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Supervisor Peter Adam Asking Voters to Mandate Roads Repair Funding

Proposed 2014 ballot initiative would require Santa Barbara County to avoid further deterioration of roads, parks and building maintenance

Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam plans to ask Santa Barbara County voters to get behind his efforts to address a massive backlog of deferred maintenance for the county's roads, parks and buildings.

Adam and two members of his staff filed paperwork Monday for a countywide initiative that — if ultimately approved by voters — would mandate that the Board of Supervisors keep county facilities "in their current condition or better."

The initiative, which is being targeted for either the June or November ballot in 2014, would require 13,200 valid signatures to qualify, said Bob Nelson, Adam's chief of staff, who joined in submitting the measure to the County Elections Office.

Adam, who represents most of the Lompoc Valley and the southern Santa Maria Valley, repeatedly has urged his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to make a priority of addressing a county maintenance backlog estimated at $300 million, most of which is for roads.

During budget hearings earlier this year, Adam pushed hard to boost funding for roads, citing the Public Works Department's estimate that $12 million was needed.

By allocating less than half of what the Public Works Department needs just to keep county roads from deteriorating further, he argued, the board was increasing its future deferred maintenance liability.

Other supervisors agreed to spend $2 million more than was planned in the recommended budget for roads, but that wasn’t enough to gain Adam’s vote for the 2013-2014 spending plan, which he contends includes money for lesser priorities such as a plastic-bag ban, long-range planning and a climate-change study.

"Those types of things ... have to take a back seat for a while," Adam told Noozhawk on Monday.

"I don't think there's any time to waste to getting this issue addressed," he added. "This isn't something that we've developed over a year to two, and we're not going to solve it over a year or two. But we need to take concrete steps to get this thing addressed."

Monday's filing begins a 15-day process of review by the County Counsel's Office, which will develop a title and summary for the initiative, Nelson said.

A notice of intent to circulate petitions must then be published in a local newspaper of record, Nelson said, after which signature gathering can begin.

Supporters will have 180 days to gain the necessary signatures, a process that he said will be handled by both volunteers and paid signature-gatherers.

Adam and his staff are allowed to draft such an initiative, Nelson said, but can't be directly involved in supporting it during work hours once it's filed.

That task will fall to a committee of private citizens, which is now being formed, he said.

"We've talked to different members of the community," Nelson said, "and there's been a lot of interest."

He declined to provide any names of committee members.

The initiative does not spell out any sanctions should the supervisors fail to maintain roads and other facilities, but Nelson said the recourse would be the courts.

The county's deferred maintenance breaks down to roughly $250 million for roads, $30 million for buildings and $20 million for parks, Nelson said.

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said he was aware of Adam's proposal, but had not seen the details.

"The goal is admirable ...,' Lavagnino said. "I support the goal of trying to get as much money as we can toward maintenance."

He added, however, that the initiative may have some legal issues to overcome.

"I would think there might be some trouble binding future boards on how to spend their money," he said.

As far as issues go, Lavagnino said road maintenance takes a back seat in the Fifth District to other matters, including the need for a North County Jail, fire protection and law enforcement.

He noted that most of the roads in the Fifth District are with the City of Santa Maria's jurisdiction.

Supervisor Janet Wolf, who represents the Second District on the South Coast, said she received an email Monday advising her of Adam's plans, but also wasn't familiar with the details.

"It doesn't seem to me that (the initiative) has a lot of teeth to it," Wolf said. "I haven't talked to Peter about it.

"In theory, it's what we all want," she said of increasing road maintenance. "But I have a lot of questions about his approach."

The notice of intention to circulate the petition was also signed by E. Stewart Johnston, a retired attorney who works as a part-time aide for Adam.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton 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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