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Dubroff: Region’s recent tragedies reveal weaknesses in community investment

By   /   Friday, February 27th, 2015  /   Comments Off on Dubroff: Region’s recent tragedies reveal weaknesses in community investment

Tragedies like the Metrolink crash and the Isla Vista shootings should be a wake-up call about public spending priorities.

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Henry Dubroff

Henry Dubroff

During the last 10 days of February, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties witnessed conventional wisdom turned on its head.

Now the question is this: Will our elected leaders, and the voters, act on the tragic events they’ve witnessed?

First to Ventura County, where a tragic train accident on Feb. 24 should trigger calls for a lot more spending on highway infrastructure, even if it means imposing taxes to pay for it.

Until a Metrolink train plowed into a stopped truck and trailer in the pre-dawn hours, the conventional wisdom held that it was foolish to spend local dollars on roads and overpasses. If things got bad enough, the logic continued, the state of California would step in and do the job.

Next to Santa Barbara County, where the conventional wisdom held that Isla Vista was best left to its own devices because nothing besides a few broken bones and burned sofas could come out of trying to police the burgeoning population of students and wannabes.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown put an end to that logic with his Feb. 18 report on last May’s Isla Vista tragedy that claimed seven lives. In gripping detail, the report showed a breakdown in the system culminating with a posse of foot patrol officers being outmaneuvered and outgunned by a college dropout driving a BMW with a basketball-sized hole in the windshield.

As accounts in the Business Times and elsewhere demonstrate, the intersection of East Fifth Avenue and South Rice Avenue in Oxnard is a poster-child for lack of spending on critical infrastructure, much like Isla Vista.

It is a crucially important intersection for commerce moving in and out of the Port of Hueneme in a city that has found its niche as an emerging bedroom community for Los Angeles. The convergence of commuter rail and commerce in the largest city in the Tri-Counties means that intersection should have been elevated above grade long ago; the result of inaction has been five accidents in the past four years.

Until the Oxnard derailment, Ventura County’s elected leaders and its voters could smugly kick back and rely on Caltrans or the federal government to bail them out. But the Metrolink wreck revealed the flaw in the logic behind being the only large county in the state without a special sales tax dedicated to roads and transportation infrastructure.

Without a special dedicated source of funding for roads and transportation, Ventura County will continue to put its citizens at risk and under-perform when it comes to providing economic opportunity.

Thanks to better-built cars and speedy responses by citizens and safety personnel, the derailment in Oxnard caused no fatalities as it left dozens of people injured, including four in critical condition at press time. The next time, it may not be so lucky.

Meanwhile in Isla Vista, efforts to create some sort of governing body for the largest unorganized urban area in the state are moving along at a snail’s pace.

In the aftermath of Elliot Rodger’s deadly rampage, an effort by Assemblymember Das Williams to create a special district to beef up security and other services has run into a buzz saw of opposition.

Funding priorities are so screwed up that UC Santa Barbara said Feb. 24 that it would provide the county with $70,000 in funds to build a fence along the bluffs at Isla Vista to keep people from falling or jumping off. The one-time funding will come from donors and pay for construction only; the county will pick up the tab for maintenance.

The university recently paid $220,000 for Isla Vista lighting and sidewalk improvements that might otherwise have been funded by local government.   

Tragedies like the Metrolink crash and the Isla Vista shootings should be a wake-up call.

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