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: 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.

This year, the hearing was held on January 15 at the Betteravia Government Center in Santa Maria. Only Lompoc and the County of Santa Barbara do not use all of their TDA funds for transit. During FY 2013-14, a total of $1.7 million allocated to the unincorporated northern part of the county went to transit. The remaining $500,000 did not. Why is that?

Some SBCAG members questioned what was going on in Lompoc and thought the City should have surveyed bus riders directly. They even suggested the hearings were only held to satisfy a legal process. But no one from Lompoc answered their questions. (The Lompoc board member was unable to attend.)

But SBCAG members should blame themselves as well. They let Lompoc divert more money each year, and they let the County divert funds as well. All the other jurisdictions in the county spend 100 percent of their TDA funds on transit. SBCAG held this hearing, but it did not survey bus riders either. About a dozen people spoke up at the hearing, out of a population of 435,000.

Nobody from Lompoc testified, but there obviously are needs. When ridership declines by 58 percent due to cutbacks in service, those needs are not being met.

Undoubtedly there are many other needs that are not being met because the people with those needs have not been surveyed where they are. They shouldn’t have to come to a hearing. Go out to community groups, retirement homes, schools, community events, and social service offices. Ask them what their needs are. Perhaps even survey them by phone. Compile that information and act on it.

Or, if the City or County can’t figure out how to spend the funds to meet transportation needs, then hire someone who can. There are plenty of experts out there who have a track record of identifying and meeting transportation needs. Contact them. It is the responsibility of the jurisdiction to do everything possible to use these funds as intended.

Some SBCAG members were concerned and said more outreach needed to be done, especially in Lompoc, and they wanted to hear from Lompoc at their next board meeting on February 19.

They should hear from you, too. They are accepting written comments until Jan. 25 to use in their draft findings. Send them to [email protected], or 260 N. San Antonio Road, Ste. B, Santa Barbara, CA 93110.

You can also attend the next hearing. Check for more information.

Jeanne Sparks is the Communications Manager for Santa Barbara County Action Network (SB CAN). She can be reached at [email protected]. Forward View is a progressive look at local issues that runs on Thursdays in the Lompoc Record.