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Local News

Measure A Project Funding Tops Goleta Council Agenda

City leaders also take up re-abandonment of oil and water wells, and campaign-finance reporting

Oil-well re-abandonment, Measure A expenditures and campaign-finance reporting were among Tuesday’s topics of discussion for the Goleta City Council.

In the interest of moving forward, the council voted unanimously to approve the city’s five-year program of local projects for Measure A; however, the new transportation sales tax’s Maintenance of Effort requirement may have Goleta — and other cities — going to the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments for amendments to the ordinance that put Measure A into play.

The new Maintenance of Effort requirement that is part of Measure A is an effort to maintain the amount of discretionary funds that local agencies historically have spent on local transportation projects, to prevent local jurisdictions from reducing what they would normally spend on transportation after the initiation of the new transportation sales tax, and to keep Measure A supplemental. The requirement is one of the things that makes the current half-cent transportation sales tax different from the recently expired Measure D.

The MOE is different for each jurisdiction, taking 2008 as the base year for spending, and requiring that each jurisdiction invest in its transportation no less than what was spent in fiscal year 2007-08, or in some circumstances, the average of spending from 2005 to 2008.

The problem that agencies are beginning to encounter, according to Community Services Director Steve Wagner, is that the economy fell out just after fiscal year 2007-08, resulting in budgets that since then haven’t been able to maintain the level of investment in 2008.

According to the MOE rules, local agencies that don’t meet the base spending bar will have their Measure A funding reduced in a following fiscal year by the difference of actual spending in a given fiscal year from the required level.

Wagner said Goleta is especially affected, since in the years after 2002 incorporation the city has been aggressive in its efforts to improve local roads and sidewalks, using money from its General Fund as well as from the state, which it dedicated to road infrastructure. Faced with an anticipated period of a flat economy because of the course of its tax-sharing agreement with the county, and then the market collapse, the city didn’t budget the way it could in fiscal year 2007-08.

Even with anticipated reductions that could be made, the city faces a $450,000 MOE requirement.

Councilman Roger Aceves, Goleta’s SBCAG representative, has been working on the issue.

“We have to fight this one and work out an arrangement we can afford,” he said.

According to Wagner, the issue is likely to come before SBCAG, the regional agency that administers Measure A, as other jurisdictions have been experiencing the same problem. It will take a two-thirds vote of the 13-member board to change the rule.

Goleta’s projected five-year program of projects includes improvements to local roads, drainage facilities and landscape maintenance, as well as allocations for alternative transportation and the Safe Routes to School program, as the main thrust of Measure A in its early years will be concentrated on funding the widening of Highway 101.

Also on Tuesday, the council voted its approval of a project on Ellwood Mesa that would re-abandon three oil wells and destroy five water wells and one groundwater monitoring well. The project is part of an agreement between the city and Comstock Homes, the company with which the city traded land on the Ellwood Mesa for parcels farther inland in its effort to save the mesa from development. The project is paid for from a $500,000 remediation fund funded by Comstock.

Ellwood Mesa historically has been a site of rather intense development. In the early 1900s, several oil wells were dug on the Mesa, which had been abandoned in the 1930s. Subsequently, efforts to develop the area for residential use resulted in the digging of the water wells. To comply with tighter regulations, the state has put on the abandonment of old oil wells, as well as to carry out measures to deal with the impacts of the land swap, the city has executed a contract with Campbell Geo Inc. to seal the oil wells and destroy the water wells.

Should permitting flow smoothly, from city to the California Coastal Commission, work should begin in June 2011.

The council also touched on the topic of campaign finance, with Councilman Ed Easton bringing up the topic of disclosures of campaign contributions and expenditures, particularly in the final two weeks of a campaign. Under state law, candidates are required to disclose the names of the sources of any contributions of $1,000 or more; for sums below that, names don’t have to be revealed until after the election.

It’s a situation that has left Easton and Councilwoman Margaret Connell feeling burned, as they alluded Tuesday to campaign expenditures and contributions made to rival campaigns in 2008 by unknown sources. Just a week before the Nov. 4, 2008, elections, the pair, both running for two empty council seats, filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission over the nondisclosure of the source of funds coming from The Coalition for a Healthier Goleta, a political action committee they said failed to disclose its donors as it ran attack ads against them.

No action was taken, as other council members expressed satisfaction with the current state rules and had concerns about the extra work of reporting on lower contribution limits, or the enforceability of any ordinance pushing for disclosure of campaign donations. But the topic may come up again soon since 2010 is an election year.

So far, Councilman Eric Onnen has indicated no interest in running, but Aceves already has announced his plans to seek re-election.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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