December 20, 2007 - From the Nov./Dec., 2007 issue

San Bernardino County Joins Southern California Counties in Battle for More State Transportation Funds

The largest county in the state, San Bernardino County is a perfect example of Southern California's diverse communities. Lately, regional leaders have worked to bond Southern California's similarly diverse counties in solidarity to meet the region's transportation needs. In order to better understand how San Bernardino's transit challenges integrate into the region as a whole, MIR was pleased to speak with San Bernardino County Supervisor Paul Biane, whose tenure includes leading SANBAG during the renewal of Measure I.


Paul Biane

This year's Mobility 21 Conference met in Ontario for the first time in order to highlight the need for inter-county cooperation to solve the region's transportation challenges. What is the potential of such inter-county regional cooperation?

It's important to recognize that by pulling together, Southern California's big five-Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ventura counties-can better demonstrate our transportation needs. If you look at the volume of imports and exports that travel through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach-just under half of the nation's imports and exports go through those ports. On the state level, 85 percent of what goes in and out of our state goes through those ports.

How has San Bernardino been participating in the regional debate about transportation priorities?

SANBAG's board directed staff to participate in the regular county meetings that were taking place and actually hosted one of the Trade Corridor Improvement Fund (TCIF) allocation debates, working as an intermediary. We've tried to be there to facilitate as well as share the concerns and impacts of goods movements that are occurring here in San Bernardino County.

Our readers have been briefed before on the funding allocations for Prop 1B in L.A. County. What are the current transportation needs of San Bernardino County? How can Prop 1B funds help address those needs?

Our top priority is to rebuild the interchange at the 215 and 15 freeways. That is a $200 million project. Our TCIF request is for $100 million. Our next project is the I-10 corridor, basically from the Ontario Airport out to Redlands. That's a $150 million project; the TCIF request was $75 million. Also on our list are railroad grade separation projects totaling $262 million, with $130 million coming from TCIF.

Up in the high desert, we have the first phase of the High Desert Corridor, which is the I-15 freeway through Southern California Logistics Airport. That's a $350 million project with $175 million on request from TCIF. Last, but not least, is Highway 58, which connects San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties to Kern County. That's a $113 million project, with $57 million requested from TCIF.

With the needs of San Bernardino County in competition with those of every other county in the state, what's San Bernardino's expectation for state funding? How would you suggest the state prioritize that allocation process?

I think you've got to recognize that Southern California faces a disproportionate share of state challenges in comparison to the rest of the state. I would hope that the CTC and the legislators remember that, within the total bond package, there were a lot of identified projects like the 99 in the Central Valley and other improvements around the state; I think these projects weren't for goods movement, and the greatest impacts are here in Southern California. I would hope-and we're going to do our best to remind whoever is making these decisions-that the money needs to be invested where the impacts are, and the impacts are here in Southern California to a much greater extent than anywhere else in the state.

You helped pass the renewal of Measure I in San Bernardino County. Help our readers understand San Bernardino's mass transit options. Besides the possible Gold Line extension, what mass transit improvements are currently being contemplated in the county?

The original Measure I was passed in 1989, so we've got a couple more years to go on it. The extension of the measure was passed in 2004 for an additional 30 years, with 80 percent voter approval of the sales tax measure. The measure is expected to generate a little more than $6 billion for local transportation projects over the next 30 years. $1.3 billion of that is for our freeway projects: $900 million to local roads, $400 million for public transportation.

In terms of what we've built with our existing measure-the extension of the 210 Freeway is probably our highest profile project. We completed our first project with the 71 Freeway connecting to the 91. That was the most shelf-ready project upon the passage of the original Measure I.

Two projects that are under construction as we speak are the widening of the I-10 freeway through Redlands and the interchange improvements along the 215 Freeway into downtown San Bernardino. Those will be the last major projects completed with past measure bonds.

Changing subjects, San Bernardino County was one of the Southland counties affected by October's devastating wildfires. How prepared was the county for those fires? MIR's sister publication, The Planning Report, interviewed L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky last month, and he talked about the need for the public to pay for the logistical support required for fire suppression and prevention. How is San Bernardino addressing its fire challenges?

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I would go on record as saying that we are one of the most prepared counties in the state. The numbers of fires and the regularity with which we experience fires in our mountains-we are at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains-have helped us better prepare for the next fire and for the next floods that will occur.

I think Supervisor Yaroslavsky brings up a good point: there is going to continue to be a growing need for more resources and the rapid deployment of those resources as we try to protect homes that have been built over the past several years in urban/wildland-interface areas. Los Angeles County actually has a countywide tax for fire-I think they're the only Southern California county that does. It may be time for the other Southern California counties to look at alternative funding mechanisms that can ensure that those assets are available within their counties when they are most needed, especially when you have a multi-county fire scenario like we experienced a month ago.

San Bernardino County recently garnered nationwide attention when Attorney General Jerry Brown brought a suit against the county to force it to apply carbon emission mitigation to its general plan under CEQA. What is the significance of that settlement for San Bernardino County?

Our settlement of the lawsuit with the Attorney General require us to start monitoring our greenhouse gases, basically trying to do an inventory of what our greenhouse gas emissions were in 1990, then trying to set a course for reductions. There is a lot of different science surrounding AB 32 and what type of inventorying will be done. A lot that has already been done, not only in San Bernardino County but also in Southern California, to reduce greenhouse emissions from where they were in 1990. I believe that the goal is attainable.

One of the things that we're doing here in San Bernardino County is to encourage builders to move forward with the California Green Builders Certification, which would give priority in the planning process if planned homes can meet energy efficiency standards, i.e., if they beat those standards by 15 percent, use 25,000 fewer gallons of water than a non-California Green Builder home, recycle their waste, and use wood from renewable forests. Those are small things.

We're also doing retrofits of homes and commercial buildings to install solar or tankless water heaters. Here in San Bernardino County, the county itself and all its agencies is either the owner or lessee of more office space than any other entity. We're looking at all of those entities as their leases come up for renewal or if they are building new buildings that they would be LEED-certified to at least the Gold level.

In addition to our green building efforts, we've continued to modernize our fleets. We have the largest automotive fleet in the county, as well. Adding up all of these little things will help our county obtain what's ultimately needed to meet the regulations that will come out of the implmentation of AB 32.

Changing subjects again, how is growth changing the structure of San Bernardino County?

Our population is just over 2 million. We reached that last year. The high desert area has seen the largest population growth during the past few years. But also here in the valley, in north Ranch Cucamonga, Fontana, and Rialto, we expect to see continued explosive growth, as well as in the form of ag-preserves in the city of Chino and the city of Ontario, we expect to see extensive growth over the next few years. The most available land that we do have in our county is up in the high desert region, so we'd love to see that area continue to absorb a lot of the million people we expect to move to San Bernardino County over the next 20 years.

What is San Bernardino's estimate of the un-met housing need in the county? How are the slumping real estate and credit markets affecting the ability of the county to address its housing and infrastructure needs in the face of the county's population growth?

We still expect to see un-met demand based on affordability. But we see a lot of the homes in foreclosure here being bought up. We have people losing equity, but the regions isn't not losing housing stock, and it's not sitting vacant. There is going to be a continued need for housing in the county. We're still seeing continued growth in the apartment sector, and we're still seeing continued growth in the office/industrial market.

There are more jobs coming into the Inland Empire and to San Bernardino County, but we do expect, as far as the county's budget and the city's budget, a readjustment in property valuation. The property tax hit is going to be felt across the board, whether it's school districts, fire districts, city government, or county government. In San Bernardino County, we are still tracking along to see just under 10 percent growth year-over-year from last year, so we think our budget situation is going to be okay. I think, with the slowdown, you're going to see an expansion of the demand and the folks that are looking for homes. In my estimation, we're a year off from seeing the residential market turn around.

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