A majority of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors considers the Martini Creek Bypass a "dead" project and says it will push for construction of a tunnel behind Devil's Slide regardless of the outcome of the Nov. 5 Measure T vote.
Nevertheless, Supervisors Ted Lempert, Ruben Barrales and Mike Nevin say a strong showing for Measure T, the tunnel initiative, is important to send a clear signal that San Mateo County is united in its support of digging a tunnel to detour the problem local stretch of Highway 1.
"Measure T is more than just, `Do we want a tunnel?' Period," said Barrales, board president. "We need to allow the democratic process to proceed forward. It helps people . . . know that they truly do matter in the political process."
In separate interviews last week, Lempert, Barrales and Nevin said they believe a tunnel is the best way to permanently repair the crumbling stretch of Highway 1 between Pacifica and Montara. They also said they could not imagine a scenario under which they would vote for the 4.5-mile inland bypass.
"My impression at this point of the bypass is it's a dead project," Barrales said.
Similarly, Nevin, who until last week had supported the bypass, said he would not vote for the overland route.
"If we turn back to the bypass, the continuation of the court process (challenging the bypass) would go on and on," Nevin said.
Nevin announced his support of the tunnel and Measure T on Oct. 16, stating, "My main concern has always been finding the fastest solution and one that we can afford. With the release of the new, independent study showing the costs to be almost identical, I am convinced that we can get Congressional approval to build the tunnel."
Funding to build a tunnel has not been guaranteed by the federal or state government. But Nevin said he believes it would be the "exact same fight to get the extra money for the bypass" as the tunnel since the bypass is not fully funded.
"It's going to be as difficult to make up the $70 million (shortfall) for the bypass as the tunnel," Nevin said.
Barrales and Lempert had announced their support for Measure T a week earlier. On Wednesday, the two announced plans to gather all sides of the debate after the election _ assuming Measure T wins _ to come up with an "action plan" to secure funding.
"First it was `think tunnel,' " Lempert said of the ubiquitous campaign mantra. "Then it was `study tunnel.' Next it will be `vote tunnel,' and then it will be `build tunnel.' "
Barrales added: "We've never put everyone together and said, `What do we need to do to make this happen?' "
Nevin's support for a tunnel means there is the majority needed on the Board of Supervisors to change the county's Land Use Plan from its current designation requiring the bypass as the permanent repair of Highway 1 to the tunnel. Barrales and Lempert sought that change in the spring of 1995, but fell one vote short.
"The closer we come to unanimity, the easier it will be" to get Congress to allocate funding for the tunnel, Nevin said.
Supervisor Tom Huening is opposed to the measure because of the funding issue; Mary Griffin has not taken a position and did not return calls for comment.
Despite the board's shift in sentiment, do not expect the issue to show up on the board agenda before Nov. 5. Supervisors say they want to neither preempt the initiative process nor blunt the margin of victory for Measure T, which they are all confident will be sizable.
While the election is two weeks away, Measure T has lined up considerable support from newspapers and elected officials, dwarfing even Measure D, the controversial Heritage Site Initiative that was trounced at the polls in 1992 with 82 percent of voters opposing it. Lempert said he has never seen as much support line up behind a measure as it has in recent weeks for Measure T.
It has been endorsed by newspapers including the Review, Pacifica Tribune, San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner.
Meanwhile, elected officials are jumping on the Measure T bandwagon. In addition to the three supervisors, Congressional Reps. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, and Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, announced their support for the measure last week. Lantos' district includes Devil's Slide and it was he who more than 10 years ago secured the $52 million for the bypass that remains unspent. Both representatives have pledged to work to get Congress to approve tunnel funding.
Also last week, state Sen. Byron Sher, D-Palo Alto, and outgoing Assemblywoman Jackie Speier, whose district includes the slide, announced support for Measure T, as did Jim Tucker, the Republican candidate for Speier's seat.
"I chaired the Board of Supervisors in 1985 when we held what were probably hundreds of hours of hearings on this issue," Speier said in a statement. "Eleven years later, we still don't have a solution. We can't wait another decade. San Mateo County voters are being offered a reasonable proposal for improving an important road within a very special area in our county."
However, state Sen. Quentin Kopp, I-San Francisco, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, remains a potent holdout. Kopp's district includes Devil's Slide and his support has been sought by both sides. He is not taking a position on the measure, but he accuses environmentalists supporting it of being disingenuous and Measure T of "foolish rigidity."
In a recent letter to Zoe Kersteen-Tucker, spokeswoman for the Yes on T campaign, Kopp excoriated Measure T proponents for promoting "abysmal public policy" that replaces the currently inflexible position of only allowing the bypass to one only allowing the tunnel.
"Instead of amending the Local Coastal Plan in a manner which would permit legally the flexibility inevitably needed because of the vicissitudes of technology, funding and other factors, your confederates and you have chosen to eliminate any alternative but a tunnel," he wrote.
The measure, as it is written, would also allow for a permanent repair of the road in its exisiting location.
"I've participated in public policy-making for approximately 33 years in the Bay Area . . . " he added. "You do a disservice to the public at large. You could have done a service . . . by writing the initiative in an intellectually honest way and campaigning for it accordingly."
Nevertheless, Kopp said in an interview, "There's no question it'll pass."