Brown said the number has been changing for what it would actually costs to keep facilities as they are or better.
"First, it was $20 million; now it's $40 million or higher. We don't even know what the number is," he said, adding that there's no way cuts like that could be made without affecting all departments, including public safety.
The measure was an example of "ballot box budgeting," Brown said, and if passed it "would cripple" the county's ability to provide services as it has in the past.
District Attorney Joyce Dudley also spoke against the measure, as well as The Fund for Santa Barbara Executive Director Geoff Green, who said the measure would be devastating to many programs beyond public safety.
Noozhawk reached Adam for comment on Monday afternoon. He said spreading the cost over time for maintenance would only increase the cost while pushing it down the road.
"They don't have any plan," Adam said of his opponents. "Spreading the cost over time is not doing anything of the sort. It equals increasing your deferred maintenance."
Adam said the county's jail has been a victim of deferred maintenance itself, with its deterioration one of the factors that led to the decision to build a new one.
"The American people are not in the habit of making today better by making tomorrow worse," he said, "and that's exactly what we're doing."