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Crosscurrents

Bay Area to vote on first-ever regional tax to prepare for sea level rise

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Audrey Dilling
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San Francisco Bay waterfront park in Martinez, California. Measure AA on the June 7 ballot proposes a $12 annual parcel tax to raise money for bay restoration projects.

 

On June 7, Bay Area voters will weigh in on the Bay Area’s first-ever regional tax to fight climate change. If passed, Measure AA would collect $12 per year from property owners in all nine Bay Area counties.

 

 

Over the course of 20 years the tax would raise $500 million. The money would go to projects that restore wetlands along the San Francisco Bay and protect local communities from sea level rise.

“Protecting the place where both people and wildlife come together is just such an obvious, easy choice to make when the cost is $12 a year,” says Cyril Manning, communications director for Save the Bay.

If passed, the funding generated by the tax could go to things like re-planting native species, cleaning up trash, and improving water quality. It will also go to projects that restore some of the 85 percent of wetlands that have been filled in or developed around the Bay.

“Tidal marsh wetlands are the natural defenses of the San Francisco Bay and those are the pieces of our environment that can adapt,” says Manning. “And we all know that climate change is bringing real significant changes to the Bay Area.”

Scientists are projecting that the bay’s water level could rise as much as 55 inches by the end of this century.

“That would threaten our infrastructure, threaten our roads. It would threaten major businesses that are built to sea level,” Manning says.

But some see the flat tax as unfair.

“A one bedroom condominium in Antioch would pay the same tax as a downtown San Francisco high-rise,” explains Wendy Lack from the Contra Costa County Taxpayer’s Association.

Lack doesn’t think she should have to chip in for other people’s problems.

“I'm wondering why eight Bay Area counties should fund Santa Clara County’s flood protection needs. That just doesn't seem fair,” she adds.

She's referring to the fact that Santa Clara County is home to the largest wetland restoration project on the West Coast. Measure AA funds could go to support the project which involves turning 15,000 acres of industrial salt ponds back into wildlife habitat. But the money will also be spread around all nine counties.

According to the measure, half of the money raised would be divided between four main Bay Area regions – North, South, East, and West – based on each region’s share of the total population. The other half can go wherever it’s needed most, so long as it’s for projects to protect the Bay.

The San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority will oversee the distribution of the funds. It’s a regional agency that created in 2008 without a designated funding source. Measure AA is the agency’s first attempt to generate money. And Wendy Lack says it won’t be the last.

“This $500 million tax over 20 years proposed by Measure AA is just the beginning of the spending.”

Save the Bay’s Cyril Manning says $500 million dollars won't be enough money to complete all the projects necessary to protect the bay, but that there are other sources that the Restoration Authority can turn to for additional funding, like federal matching grants.

Measure AA requires a 'yes' vote from two-thirds of Bay Area voters to pass. And if it does, it will be a first.

“This kind of funding mechanism is completely unprecedented. The fact that nine counties are coming together to vote for a regional solution to what really is a global problem – this is something nobody has ever tried before,” says Manning.