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Defeat for Contra Costa Clean Water Measure

With 59 percent saying no, voters have rejected a mail-in ballot for a Contra Costa County parcel tax for clean water projects, the Contra Costa Clean Water Program announced Monday.

With a 59-percent no vote on a mail-in ballot, Contra Costa County voters soundly rejected a , the Contra Costa Clean Water program announced Monday.

Ballots for the "2012 Community Clean Water Initiative" were mailed to 339,586 property owners in the county in February and were due back April 6. Tabulation of the result was delayed out because the ballots were counted by hand.

Voters returned 100,768 ballots, with 59,844 voting no (59 percent) and 40,924 voting yes (41 percent), according to Donald Freitas, program manager for the Contra Costa Clean Water Program, a consortium of the county's 19 cities plus the county government and the county flood-control district.

The ballot generated some public confusion and criticism since it was conducted under the infrequently used Proposition 218, which permits an election for a parcel fee to pass with a simple majority, instead of the two-thirds needed for a parcel tax. The election was sponsored, not by the county elections department, but by the clean water program.

The votes were tabulated by Carol Keane and Associates, CPA, of Walnut Creek. 

The measure would have added between $6 and $22 per year on the property tax bills of most parcels. The money would have been used to help local governments meet stricter standards for water run-off entering streams and the Bay.

The defeat of the measure means that local governments need to find other ways to fund measures to meet tightened water-quality standards, Freitas said in an emailed notice announcing the results.

"As was stated many times during this process, the defeat of the Initiative does NOT negate the need for all twenty-one affected jurisdictions in Contra Costa County (to meet) the regulatory mandates of the Federal Clean Water Act and California’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Act," he said. "Each entity needs to immediately determine how the necessary funding will now be generated in order to implement the regulatory mandates or be found to be in noncompliance and subject to fines which could run into the thousands or millions of dollars."

Freitas also criticized press coverage of the election and warned that the measure's defeat could jeopardize funding for other important local services like hiring police officers: 

"The election results can and will be interpreted in many ways, but suffice it to say, the methodology outlined in the voter approved 1996 Proposition 218 (California Constitution XIII) had great challenges even though the Program followed its provisions religiously. Courts in California have said the legal nexus between urban runoff and property is valid, but the requirements of Proposition 218 became suspect in the voter’s mind and the press. It’s very easy for the press to condemn actions of local government; but rarely if ever, do they suggest valid alternatives. The election result has worsened local government’s ability to finance Federal and/or State mandates when it is done with no local financing. If the general fund becomes the only alternative to finance the regulatory mandates than the public debate will be simplified between 'clean water vs. hiring police officers and other vital community services.'"

Patrick J. McNamara May 08, 2012 at 10:09 AM
I am always leery of ballot measures with virtuous names that are short on implementation and accountability details, and merely ask for nickels and dimes. Just because I may vote No on the "Soft Furry Kitten and Cute Snuggly Puppy Initiative of 2012" does not mean I am a puppy hater. I voted No twice on this initiative, having two parcels in the county. Some time later, while in a certification classroom for the Bay-Friendly Landscapes Coalition, our class was addressed by one of the environmental consultants working with the Clean Water Initiative group. Never have I felt more vindicated in a vote cast as after listening to the over-thought, bureaucratic, unscientific "solutions" being set forth by this person. A long time colleague and I later shared eye-rolling moments from his presentation. A nice guy, but nobody we want crafting regulations.
Patrick J. McNamara May 08, 2012 at 10:11 AM
One final note to the author. Whenever budget cuts or revenue expectations are turned back, it always seems that the default consequences are explained in terms of police, fire or teacher cuts. It seems there is never room to cut salaries, benefits or discretionary budgets of anything but the most beloved of our public employees. They always seem to be the default human shields held out by rebuffed, entrenched revenue seekers. I guess that makes sense. After all, who would wail to the local media about budget cuts--or hold bake sales--if it were six-figure mid-level bureaucrats whose jobs were on the line? But you know what? You can only go to that well so many times before even the most police-firefighter-teacher-puppy-kitten-friendly electorate grow weary of it.
Chris Kapsalis May 08, 2012 at 02:05 PM
Our family has 4 parcels, and we already pay about $17,000 a year in prop tax, and barely make it right now, thank you NO MORE PROP TAX. geeeze. You are going to take our land, we are not money rich in the least. Hardly.
Patrick J. McNamara May 08, 2012 at 11:33 PM
Even in explaining the outcome of the "election" here, there is confusion. "...Proposition 218, which permits an election for a parcel fee to pass with a simple majority, instead of the two-thirds needed for a parcel tax." But then a few lines later: "The measure would have added between $6 and $22 per year on the property tax bills of most parcels." So what's the difference between a parcel fee and a parcel tax, if the fee is collected on the tax bill, with all the same collection authority and penalty structure for non-payment? There seems to be no limit to how stupid some people think the citizens are.
Randy Martinez Resident May 12, 2012 at 11:30 PM
The use of proposition 218 is a red flag that they are trying to pull one over on the voters and this shows that we are not as stupid as the politicians and other government officials like Donald Freitas think we are. The threat of less police has sure become a cry wolf scenario the last few years. I say that the voters grow a pair and start telling the politicians to stop spending money on absurd projects like decorative street lights and decorative facades and other useless expendatures. A decorative streetlamp cost approximately 5 times as much as a basic standard not to mention the more costley regular maintainence such as painting it replacing the decorative lenses and so on. A nice paint job will look as good as a decorative facade. There is no need for A big archway in downtown to welcome drivers. Brass balls on top of poles serves no purpose at all. Get rid of the politicians that allow this type of expendatures and you will solve the revenue problems not just the local level but at all levels of government.

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