The Highway 101 widening project is the most important regional project in a decade to the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce, our members and the Goleta business community. During years of work, dialogue, study, consensus and collaboration, it sometimes felt like a battle.
It is alarming to find that now, the opponent of this economic development project is not an outside special-interest group but two of our neighboring elected officials. After months of threats and innuendo, Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider and City Councilman Bendy White last week wrote a statement publicly announcing that they oppose the Highway 101 project and that they will be “publicly supporting private parties who have filed lawsuits.”
This approach is both alarming and distressing. Countywide consensus on a major infrastructure project doesn’t come easily, and the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce is proud to have been part of the solution that the voters who overwhelming approved Measure A called for: a fair and well-researched 101 project design — one that benefits all Santa Barbara County residents.
The Caltrans/Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) process ensured that Goleta, and every community in the county, had an equal voice in decisions regarding our region’s infrastructure and a fair process to raise issues and complaints.
Mayor Schneider and Councilman White have put the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce in the unfortunate position of opposing the mayor of our neighboring city — a relationship we value.
It is puzzling to us that now — after the process has run its course, everyone had an opportunity to express an opinion, and a plan to widen the freeway through Santa Barbara and Montecito was selected — Mayor Schneider and Councilman White are not honoring the outcome.
Rather, she is willing to use her position as mayor to instigate a toxic legal battle that will delay the project for years, cost the taxpayers millions of dollars, and undercut prosperity across the county. To underscore our point, evidently there was not support from a majority of the Santa Barbara City Council on this approach; otherwise the City of Santa Barbara itself would have filed suit.
This is not the way we do business. Mayor Schneider’s concern over traffic impacts/mitigations in Santa Barbara are certainly her responsibility, and she should fight the good fight to make sure her city is fairly represented in transportation projects and associated funding. But the data and research do not support the claims that traffic in her city will come to a standstill if the freeway is widened.
The time has come to move forward with the selected plan. Every opportunity we have had to discuss, debate, negotiate and work together on any conflicts has passed.
As recently as last month, the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce hosted Mayor Schneider on a legislative summit, in an effort to ensure, once again, that from the business community’s perspective, we are holding our elected officials accountable to work together for the good of the community.
During that business-to-government summit, Mayor Schneider did not utter a word about plans to derail the most important project to the business community in Goleta.
The two main reasons stated in her opposition statement with Councilman White are about traffic on Santa Barbara surface streets and on the merits of Measure A, the countywide, voter-approved half-cent sales tax that is funding the Highway 101 widening project.
Mayor Schneider criticizes this funding mechanism, citing Ventura County, which didn’t follow a similar path. However, 79 percent of Santa Barbara County voters approved this funding plan. It is unclear how opposing the freeway widening project at this point would affect the voter-approved funding stream.
Lastly, Mayor Schneider’s comments concede that “for some our position is frustrating” and that they’ve heard more than once “just build it.” We can guarantee with absolute certainty that no one in Goleta ever said “just build it” to anything — any project, any highway, office building or bird house.
The Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce’s endorsement of the project came after thorough research, traffic modeling and, at times, gut-wrenching compromise. That’s how we do business. And that’s how government should work.
— Kristen Miller is president and CEO of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce. The opinions expressed are her own.