Bouquets and Brickbats: Union Pacific makes good on fencing

We’re routing an on-the-right-track bouquet to Union Pacific for agreeing to extend a fence intended to prevent pedestrians from illegally crossing the tracks near Cal Poly. The barrier was installed near the spot where a 17-year-old boy, Oscar Gonzalez, was struck and killed by a train last year.

The sturdy metal fence was supposed to block access to a dangerous path leading across the tracks, but it was a short-lived fix. Within a matter of days, trespassers had broken through an adjacent wooden fence behind an apartment complex to take a shortcut.

Union Pacific initially balked at extending the barrier, but then agreed to add 60 feet of metal fencing to replace the wooden one. That was the right call. Granted, breaking down the wooden fence was idiotic — not to mention criminal — but given the history of train versus pedestrian accidents in this area, Union Pacific and the city of SLO should take every reasonable safety precaution.

Wrong time for transportation tax

A missed-the-boat brickbat goes to the San Luis Obispo County Council of Governments for waiting too long to get serious about proposing a transportation sales tax. The agency has been talking about this for years, and it decides to conduct a survey now, when the economy has hit the skids? It’s a wonder the proposed tax polled as well as it did.

The survey of “high frequency” voters showed 60 percent were in favor of a half-cent sales tax increase. That’s not bad, but is shy of the two-thirds majority needed to pass a special tax. The survey also found that transportation is a “low priority” during these difficult fiscal times.

Given the backlog of road improvements needed in our county, we believe a transportation sales tax is worth taking to the voters at some point, but that should take a back seat until the public had more confidence in the economy — and in government.

SLO city managers take a cut

In these tough times, public budgets are facing increased scrutiny and unfortunate cuts. The city of San Luis Obispo is seeking to cut $3.1 million in compensation for city employees, which amounts to about 6.8 percent per worker.

This week, top city managers agreed to give up salary increases for the next two years and to take a compensation cut of about 8 percent, saving the city $807,000 annually. City leaders hope this will set an example for other workers.

For this, we offer them a scaled-down, budget-friendly bouquet. Although an 8 percent reduction may not affect the highest-paid managers the same way a similar cut would affect someone making much less, at least the spirit of shared sacrifice is there.

While we’re on the topic, Atascadero’s nine department heads also earn frugal bouquets. They recently agreed to reductions ranging from 1 percent to 3 percent.

Trading one perk for another

California lawmakers have lost a perk — the state will no longer buy cars for them — but taxpayers are still being taken for a ride. According to the Los Angeles Times, lawmakers are now required to provide their own cars, but they’ll be reimbursed at a rate of 55.5 cents per mile. That could cost taxpayers more than $1 million per year, compared to the $735,800 the state paid out last year to provide cars, repairs, insurance, etc.

A more frugal plan to give lawmakers a $300-a-month transportation allowance would have cost just $432,000, but that was nixed by the attorney general.

We’d hop in our car to deliver a trunk load of brickbats to Sacramento, but our reimbursement rate isn’t nearly as generous as 55.5 cents per mile. Instead, we’ll offer a give-us-a-break bouquet to lawmakers who manage to keep their transportation costs under budget.