To Save the Environment, San Franciscans Will Pay More Taxes

by | June 8, 2016

By Paul Rogers

Measure AA, a landmark $12 annual parcel tax in all nine Bay Area counties to fund wetlands restoration and flood control projects around San Francisco Bay's shoreline, appears to have won approval from voters.

The measure, which would raise $25 million a year for 20 years, and needed two-thirds to pass, and had 69.3 percent in favor Wednesday morning with all 4,643 precincts counted.

Although there are still some provisional and mail-in ballots that were postmarked on Election Day left to be counted, Measure AA had 837,162 yes votes by 6 a.m. Wednesday -- more than 31,000 above the two-thirds threshold from a total of 1,208,704 cast.

A milestone for the preservation of San Francisco Bay, Measure AA, which will raise roughly $500 million over the next 20 years, ranks as the largest environmental measure ever approved in the Bay Area. It equals Measure WW, a $500 million parks bond approved by voters in 2008 to fund the East Bay Regional Park District.

"Tonight's vote is a resounding victory for wildlife and people who want a healthy, beautiful bay for future generations," said David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, in Oakland.

The measure was backed by environmental groups such as Save the Bay, the Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy, along with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Bay Area Council, PG&E, Google and Facebook. Supporters raised more than $2.3 million while opponents, mostly local taxpayer groups who said it was unfair to charge inland homeowners the same rate as bayfront property owners and large corporations, ran a voluntary campaign.

The idea behind the measure was to provide a local source of funding toward the estimated $1.5 billion job of restoring thousands of acres of tidal marshlands around the bay, from Marin to Alviso, Mountain View to Richmond. Doing so, experts say, will not only bring back wildlife but give the Bay Area a strategy to deal with rising sea level in the decades ahead.

A study in October by more than 100 scientists, coordinated by the Coastal Conservancy and other organizations, found that 54,000 acres of wetlands -- an area twice the size of the city of San Francisco -- need to be restored around the bay in the next 15 years to provide protection from surging storms. The alternative is concrete sea walls, which can cost more and would turn the bay into a giant bathtub over time, with far fewer birds, fish and other wildlife, the report concluded.

Driven by melting ice and expanding warming water, the bay and the Pacific Ocean off California will rise up to 1 foot in the next 20 years, 2 feet by 2050 and up to 5 feet by 2100, according to a 2012 study by the National Academy of Sciences. "We will now be able to address one of our most pressing regional issues -- protecting San Francisco Bay from the threat of rising seas and a changing world climate." said Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a San Jose business-based organization that helped organize the Yes on AA campaign.

The first-ever local tax before voters in every Bay Area county, the measure's apparent success could mean more regional votes on other issues in the years ahead, from transportation to housing. The vote provided a window into the Bay Area's political leanings, with the more liberal counties, such as Marin and San Francisco voting in favor and the more conservative counties, including Napa and Solano, against.

Also Tuesday, voters approved Measure A, which extends the Santa Clara County parks charter fund and earmarks 1.5 cents per $100 of assessed property tax value to county parks, raising about $57 million a year.

(c)2016 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)