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September 02, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, September 02, 2005

From traffic to endangered species to ROTC From traffic to endangered species to ROTC (September 02, 2005)

Pombo proud of road funding, looking forward to new term

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

When Congress recessed for the summer, U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo (R., Tracy) announced that $75.3 million in federal funds had been secured to help alleviate traffic congestion in his 11th Congressional District.

"Transportation is the No. 1 issue wherever he goes in his extensive district," said Nicole Taylor Philbin, Pombo's press secretary, who was in the East Bay on Monday. And extensive the 11th District is, reaching from Lockeford in the northeast to Morgan Hill in the south, and looping north to form an I-680 peninsula that includes Pleasanton, Danville, Diablo and Blackhawk.

Of these funds, $7.6 million is allocated for a feasibility study to build a highway to connect the Central Valley and the Bay Area, also known as the State Route 130 Realignment Project, and sometimes called the "Pombo freeway." The goal is to relieve commuter congestion on I-580 and I-680 on the weekdays and vacationers on the weekends.

The funds will be used to study all aspects of the proposed road, an idea which has been bantered about since the 1950s, said Philbin. About 23 miles long, it would head west just south of Tracy and end up linked to Highway 101. Some options being studied include allowing cars only or using tolls to benefit carpooling and gas-efficient vehicles.

Pombo is currently on leave from the Transportation Committee, Philbin said, while serving as the chairman of the House Resources Committee. He also serves on the Agricultural Committee.

Pombo, a member of a ranching family, was elected to Congress since 1992 after serving as a city councilman in Tracy from 1990-92. He first became interested in politics in defense of property rights, Philbin noted. In 1996, St. Martin's Press published his book, "This Land Is Our Land," advocating property rights. This topic is again in the spotlight as legislators debate expanding eminent domain.

Philbin said a priority for Pombo as chairman of the Resources Committee is to protect property owners by revamping the Endangered Species Act.

Conservationists have been critical of the initial draft, saying it changes the law's focus from conserving habitats to preventing extinction. The Endangered Species Coalition says the bill would require agencies to compensate landowners for the costs of complying with federal endangered species protections, which the conservationists believe would bankrupt the programs.

Philbin said Pombo worked last session with U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D., W.Va.), the ranking minority member of the committee, on the draft and it will be one of the "hot items" when Congress reconvenes Sept. 6.

Another hot item will be a Supreme Court decision on allowing ROTC on college campuses.

"Sacramento State kids came to meet with him (Pombo) about this," Philbin said. They were worried they were going to lose their ROTC scholarships as the university was throwing ROTC off campus because officials didn't agree with the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Philbin referred to an article in the New Yorker on July 25 by Jeffrey Toobin called "Sex and the Supremes" which has several paragraphs on Pombo, including a threat to hold back federal funding to universities that eliminate ROTC. Toobin wrote: "In a speech on the floor of the House in 1994, Pombo said that the universities who received money from the federal government 'need to know that their starry-eyed idealism comes with a price.'"

Danville resident Steve Filson, 58, a United Airlines pilot, has announced he will challenge Pombo in the 2006 election. Pombo is completing his seventh two-year term in office. In the last election, he soundly defeated Democrat Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton, who is saying he plans to run again.

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