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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Rail spur hazard for this county, others

This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Ken Hough was published in the Santa Maria Times on November 13, 2014: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/looking-forward/rail-spur-hazard-for-this-county-others/article_6cff43f5-fb11-5e4b-b222-898be4c94b2b.html.

For months now, columns and letters on this page have debated the wisdom of drilling for onshore oil in Santa Barbara County. Awareness of the issues within our county is acute.

Now, just across the county boundary in San Luis Obispo County, the proposal for a rail-spur extension at the Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery in the Nipomo Dunes is taking center stage.

At a recent public workshop in Arroyo Grande, residents raised many concerns about the project and its draft environmental impact report (DEIR), which discusses impacts on the refinery property, as well as impacts that might occur along the Union Pacific mainline, especially between the project and two rail hubs, one in Southern California and one in Northern California.

San Luis Obispo County has the authority to require mitigations to impacts on the property as part of its project approval authority, but is likely kept from imposing mitigations for the Union Pacific mainline impacts, because those fall under federal regulations.

As confirmed at that meeting, the county can deny the project based on significant impacts that cannot be mitigated, whether on site or on the mainline.

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Transformative change to renewable energy

This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Santa Maria Times on Oct. 10, 2014: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/looking-forward/transformative-change-to-renewable-energy/article_ad285ae2-bf76-54ff-bc3e-bfcd0341b3f8.html

Energy from fossil fuels powered economic growth in the U.S. for decades, radically changing our society.

Today, we face different challenges, especially from human-created climate change.

According to the 700-page “Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change,” a 2006 United Kingdom Treasury report, if action is not taken, the overall costs of climate change on water resources, food production, health and the environment will be equivalent to losing at least 5 percent of gross domestic product on the world economy each year, indefinitely. Including a wider range of risks and impacts could increase this to 20 percent of GDP or more each year.

On the other hand, mitigating the worst impacts could be only 1-2 percent of annual GDP — if action is taken early.

We must conserve and move quickly to renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, wave and biomass.

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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.