HIDDEN SUBSIDY … Folks forget how much it costs to keep up roads, which are essential for our gasoline-powered society, especially in rural parts of the country like ours. That’s a part of the equation of using vehicles that most of us just take for granted, even as we grouse at the skyrocketing price of gas thanks to our sitting president’s foreign meddling in Iraq … Most of us treat it as our right, to be able to drive anywhere in the country on relatively safe, well-maintained roads, whether paved or gravel. But as George Lakoff notes in Moral Politics (a book that my friend Bob Grossman loaned me and that I’ve been enjoying reading), every right presupposes someone else has the duty of enabling that right. And in this case, it’s county government that has the duty of maintaining roads so our citizens can exercise the right to travel freely around the county. Some newcomers to the region think that their tax dollars make up the bulk of the money used to maintain county roads, but that’s wrong. The exact number may have changed slightly, but local property tax dollars only make up about 15% of the money expended on our local roads. Most of the money comes from the state through its imposition of a tax on gasoline. Then that money is distributed to counties around the state from what’s called the Highway Users Tax Fund (HUTF) on the basis of a very complicated formula using a number of criteria. If it were based on population only, we’d be on the very short end of the HUTF stick. Most rural counties would. But of course Front Range counties are always lobbying to change the formula so more of the tax dollars collected there can be used there. So far rural legislators have successfully argued that good roads (and bridges) are an asset for the entire state and it’s only fair that regions with more roads and less people should get a bigger piece of the pie than what they pay in. But it’s an on-going battle. If the Front Range ever succeeds in changing the formula to their benefit, you can expect local roads to suffer. A lot!… Being in California I don’t have the exact numbers on my fingertips (and our county website doesn’t appear to tell us how many miles of county roads are maintained by Road Superintendent Mike Horner and his crews), but as I recall it’s something on the order of 800 miles of public roadway – a little of it paved, much of it graveled, and some of it dirt … This spring Horner and his district supervisors (Mike Kimball, Bill Wilson and Tony Gallob) have released their estimate of what the next ten years of road work will look like – how much asphalt will be laid and where, how much gravel, what equipment purchases they hope to make. It’s like a road map for the immediate future. It lets folks in Ophir know that their road is slated for chip and seal, starting in 2011 and continuing into 2014. It explains what’s happening to the Lone Cone/Miramonte Road right this moment, in sections continuing up into 2013 (skipping 2014) and 2015. Overall, the county is expecting over the next ten years to spend $14.5 million dollars in work on county roads in all four districts (including asphalt, gravel and equipment purchases) … That’s a huge subsidy for our right to drive, and one that our taxes only pay a small percentage of.
GREAGER ROAD … It’s depressing. Trying to secure a right-of-way that locals used to access the west side of Lone Cone for more than 50 years -- after the State Land Board sold it off without even talking to the county -- has proven a very difficult nut to crack. We are four years into the process, and we’re still just trying to verify who really owns the property the road sits on …. Currently, Gene Dollarhide and his BLM crews will start work June 16 to prove up a federal cadastral survey that will finally establish who owns what and whose land the road actually sits on, after competing non-federal surveys obtained very different results. If you have questions about that survey work, call John Kunz at the U.S. Dept. of Interior’s Solicitor office in Lakewood, 303-236-5353 … Once the survey is completed (and depending upon whether it is appealed or not) the county can try to get back on track getting that public right-of-way back. But like the song says, “What a long, hard road it’s been!”
TRIPLE PLAY … Rooting for the San Francisco Giants this year is like rooting for the Colorado Rockies. Disappointing … My old Sem buddy Gary Saso had great seats and took me a couple weeks back to my first visit to AT&T Park for a nightcap between the last place San Diego Padres and the Giants on a roll -- coming off a three-game away sweep of the division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks. Greg Maddox versus Matt Cain. I was pumped … The park was stunning. Great views. Great camaraderie -- as we were surrounded by genial ticket-holders (it was like being part of a long-standing men’s club). A high-def scoreboard the size of a skyscraper turned on its side, with images as real on the screen as the players looked on the field … And it was a good game. Well-pitched. Some clutch hits. And then in the eighth inning a triple play -- Castillo to Durham to Bowker. The Giants’ first in their new park and the first at home since 1980. An historic night … Historic too as Giant shortstop and 11-time Gold Glove fielder Omar Vizquel was honored at home for breaking the league record for most games played by a shortstop, formerly held by fellow Venezuelan-born Luis Aparicio, who was there to share hugs at the opening ceremony … I love baseball’s tension. Even with a big lead, all it takes is a sudden spree to turn victory into disaster. And this was a tight game. Tied 3-3 at the end of the ninth, sending the game and my churning stomach into extra innings. And then in the unlucky 13th, one of the Giant relievers loaded up the bases with two outs, walked in a run to give the Padres the lead, hit a batter to force in a second go-ahead run, and gave up a final single to knock in two more runs and lose the game 7-3 … We didn’t stay for the Giants last at bat nor the much-vaunted finale fireworks display. What was there to celebrate? For all the excitement, for all the historic moments, it was a loss. And leaving before the sad end, we got a seat on the CalTrain home to Mountain View, while many of the grumpy fans had to stand and stew.
THE TALKING GOURD
Tonight the moon full
over the South Bay hills
as I cycle up Stevens Creek trail.
Shadows lengthening into dusk.
The bottlebrush fragrantly in bloom.
And déjà vu it comes to me.
One of my first memories.
When we lived in that high-staired
ramshackle Victorian on Hollister
in San Fran’s Bayview District.
A bright orange moon
full on the street
as I walked with
Dad. That giant of a figure.
His hand holding mine.