Endorsements: Measure AA doubles down on climate change

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“I guess he didn’t know that the water was deeper than the place he’d once before been.” – Pete Seeger, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy”

On June 7, voters in nine Bay Area counties will be asked to consider Measure AA, also known as the San Francisco Bay Clean Water, Pollution Prevention and Habitat Restoration Measure – an initiative to restore sensitive wetlands throughout the region.

When deciding upon one’s vote on the acronym-a-palooza that is SFBCWPPHRM, here are a few numbers to consider: 160,000, 3 and 12.

That first number, 160,000, happens to be the amount of Bay Area tidal marsh acreage lost since the Spanish ship San Carlos entered the San Francisco Bay in 1769, bringing the age of European conquest to the inland shores of northern California. After a 20th century of development-driven infill, an estimated 44,000 acres remain today. But those 44,000 sit precariously as well, thanks to our next number, 3 – which is the estimated number of feet, on average, of sea-level rise that the scientific community expects to occur, given the current pace of climate change, by the end of the 21st century. Rest assured, a mere three feet of seawater is going to displace a lot of land.

Which brings us to 12. That’s the number of dollars per year the Measure AA parcel tax would levy through 2037 to restore the wetlands; over the course of its 20-year term the measure would raise an estimated $500 million.

According to the ballot text of the measure, that annual $12 ding would go to “raise and allocate resources for the restoration, enhancement, protection and enjoyment of wetlands and wildlife habitats in the San Francisco Bay and along its shoreline.” Specifically, the ballot says, funds would go toward reducing pollution, restoring sensitive habitat, increasing recreational areas and – here’s what’s key – “protecting communities from flooding.”

Measure AA is an initiative put forth by the somewhat fledgling San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority, the wetlands-restoration agency created by state law in 2008 which, up until now, has largely been off the radar of many environmentally conscious locals. If nothing else, putting a regional tax initiative on the sparse June primary ballot is an impressive coming out party.

Measure AA marks a couple of firsts. It’s the first Bay Area-wide initiative of the 21st century – and, as a specifically earmarked tax, it will need approval from two-thirds of the voters across all nine Bay Area counties in order to pass. Additionally, and more importantly, it’s the first big-ticket local initiative to deal directly with the most alarming repercussion of global climate change: sea level rise. Fortunately, in 2016 sea level rise is still largely at the conceptual level for most voters – we’d be in serious trouble if it weren’t. Unfortunately, however, that can work against the need for communities to take action years, maybe even decades in advance of an encroaching problem. Most electorates are a what’s-in-it-for-me-now type of bunch. To that end, Measure AA proponents are talking up the initiative’s recreation-friendly coastal enhancements and preservation of local endangered-species mascots the clapper rail and saltmarsh harvest mouse as more immediate benefits of forking over your hard-earned twelver.

But what’s really vital here is the need to curb flooding through the ability of natural wetlands to absorb and slow oncoming waters; a climate-change cocktail mix of sea-level rise and extreme weather events would almost certainly result in floodwaters reaching unprecedented levels if natural coastal barriers didn’t exist to quell the surge.

How much will you miss Highway 37 when it’s a foot below sea level? How about SFO?

Measure AA will by no means solve the problem of sea level rise. But it’s one reasonable component of a possible solution. It certainly faces an uphill battle – not only due to the steep hurdle of the two-thirds threshold, but also over the possibility that counties like Solano and Contra Costa aren’t expected to turn out with a similar wetlands-restoration enthusiasm as, say, Sonoma and Marin, making it all the more important for North Bay voters to make a high-percentage statement. To its advantage, no organized opposition has surfaced to lobby against it.

In the 50-year-old lyric at top, folk singer Pete Seeger warned against a calamity of humankind’s making – in that case, the Vietnam war.

While no climate-change cure-all, Measure AA is a chance to prepare, and maybe begin to prevent, another calamity of humankind’s making.

We need to move now before we, our children and our children’s children find ourselves waist deep in a big muddy of an entirely different kind.

Jason Walsh, editor

John Burns, publisher

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