Cars Take a Back Seat to Mass Transit? Nonsense, Official Says

Debate over a transportation blueprint for Ventura County erupted into hostility Friday, with one transit official ridiculing proposed goals that emphasize mass transit as the simplistic work of “snake oil salesmen.”

Source of this article – Los Angeles Times, March 4, 2006

By By Catherine Saillant, Times Staff Writer

Ventura County Transportation Commissioner Keith Millhouse said that in drafting transportation goals, Commissioners Linda Parks and Steve Bennett, both county supervisors, had produced an unworkable “election-year fluff piece.”

Millhouse said putting money into high-cost rail projects at the expense of more practical solutions to traffic congestion, such as widening existing highways, does not make financial sense. Residents of affluent Ventura County overwhelmingly use vehicles to get around, and ignoring that reality will only make future traffic problems worse, he said.

“It’s our duty to address congestion,” the Moorpark city councilman said. “Otherwise we will be the Neros of Ventura County, fiddling while Rome burns.”

The 17-member Ventura County Transportation Commission postponed a vote on the goals until after it could hold a workshop to hammer out details. A board subcommittee is expected to make recommendations on workshop participants at April’s meeting.

Parks appeared bewildered by Millhouse’s attack. She said the “transportation vision” document that she worked on was meant to be a starting point for debate.

“I feel like you are killing the messenger, Mr. Millhouse,” Parks said. The plan “isn’t to replace cars, it’s to alleviate traffic.”

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the draft goals in January. The document does not provide specifics but stresses the need to encourage increased use of buses, trains, carpools and bicycles while moving away from a dependency on cars.

While the goals include “smooth-flowing highways,” Parks in the past has made clear that she does not view road widening as the answer to traffic congestion.

On Friday, she repeated that assertion.

“I fear that we will do widening and it will fill right back up again,” she told commissioners.

Disputes over road-building have raged for decades in growth-averse Ventura County. But they intensified two years ago, when the Transportation Commission attempted to pass a half-cent sales-tax increase to pay for stalled road projects.

Parks voted against putting the sales-tax measure on the ballot. When it did go on the ballot, voters defeated it. Parks’ opposition angered other commission members, including Millhouse, who had worked fervently for its passage.

On Friday, Millhouse said Ventura County would have already reaped millions for transit projects, including rail and buses, if the tax had been approved. Meanwhile, he said, Parks and Bennett are advocating mass transit projects that would cost billions without identifying how they would be financed.

“It is disingenuous to come up with a transportation vision plan when you have been the transportation Darth Vader of the county,” he said.

Bennett told commissioners that a debate over the merits of a long-term transportation vision is legitimate. But he questioned why Millhouse chose to single out him and Parks for personal criticism.

“I’d suggest that the level of personal animosity is not warranted,” Bennett said.

After the contentious meeting, Commissioner Joe de Vito said Millhouse’s remarks were “probably as direct a challenge as we’ve seen in a long time.”

“But I don’t think it caught anyone by surprise,” De Vito said. “After the tax initiative failed, the feelings people have haven’t been far below the surface.”

Commissioner William Fulton urged his colleagues to move on. “The 2004 tax measure failed. That’s in the past,” Fulton said. “Let’s all move forward and find consensus.”

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