Measure on June 7 ballot to tackle sea level rise in San Francisco Bay counties

Along with a Sophie's Choice between Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, voters in California's June 7 election will have the option of voting Yay or Nay on a special parcel tax that will add $12 to the annual cost of owning property in the nine San Francisco Bay counties.

If passed, the tax is expected to generate about $25 million per year to fund a number of San Francisco Bay shoreline projects that backers say will be necessary as climate change leads to rising sea levels in the San Francisco Bay.

The measure, placed on the ballot by the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority (SFBRA) is called the San Francisco Bay Clean Water, Pollution Prevention and Habitat Restoration measure, though it will be short-named on the ballot as the Clean and Healthy Bay measure. It has been assigned the ballot name Measure AA, as the only regional measure on the ballot.

Voters in the nine Bay Area counties that touch the waters of the Bay will be asked to vote on the measure, expected to raise some $500 million over 20 years to fund critical projects. The $12 parcel tax will be applied to properties owners of all the counties in the Bay Area, regardless of the property's size or purpose.

The counties represented include Sonoma as well as Napa, Marin and Solano counties in the North Bay. Other counties are from different Bay regions, including East Bay (Contra Costa and Alameda), South Bay (Santa Clara), and West Bay (San Mateo and San Francisco). A two-thirds majority of votes cast across the nine counties is required to levy the tax.

Sonoma County projects listed in the prospectus include wetlands and habitat restoration on lower Sonoma Creek, a new San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge visitors center at Sears Point, as well as several projects along the Petaluma River and Tolay Creek.

The San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority was created in 2008. In its statement announcing the ballot measure, the Bay Restoration Authority said, 'Restoring San Francisco Bay is not just essential from an environmental or quality of life perspective. It is equally important to provide communities with coastal flood protection, expand bicycle and walking trails on public land, and to continue to strengthen our local economy with new jobs.'

Measure AA projects would address 'reducing trash, pollution and harmful toxins; improving water quality; restoring habitat for fish, birds and wildlife; protecting communities from floods; and increasing shoreline access for public enjoyment,' according to a release from the agency.

'Revitalizing bay wetlands costs about half as much as building massive flood-protection levees, but provides Bay Area residents with exactly the same safety benefits,' said Marc Holmes, program director for the Bay Institute. 'Restoring 100,000 acres of marshes is the most cost-effective way to protect the public from rising seas over the next 50 years. It is much more affordable than paying for expensive levees that are already being planned.'

Sen. Dianne Feinstein has called the measure 'an unprecedented opportunity for all Bay Area residents to unite in support of the Bay we love, and improve it a lot for very little cost.'

Feinstein joins civic leader Bob Fisher of the Gap as honorary co-chairs of the campaign to protect and restore the San Francisco Bay. The campaign has received broad support from local elected officials, environmental, business, labor, and philanthropic groups, and civic leaders – more than 70 of whom have already endorsed the measure.

State Sen. Mike McGuire, Assemblymember Bill Dodd, U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman and many other regional elected officials have endorsed the measure. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors unanimously endorsed the Measure in its meeting on March 1, 2016.

One of the challenges facing Measure AA is to convince those who don't live near the Bay in the affected counties – which would include nearly all of Sonoma County – to approve a parcel tax, a charge levied irrespective of the value of the parcel.

'You have big companies like Apple that will only pay $12 per parcel,' said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. 'I respectfully suggest that Apple can afford the $12.'

Index-Tribune columnist Thomas D. Elias called it a 'regressive tax' in his March 7 column. 'Even backers of many parcel tax plans often admit the levy is inherently unfair, taxing the poor the same amount as wealthy corporations. That's one reason some parcel taxes exempt property owned by senior citizens.' Measure AA does not exempt seniors.

A number of educational events are planned in coming months to educate the public on Measure AA, though none have been announced for Sonoma County as yet. In nearby Marin County, the Time to Lead on Climate coalition will present a forum on Monday, April 25, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the San Rafael Community Center.

For more information on Measure AA, visit sfbayrestore.og.

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