Marcos Bretón

The most important Sacramento issue on November's ballot is one you may have overlooked

Trench work on Hazel Avenue closed lanes back in March. A proposed tax increase on next month’s ballot would be tilted toward capital-area road improvements.
Trench work on Hazel Avenue closed lanes back in March. A proposed tax increase on next month’s ballot would be tilted toward capital-area road improvements. Sacramento Bee file

Measure B is the most important local issue on the November ballot.

It’s a chance for Sacramento County to invest in itself, to actually work cooperatively in a way that rarely happens in this region. It will raise a projected $3.6 billion over 30 years to be spent on fixing crumbling roads, building badly needed bridges and creating safer bike paths.

Measure B is not sexy, but it’s critical. To simply call it a transportation measure sells it short. Measure B is about improving the quality of life and economic competitiveness of the Sacramento region. It’s about finding ways for people to spend less time in their cars so they can spend more time doing other things. It’s as micro as fixing the pothole on your street and as macro as creating better transportation flows that allow businesses to move their products and employees through the region more safely and efficiently.

Measure B would be funded by a half-cent sales tax hike, an idea that is admittedly unpopular. Some say that we’re already taxed too much. Others wonder why this kind of infrastructure investment isn’t being funded by Congress or the state of California.

Here is why Measure B is on your ballot: Because expecting Congress function effectively and fund projects outlined in Measure B isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

It’s on your ballot because the state of California isn’t going to to help the region improve its infrastructure anytime soon.

That’s where Measure B begins – as a gesture of self-determination and an acknowledgment that no other entity is going fix our roads, build our bridges and interchanges and protect our cyclists.

If you live in Sacramento, you know how bad Highway 99 can be. You know how bad Highway 50 can be. You know how dangerous it is to ride your bike in Sacramento. You know an American River bridge to south Natomas is needed. You know how Watt Avenue, Elkhorn Boulevard and Bradshaw Road all need major improvements and repair.

Here is how Measure B is playing out behind the scenes: With actual bipartisan cooperation. County Supervisor Susan Peters, a loyal Republican, is a key leader. Meanwhile, Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg – a capital D Democrat – is a key funder of the measure. This almost never happens in Sacramento.

It would be an exaggeration to suggest that the Sacramento region is “Balkanized,” but not by much. Years ago, efforts to consolidate Sacramento city and county floundered at the ballot box. Instead, the cities of Citrus Heights, Elk Grove and Rancho Cordova were born. Leaders of these communities schmooze with Sacramento officials at annual rubber-chicken dinners, and everyone pays lip service to “regionalism,” but that’s all it’s ever been – lip service.

Measure B changes that narrative. Peters and Steinberg and many others aren’t simply paying lip service to working together. They are actually doing it. Steinberg loaned $200,000 of leftover campaign funds to the Measure B voter drive.

“It’s unusual to have a contribution that size from an elected official, but I think it shows that’s how Mayor-elect Steinberg plans to spend his money,” Peter said. “ ... We welcome it.”

The effort is a good omen for Sacramento. It’s in keeping with the work being done by the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council, the nonprofit headed by Barry Broome. GSAC has been selling the Sacramento region to Bay Area tech companies looking to cut costs but wanting to stay in California, and it’s starting to get results. Broome has the buy-in of elected officials and CEOs from across the region.

With the local economy billing itself as a united region and not a collection of factions, maybe the stars are aligning for other cooperative measures. Maybe Sacramento city and county – and other cities and counties as well – finally can combine to address homelessness together. Maybe the entire region can begin to see the value in helping fund a bigger and better Sacramento Convention Center.

Measure B fits into this spirit of across-the-board collaboration and would fund more than 30 transportation projects in every corner of the county.

More than 60 percent of Measure B funds would be used to fix and improve roads, such as Arden Way between Ethan Way and Fair Oaks Boulevard. There are plans to widen roads to increase capacity, such as Antelope Road between Watt Avenue and Roseville Road.

Several cities, such as Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Galt, Rancho Cordova and Sacramento, will use Measure B funds to implement bicycle master plans. Sacramento will build a critical American River bridge to South Natomas with auto and bike lanes and with the capacity for light-rail trains as well.

You may wish most of Measure B funds went to public transit, but the Sacramento region was designed with cars in mind long ago. Still, Regional Transit will get more 25 percent of Measure B funds to improve its aging fleet and to expand its lines. That plan fits with local hopes to increase ridership to Golden 1 Center, thereby easing traffic downtown.

Measure B is a massive undertaking requiring a big lift from the public – a two-thirds majority vote to pass. A yes vote would be the strongest proof yet that Sacramento is committed to moving forward and investing in its own success.