Spill — disaster, no big deal or wake-up call?

This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Ken Hough was published in the Santa Maria Times on June 12, 2015: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/looking-forward/spill-disaster-no-big-deal-or-wake-up-call/article_8ed7a539-2d22-5a94-9831-db766407b2c7.html

Many observers, including me, say the Refugio oil spill is a local environmental and financial disaster. On the extreme other hand, one columnist wrote in the Times that the biggest cost of the incident would be the loss of $25,000 worth of crude oil.

As of June 3, more than 40 miles of coast had been fouled with oil, and 138 square miles closed to fishing. Two popular state beaches had closed, and 173 dead animals collected — 115 birds, 46 sea lions and 12 dolphins. Another 100 animals have been affected. This clearly is a local environmental disaster.

With nearly 1,400 workers, 18 boats and two helicopters on the scene as of May 29 according to the Times, the cleanup costs alone must be in the millions. Then there is lost tourism revenue and other costs. Although many of these loses may ultimately be paid by the pipeline company, the short-term economic impacts are huge.

People can debate whether the Refugio spill is a disaster or an incident, but I want to suggest a couple of other scenarios that would be disasters in anyone’s lexicon — an oil train crash on the Union Pacific mainline in one of our cities or on the coast, and a pipeline spill contaminating our water supplies.

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North County heroes will be honored

This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Santa Maria Times on May 7, 2015: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/looking-forward/north-county-heroes-will-be-honored/article_0b80e899-431a-5cd4-901e-5bd58d09521d.html

The Poetic Justice Project is helping people transform their lives.

Deborah Tobola started the local program in 2009 to engage formerly incarcerated youth and adults in original plays that examine crime, punishment and redemption.

Through the project, 87 actors have appeared in 12 theatre productions. Many are active in their communities — creating art, mentoring at-risk youth, counseling people coming out of jail and prison, advocating on behalf of indigent people, and studying at Hancock or Cuesta colleges.

Several PJP actors have gone on to act in local community theatre productions. One started a theatre company. Another stars in a new web TV show.

Santa Barbara County Action Network will honor Tobola and the Poetic Justice Project with the Looking Forward Award during the 2015 North County Looking Forward Awards Dinner on Sunday, June 7, at 5 p.m. at the Historic Santa Maria Inn, 801 S. Broadway, Santa Maria.

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Honoring North County community heroes

This "Forward View" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Lompoc Record on May 6, 2015: http://lompocrecord.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/forward-view/honoring-north-county-community-heroes/article_1024910e-1350-5365-84da-d2c1775ad2af.html

Lompoc resident Al Thompson is a purveyor of ideas with two major themes — artistic endeavor and the elements of the natural world. He is an arts advocate, gardener, writer and volunteer docent.

Thompson has interpreted Chumash uses of native plants and became the garden historian at La Purisima Mission. He encouraged exploration of wildflowers and plants along the mission trails, eventually having one of the trails named after him.

He writes columns for the Lompoc Valley Botanic & Horticultural Society as well as commentary for the Lompoc Record. He has written columns on sustainability, encouraging the idea that gardens can be practical and artistic.

He is a docent at the Arroyo Hondo Preserve where he leads hiking tours and explains the importance of natural habitats. His own garden is open for the sharing of ideas, including how to economically collect large quantities of rainwater for the drier periods.

Santa Barbara County Action Network will honor Thompson with the Environmental Protection and Sustainability Award during the 2015 North County Looking Forward Awards Dinner on Sunday, June 7, at 5 p.m. at the Historic Santa Maria Inn, 801 S. Broadway, Santa Maria.

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Giving the downtown area an identity

This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Santa Maria Times on April 9, 2015: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/looking-forward/giving-the-downtown-area-an-identity/article_7469d901-127f-5b8e-902d-c4ae74524744.html

The city of Santa Maria is trying to create a more attractive downtown. Let’s create something that will draw people in — a water feature with a tower and artwork to attract residents and tourists. Perhaps we could daylight a creek.

According to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, “Creek daylighting refers to projects that uncover and restore creeks, streams, and rivers previously buried in underground pipes and culverts, covered by decks, or otherwise removed from view.”

We don’t think of our city as having creeks, because the natural waterways have been diverted, but it could.

Daylighting has been happening a lot around the country and the world. The city of San Luis Obispo restored San Luis Obispo Creek near the mission in the 1970s. A culvert was taken out, the creek widened, and native trees were planted to provide shade, food and habitat.

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Safer streets for cyclists, pedestrians

This "Forward View" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Lompoc Record on March 18, 2015: http://lompocrecord.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/forward-view/safer-streets-for-cyclists-pedestrians/article_e32a67a8-f885-556d-98fe-8f8aedeb86ba.html.

Do you ride a bicycle? Do you walk around town? Do you feel like your streets are safe for bicyclists and pedestrians?

The state encourages cities and counties to make streets safer and more accessible so more people will choose to ride or walk as a transportation alternative.

The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) is in the middle of a planning process to bring together the plans created by Santa Barbara County and cities to create the Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.

SBCAG staff will hold a workshop Wednesday, March 25, from 6-7:30 p.m. at Casa Nueva, 260 N. San Antonio Road in Santa Barbara, to solicit input and feedback. They will talk about the planning process, conduct roundtable discussions to hear from the public, and answer questions.

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Speaking up for better, safer bikeways

This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Santa Maria Times on March 12, 2015: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/looking-forward/speaking-up-for-better-safer-bikeways/article_d57f5018-5a4f-5895-bc4d-2ac38d589267.html

I love to bike, especially since I got my new, candy-apple-red, electric-power-assisted beach cruiser.

It is comfortable and fast. I am using it as an alternative to my car. I find myself a little intimidated, however, by some narrow streets in town, debris on the sides of roads, and the proximity of the rapidly moving traffic next to me. I also know Santa Maria has a lot of collisions involving cyclists, some of them fatal.

I’d really like to feel safe on the streets. That’s where planning comes in. Cities, Santa Barbara County and the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) all create documents on how to improve safety and accessibility to the streets and paths for bicyclists and pedestrians. They have many projects planned, and they need to keep them updated.

SBCAG is in the process of doing that. It is seeking public input on its Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan that stitches together local plans to create a regional vision for cycling.

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Fixing transit woes in North County

 This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Ken Hough was published in the Santa Maria Times on February 13, 2015: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/looking-forward/fixing-transit-woes-in-north-county/article_1878912a-a000-57b7-b411-55c71ca48176.html

There are seven North County public entities that operate transit systems. Collectively, there is about $15 million available each year to subsidize the operations and capital needs of the various systems.

Only about $10 million is being so used. The rest is diverted mainly to maintain streets and roads.

While road maintenance is an important, under-funded need, so are the needs of people who have no choice but public transit, and those who would like to use public transit more and leave their cars at home.

Most of the funds that can be used for public transit are distributed to cities and the county by population formulas. Yet some jurisdictions, Guadalupe in particular, have relatively small populations and relatively greater public transit needs. Others, Lompoc and unincorporated areas of North County, have larger populations and get larger shares of the transit funding.

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Use transit funds for transit in Lompoc

This "Forward View" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Lompoc Record on January 22, 2015: http://lompocrecord.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/forward-view/use-transit-funds-for-transit-in-lompoc/article_279b94a5-f39a-5abb-a890-0024073a7a02.html. Note: The version below is our original version. The version that ran in the Lompoc Record contains some edits by the paper's editorial writer.

The City of Lompoc Transit (COLT) system is failing. Service has declined dramatically, causing annual ridership to drop from 320,009 in 2006 to 134,171 in 2013, a loss of 58 percent of riders.

During those years, most of the Transportation Development Act (TDA) funds intended for transit in Lompoc have been diverted to repairing roads. In fiscal year 2006-07, only $497,000 out of $1.5 million was used for transit. In 2013-14, only $170,000, or 12 percent, of nearly $1.6 million went to transit. The bulk of the funds went to repair roads.

Sure, roads need to be fixed, but these funds come from TDA, a state civil rights and environmental justice statute, which funds public transportation and transit systems (including facilities for bicycles and pedestrians) that “provide an essential public service,” especially to the “elderly, handicapped, youth, and citizens of limited means.” Public Utilities Code § 99220(a).

These funds are only allowed to be diverted to roads if a jurisdiction  can demonstrate that it has met all public transportation needs. Unfortunately, each year when the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments holds an “Unmet Transit Needs” hearing, it seems it is just trying to find ways  to spend those monies on roads instead of transit. It tries to prove a negative—unmet needs do not exist, or they are not reasonable to meet. The jurisdiction should have to show what the needs are and how they are being met.

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Time to make Santa Maria's streets safer

 This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Ken Hough was published in the Santa Maria Times on January 9, 2015: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/looking-forward/time-to-make-santa-maria-s-streets-safer/article_a3cdc261-d20b-5033-951a-b3447929f35c.html

Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino has made pedestrian safety a top priority.

We should all be concerned, because we are all pedestrians at one time or another, even if just walking from our car to our destination. Drivers should be concerned because none of us wants to hit a pedestrian.

There are three main strategies to avoid pedestrians being hit by cars or trucks — attentiveness on the part of the pedestrian, attentiveness on the part of the driver, and the physical design of sidewalks, roads, signals and signs.

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The BearCat and transparency in government

This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Ken Hough was published in the Santa Maria Times on December 10, 2014: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/looking-forward/the-bearcat-and-transparency-in-government/article_ab95baa0-f70b-59f6-9e90-016e90039070.html

At its Nov. 18 meeting, the Santa Maria City Council was asked to approve using $94,000 of Measure U funds to purchase an armored personnel carrier for the Police Department.

The council was informed that an anonymous private donor had contributed $135,000 for the purchase of the vehicle, known as a BearCat — an acronym standing for Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck — and the Measure U money would round out the $229,000 cost. The City Council did not take specific action to accept the anonymous donation, only to augment the amount and authorize the vehicle purchase.

Who at the city has the authority to accept anonymous donations? Who at the city knows or needs to know the donor’s identity? What caused the donor to decide to give $135,000, and why anonymously?

From the staff report provided to the council, it seems the donation was made specifically to help buy a BearCat. Is a private donor setting city priorities?

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Santa Barbara County Action Network
Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN) works to promote social and economic justice, to preserve our environmental and agricultural resources, and to create sustainable communities.