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Tuesday, March 19 , 2019, 1:29 am | Fair 53º


Helene Schneider Snubbed for SBCAG Board Chair Seat

Decision is prompted by her vocal opposition to aspects of Highway 101 widening plan

Breaking with a decade-long tradition, the Santa Barbara County Association of Government board voted Thursday to reject naming vice chair Helene Schneider as its new chair.

Schneider, who currently serves as vice chair to Fifth District County Supervisor Steve Lavagnino on the SBCAG board, is mayor of Santa Barbara and has come under fire for her opposition to the proposed Highway 101 widening project.

She has openly supported lawsuits that were filed against the project, saying the widening will cause severe traffic impacts to city intersections, and those related projects should be included in the Highway 101 widening’s planning and funding.

For the last 10 years or more, the vice chair has always been elected as chair for the following year.

More than 15 people spoke and sent letters to the board, opposing the appointment of Schneider of the new chair over concerns that she would be biased toward the project.

The board ultimately agreed, voting almost unanimously to appoint Solvang Mayor Jim Richardson as chair and Second District County Supervisor Janet Wolf as vice chair for 2015.

Buellton Councilwoman Holly Sierra voted against the motion, as did Schneider.

There was outspoken criticism of Schneider’s actions regarding the project and some came from her longtime supporters.  

Former county supervisors Susan Rose and Gail Marshall, Santa Barbara activist Micky Flacks, philanthropist Sara Miller McCune and James Joyce, a staffer for State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, all asked the SBCAG board not to give Schneider the chair seat.

“You must follow the wishes of the voters that you are pledged to serve and you must do it today,” McCune said to the board.  

The position of chair should be held by someone who agrees it’s time to move forward, Rose and Marshall said. “It’s time to finish the job.”

Some referenced a letter written to the board by Brian Robinson, urging the board to take the election seriously.

“It matters who your next chair person is,” wrote Robinson, a co-chair of the Yes on Measure A committee.

“It matters who is setting the agenda. It matters who is maintaining relationships with SBCAG’s agency partners. It matters who goes to Sacramento and Washington to advocate for this project. And it matters to your constituents.”

Other speakers raised concerns about Schneider being privy to SBCAG’s legal strategy when she has openly encouraged lawsuits against that organization, and whether she would be a strong advocate for state and federal funding.

To the second point, Schneider briefly responded and said she has and would continue to advocate for more funding, since that has been her major concern with this project.

At Thursday's meeting, the SBCAG Board also got an update on the Highway 101 project from corridor adviser Tony Harris.

In meeting with state, county, city and community groups, Harris heard the consensus that people want to get this project done, he said.

“I’m motivated to go fast,” he said.

He didn’t give an updated timeline but the next steps are for him to work on an agreement between Caltrans and SBCAG to outline the roles and responsibilities of each agency.

Harris recommends that the design work is done all at once, but construction will probably be done in phases.  

Caltrans will design the southern segment of the project, from Carpinteria to Padaro Lane, and SBCAG consultants will design the northern segment from Padaro Lane to Santa Barbara.

The main concerns are over funding, traffic during construction, visual impacts of the project and working on the related projects such as the City of Santa Barbara’s Cabrillo Boulevard/Union Pacific Railroad bridge replacement, Harris said.

There are three projects that the City of Santa Barbara wants to be pursued simultaneously with the widening project: the bridge replacement and improvements to intersections on Olive Mill Road and San Ysidro Road.

The bridge replacement is estimated to cost $30 million, a roundabout at Olive Mill Road is estimated to cost $6 million and there is not yet a cost estimate for the San Ysidro Road intersection improvements, Harris said in his presentation.

Funding for the widening project is coming from county voter-approved Measure A monies and South Coast gas taxes, but there is still a big gap between funding and the estimated cost.

There is an opportunity to share some costs with a state rehabilitation project in the same area at the same time, since there would already been construction crews and traffic control in place, Harris noted.

Noozhawk news editor 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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