Close to Home: Rethinking transit in Sonoma County

Sonoma County’s transportation sales tax has invested millions of dollars toward local transportation projects., but when it comes to the climate emergency, Mesure M has arguably missed the mark.|

Let's start with the bad news. As we enter a new decade, our planet has a raging fever. The symptoms are visible locally in the form of kelp die-off in the ocean, rapidly spreading diseases in our forests and changing rainfall patterns that bring more severe floods, droughts and fires.

But there is good news, too. We can still save our home. We have 10 years to bring our greenhouse gas emissions dramatically down. And we know how to do it. It's just a matter of will power and decisive actions on all levels - global, national, state and local.

As representatives of multiple cities and organizations, Sunrise Movement Sonoma County proposes that Sonoma County say “yes” to healing our planet. We are a group of women including Supervisor Lynda Hopkins; Petaluma City Councilwoman D'Lynda Fischer; Marian Meji, president of the Sonoma State Students for Sustainability Club; Alexa Forrester, chair of the Santa Rosa Junior College Philosophy Department; Mara Ventura, executive director of North Bay Jobs With Justice Mara; tribal scholar L Frank; and Kerry Fugett , program manager for Daily Acts Leadership Institute. We think that it is time to make a serious investment in a safe, healthy, just and vibrant future for our children's children and beyond.

What can we do locally? Transportation accounts for about 60% of our greenhouse gas emissions. It is the single most important sector we can focus on to reach zero emissions by 2030. As luck would have it, the Sonoma County Transportation Authority is considering an important transportation funding measure on Monday.

In 2004, voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax known as Measure M, which has invested millions of dollars toward local transportation projects. These funds have helped complete some important transportation infrastructure projects, but when it comes to the climate emergency, Measure M has arguably missed the mark.

Let's look at how Measure M funds have been allocated for the past 15 years: 40% went to widening Highway 101; 40% went to local road paving and projects; and 19% went to alternative transportation - the kind of projects that can help heal our climate and support safe, effective, affordable transportation for low-income residents who can't afford to own a car.

The Sonoma County Transportation Authority staff is writing version 2.0 of Measure M. The board will decide which version to adopt, and it's expected to be on the ballot in November.

Fortunately, a majority of local residents and their elected representatives have woken up to the urgent reality of the climate emergency. Eight of the county's cities have declared climate emergencies, and others are preparing to do so. We enthusiastically call on the transportation authority to upgrade Measure M to reflect the climate emergency.

The upgraded measure would still support our local road infrastructure, which is needed by car drivers, buses, bicyclists and pedestrians.

But let's take the 40% that was used to fund Highway 101 widening and use those funds to help transform the local transit system into a free or low-cost, user-friendly countywide service. Let's also support safer bicycle and pedestrian routes and electrifying our bus fleet.

Once the sales tax is renewed, we believe that the Regional Climate Protection Authority (whose board happens to be the same as the transportation authority) should spearhead the creation of a Green New Deal ballot measure that addresses our climate emergency head on.

Imagine a future Sonoma County where microgrids and community-based power programs interweave our communities into a reliable, carbon-free electrical system. Imagine a free, comfortable, electric bus rolls through your neighborhood every 15 minutes to take you wherever you need to go and back. Envision a future with dedicated bicycle streets where hundreds of people roll safely together to school, work, and social outings. Where people with lower incomes can apply for low-cost SMART passes. Where most households have taken advantage of county assistance to enroll in Sonoma Clean Power's evergreen 100% renewable electricity and upgrade to carbon-free heating, air conditiioning and water heaters installed by local workers. Imagine we even pay farmers and ranchers to carbon farm their land, sequestering carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere while protecting open space and growing food for county residents.

Together, let's envision and create a productive, fulfilling, zero-carbon future for Sonoma County. And let's protect our planet for our children and the millions of species we share it with. Our grandchildren will thank us for acting boldly and compassionately. Please tell your representatives if you support a climate-forward Measure M and a local Green New Deal.

Christine Byrne is a volunteer organizer with Sunrise Movement Sonoma County, a youth led climate justice group. She grew up in Sebastopol and currently lives in Santa Rosa.

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