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Our view: Ventura-Santa Barbara rail study a good start

By and   /   Friday, February 24th, 2017  /   Comments Off on Our view: Ventura-Santa Barbara rail study a good start

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Words of wisdom attributed to Chinese sage Lao Tsu hold that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Perhaps the journey to improve rail transportation between Santa Barbara and Ventura begins with a single grant.

That’s at least the promise of a $50,000 award from the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments to study ways to move more people by rail between Ventura and the South Coast.

So far, efforts to improve rail service by retiming existing trains to accommodate morning and evening commuters have run into roadblocks.

• Amtrak doesn’t want to add a new train for fear of diluting the profits from its existing service.

• Metro Link has been reluctant to extend its popular Ventura-Burbank-LA service to Santa Barbara County.

• Union Pacific has been unwilling to give up times for its freight trains.

• There is evidence to suggest a commuter rail line would be profitable but in-depth studies to prove the case have not been done. Pricing and the willingness of local governments or businesses to subsidize fares remain unknowns.

• Alternatives do exist, including incentives for carpooling and expanding commuter bus service between Ventura and Santa Barbara. However, traffic delays that plague auto commuters are a problem for both buses and carpools.

The bottom line is that increased rail service would enhance the viability of living in Ventura and working in Santa Barbara and vice versa. It would fit in well with the auto-light lifestyle of millennials and our Wi-Fi connected workstyle.

It’s too soon to tell if big things will come from this very small SBCAG grant. But we appreciate the persistence of elected officials, business interests and the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce in trying to put together a better rail solution for the region.

CLOSING DIABLO CANYON

In San Luis Obispo County, a lot of attention is being given to the potential closing of PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant. On Feb, 22, for example, Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, a Republican from Templeton, introduced legislation to study the re-use of the Diablo’s desalination plant as a source of fresh water for the region.

We’re also pleased to see that the city of Santa Maria and the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce are increasingly being included as key stakeholders in that process.
Santa Maria is not just part of PG&E territory; it is the home to perhaps 20 percent of the Diablo Canyon workforce.

And as the workforce swells to accommodate an influx of workers to decommission the plant, many of them will find that the Santa Maria area is the best available option for affordable rental housing.

The Santa Maria Valley also offers a third opportunity: a potential site for businesses that might well employ the skilled workers who will be looking for jobs as operations wind down.

As active participants in the post-Diablo Canyon planning process, we think a joint North Santa Barbara County-San Luis Obispo County effort on jobs, housing and economic development is essential.

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