A majority of Ventura County voters would support a sales-tax increase of 0.5% to pay for improved roads and transportation, according to an opinion poll released Wednesday.
In addition, 71% of those polled would rather pay an extra half-cent per dollar for transportation than build a new jail.
The telephone survey of voters from all 10 cities in the county was compiled by Fairbank, Bregman & Maullin, a Los Angeles firm that has worked on six transportation sales-tax measures in California, and by John Davies Advertising, a Santa Barbara firm that helped coordinate last year's successful school bond measure in Oxnard.
Davies told a monthly meeting of the Ventura County Economic Development Assn. on Wednesday that the poll indicates that residents are frustrated with traffic and ready to pass the proposed measure.
He said 500 people were asked if they favor or oppose a tax increase "to provide funds for a regional transportation system." Fifty-six percent said yes.
When specific projects were listed in another question, 68% voiced support.
And when those polled were read statements that "might be made by people who oppose the initiative," support fell off only slightly to 60%, he said.
His comments were welcomed by association members, who have been working on the transportation sales tax for 18 months and say they are now aiming for a November election. Approval would require more than 50% of the votes.
"We're pleased. The public has given us a message, and the results give us strength to move forward," said Ron Golden, association president and a vice president at Continental Land Title Co. in Camarillo.
The measure would raise an estimated $21 million a year for 20 years by raising sales taxes in Ventura County from 6% to 6.5%.
That translates into a $30 to $40 annual increase per household, Davies said. The money would be used to improve state highways, subsidize transit for the elderly and the handicapped, build bike paths and improve roads.
The poll found that widening California 126, reducing traffic congestion, improving freeways and transportation for old people, installing a commuter rail to Los Angeles and improving car- and van pooling ranked as priorities for more than 70% of those polled. A solid 58% cited a need for more bike lanes.
Business and civic leaders have already established a transportation commission to draw up regional traffic policies, compile a list of urgent projects and disburse funds as they become available.
By law, the ballot must list each proposed project and its budget in order of priority. That list must be approved by the Board of Supervisors and then by a majority of the city councils from cities representing a majority of the county's population.
A survey of countywide transportation needs through the year 2010, compiled by the Ventura County Assn. of Governments, found that present sources will leave the county more than $600 million short in repairing streets, intersections and rural roads.
Victoria Avenue, for instance, a major thoroughfare through Ventura and Oxnard, is two lanes wide in places and will require expansion to 12 lanes to accommodate the traffic that current growth will produce by 2025.
Some officials say a transportation sales-tax initiative is unlikely until county supervisors decide whether to pursue a similar tax to build jails. The county wants to build a $70-million jail and has only $40 million in state funds.
This raises the issue of whether a jail tax and a road tax would stand better chances if considered together or a year apart.
Davies said the poll indicates that there is little support for a jail tax. He urged county leaders to tie the jail issue to other law-enforcement measures such as increased patrols, a beefed-up gang task force and an expanded anti-drug education program.
"A jail measure is difficult to pass because people want more than jails. It must be packaged right," Davies told the economic development association.
While most California residents today pay some kind of transportation-related sales tax, only two non-transportation sales-tax measures have been successfully mounted in California, according to Ray Mellen, an engineer with the Automobile Club of Southern California who also spoke Wednesday.
Inyo County passed a sales-tax increase of 0.5% to help pay operating costs at the county landfill, and San Diego County recently approved the same amount for jail construction, a measure being appealed in court, he said.