Back-Seat Driver

Sacramento RT’s latest dilemma: Imbibe or abstain?

Regional Transit light-rail trains travel through downtown Sacramento in 2009.
Regional Transit light-rail trains travel through downtown Sacramento in 2009. Sacramento Bee file

Sacramento Regional Transit is doing some soul searching.

The agency has been in financial duress, struggling for years to balance its budget. It has almost no emergency funds left. It had to raise fares earlier this year. Now, it looks like voters have turned down Measure B, the sales tax that would have pumped millions of dollars of life into the bus and rail agency.

What to do? RT plans to sign a contract to use stations, stops and the sides of buses and light-rail trains for advertisements as a way to raise some extra cash. The agency has ruled out accepting cigarette and marijuana ads. But it’s debating whether to accept alcohol ads.

County Supervisor Don Nottoli is among board members with concerns about the message RT would be sending. Alcohol abuse is a problem, he said. “Do you want to see a big bottle of gin on the (side of) the bus?”

Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen, however, said RT needs to consider any legitimate revenue proposal. The goal, he said, should be to avoid more service cuts or fare increases, which will harm poorer riders in particular.

“We aren’t an agency that has the comfort of a ton of revenue. It deserves a thorough look,” he said. “But it needs to be well done.”

Can RT accept alcohol ads but mix them with public service announcements? Can the agency advertise its service as a good alternative to driving for people who have been out at restaurants and bars?

Nottoli, Hansen, Folsom Councilman Andy Morin and several RT staffers have been assigned to debate the issue some more and bring some thoughts back to the RT board next month.

Is Measure B still alive?

Measure B, the Sacramento County transportation sales tax initiative on the November ballot, is not dead yet. Almost, but not quite.

The measure, which was on the Nov. 8 ballot, needs a 66.7 percent voter approval to pass. The most recent county elections office update Friday showed the measure has 65.1 percent approval. But there are still 98,000 mail ballots and polling place provisional ballots left. That means about 17 percent of the total expected vote has not yet been counted.

Although not optimistic, Measure B proponents are holding out hope. “It’s possible, but not probable,” Sacramento Councilman Hansen said. “We’d need (the remaining votes) to break substantially in our favor.”

The county elections office said it will release updated vote totals early this week.

Free holiday parking

Good news for downtown arenagoers and holiday shoppers. Starting Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, parking meters will be turned off at 4:30 p.m. weekdays and all day on weekends through Christmas in much of downtown, midtown and Old Sacramento. It’s the city’s way of welcoming shoppers downtown for the holidays.

The free meter zone will extend from I to L streets, and from Front Street in Old Sacramento to 29th Street.

Macy’s, by the way, says parking at its garage remains available to shoppers, even though it sits right next door to the arena. Kings fans typically can’t park in there because Macy’s closes the garage before Kings games are over.

The big Christmas tree lighting in Old Sacramento will take place this Wednesday evening, a couple hours before a Kings home game. Will there be a traffic and parking problem? Old Sacramento district director Brooksie Hughes says she thinks not.

So far, the arena has not infringed on access to Old Sacramento or clogged its parking lots. “We’ve seen nothing but positive,” Hughes said.

She and the city will be watchful during the holidays, when the Macy’s Theatre of Lights and the Polar Express train draw tens of thousands to Old Sacramento. But Hughes says she is pretty confident that traffic and parking won’t be any more troublesome than usual. “If there is a problem, we’ll come up with a solution.”