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Santa Barbara Council Mandates Ethics, Code of Conduct Training for Advisory Boards

City Council hears from MTD on the need to raise fees to keep up with demands

Santa Barbara officials have decided to require ethics and code of conduct training for all advisory groups, not just the City Council and Planning Commission, which are the only ones required by law since those members are compensated for their time.

Council members requested the change after the controversy last August and September, when several Architectural Board of Review members chose to abstain from a vote on Chick-fil-A’s patio and landscape plan slated for 3707 State St. due to personal and political views. The abstention caused controversy, and some council members even called for ABR members to resign.

The council let members keep their seats, but mandated that city boards and staff liaisons go through an extensive ethics training and that board/commission members sign an agreement to separate personal/political views from board decisions.

The training focused on conflict of interest, code of conduct, the Brown Act and ethics, according to Assistant City Administrator Paul Casey.

The new code of conduct, City Attorney Steve Wiley said, recommends that abstaining should be an exception — not a rule — for board and commission members.

“We think that makes for a better, more open process; a more balanced process,” he said.

If members want to abstain because they don’t believe they have enough background information, they can access prior meeting videos and even meet with staff to get documents and plans, he said.

City staff thought the next point would be fairly obvious: “We think it’s assumed that you would not let, as a board or commission member, any personal/political views interfere with your decisions or your deliberations,” he said.

The code of conduct is now very clear: Every advisory member must understand that decisions should be made in accordance with community and city concerns, not personal opinions.

. . .

In a presentation to the council at Tuesday’s meeting, Metropolitan Transit District General Manager Sherrie Fisher said the organization is seeing high ridership but will need to raise its fees to keep up with service demands.

Fisher didn’t specify how big of a fee increase she would be seeking in the future, but she talked about MTD’s high number of passengers and the challenge of keeping up with the demand for service.

She reported that MTD had 7.9 million passenger trips in fiscal year 2012, which is high ridership, but had 13,307 instances of buses leaving passengers behind because they were too full to board.

Ridership from last year is down 1.2 percent in passenger trips, due to cuts in service, she said. The passengers-per-bus-per-hour number is still high, but total ridership is down.

While the whole system has an average ridership of 39 people per bus per hour, the lines serving local college and university students are typically the most crowded.

UC Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara City College have agreements with MTD in which students pay fees as part of their registration and can ride the buses as much as they want.

UCSB accounted for 885,600 rides of the 7.9 million, and SBCC accounted for 1.2 million, with many of them from Isla Vista to campus. MTD is already discussing raising fees with both institutions since so many rides are being taken, Fisher said. The high ridership is “totally amazing,” but MTD isn’t being reimbursed enough to keep up with or expand service, she said.

“It’s not because they’re doing anything wrong, it’s because they’re doing things so right,” Fisher said, adding that since students ride the bus so frequently, it’s driving down the return-per-ride that MTD receives.

MTD receives some addition money from the Federal Transit Administration for its good record of per-capita ridership. Santa Barbara is ranked second of 32 small cities (50,000 to 200,000 population) in California behind Davis in average transit trips per capita, Fisher said.

MTD is still planning to buy three 60-foot articulated — or “bendy” — buses to accommodate SBCC students since they can fit 100 passengers and easily navigate the freeway routes.

. . .

The council also approved some changes to the budget after a midyear report from Finance Director Bob Samario.

Revenues in the general fund are doing well so far, he said, adding that most of the recommended adjustments were “technical cleanups to the budget.”

The Fire Department already has accumulated $450,000 in overtime and mutual aid costs, but it’s actually a good thing since the city gets reimbursed and profits from mutual aid to other jurisdictions, Samario said.

Most departments are expected to come in under budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

. . .

The council approved an additional $95,000 to cover costs associated with dissolving the Redevelopment Agency and operating the successor agency, and $65,000 in repairs to an airport rescue vehicle.

Finance committee chair and City Councilman Dale Francisco said the adjustments were all “quite routine” and recommended that they be approved by the full council, which they were.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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