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Sales Tax Measure Is Rejected for Fall Ballot : Transportation: Some panel members say the half-cent increase would be too much to bear on top of the recession and quake.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Saying voters would never tolerate it this year, the Ventura County Transportation Commission scrapped plans Friday to put a half-cent sales tax measure for roads and transit on the November ballot.

The panel voted 5 to 2 against the sales tax measure because, some members said, it would be too much to bear atop California’s recession and January’s earthquake.

Now the commission must wait at least until the 1996 election to try once more with a tax measure that won support of 60% of the people who were polled by a consultant the panel hired.

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Four years ago, voters rejected a half-cent transportation tax that was placed on the ballot and many officials fear the same thing would happen again in November.

“Four years ago, I supported the sales tax measure heavily, and quite frankly, I still support the sales tax measure,” said commission Chairwoman Vicky L. Howard at the meeting Friday in Camarillo City Hall.

“But we have suffered a double-whammy in this county,” said Howard, who is also a county supervisor. “I just feel at this time to come forward with a sales tax flies in the face of the economic situation.”

Several commissioners said they were worried there was not enough time before the Nov. 8 vote to educate enough voters about the tax to ensure victory.

To put the measure on the ballot, the commission would have to gain approval from a majority of the Board of Supervisors and at least five of the county’s 10 cities representing at least 50% of the county’s population.

The measure called for raising Ventura County’s sales tax from 7 1/4% to 7 3/4% for 20 years. Over the life of the tax, taxpayers could have contributed an estimated $520 million to improving streets, roads, freeways, rail lines, bus routes and pollution-reduction projects.

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Ginger Gherardi, the commission’s executive director, reported that the money could have paid for everything from pothole-filling on local streets to rebuilding the clogged Victoria Avenue and Carmen Drive interchanges along the Ventura Freeway.

It also could have been used to convert county buses to run on cleaner-burning natural gas or electricity and for some of the running costs of the Metrolink rail network, Gherardi wrote in a report to the commission.

In a public hearing before the commission’s vote, several people pleaded with commissioners to approve the measure.

Supervisor John K. Flynn, an alternate commission member, urged its passage. He told commissioners that the tax would help pay for much-needed improvements to the county’s road and transit networks.

“We’ve got a good plan, but we don’t have the money to continue with the plan,” Flynn said. “We’ve got to give the voters a chance to vote on the issue.”

Environmental consultant Carolyn Casavan urged approval of the tax to pay for more public transit that could help the county meet federal mandates to reduce air pollution.

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“We have 4-year-olds that are not driving and are not addicted to cars yet,” Casavan said. “We can influence the driving habits of the next generation by giving them a public transportation system they can use.”

Russ Sperry, an Oak View activist, also urged its approval. “I’d much rather see a one-cent sales tax or five-cent sales tax on gasoline” to raise funds for the county’s transportation system from the motorists who use it most.

Max Besler, the Sacramento pollster hired by the commission, said all signs in his poll of 400 Ventura County voters pointed to a victory for the measure.

Of those polled, 55% said they believe Ventura County’s government is moving in the right direction. Besler said this shows an uncommonly high approval of the county government’s work contrasted with poll results in other counties, where the approval rating is usually 10% to 15% lower, Besler said.

Sixty percent of the poll respondents said they would approve of a half-cent sales tax and 34% indicated they would disapprove, Besler said--an improvement over poll results from the commission’s 1990 tax campaign, when 43% approved and 37% disapproved, he said.

Commissioner Michael Wooten, who supported the measure along with Commissioner David Smith, said, “We know there’s not going to be enough money. We know we don’t have any other way to raise the money. . . . We’re not even allowing the citizens of the county a way to vote themselves out of this crunch.”

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But in the end, commissioners voted it down out of political expediency.

Commissioner Susan K. Lacey said just before her vote, “I am pretty much convinced this is not the proper time. I wish we could do this a year from now.”

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