Tax for bay protection on ballot

Bay Area voters in the June 7 primary are being asked to approve a $12 per year parcel tax, which proponents say will raise millions to preserve sensitive San Francisco Bay wetlands and protect communities from the rising waters expected due to climate change.

If passed, the tax is expected to generate about $25 million per year to fund a number of San Francisco Bay shoreline projects. The Clean and Healthy Bay measure, placed on the ballot by the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority, has been assigned the ballot name Measure AA, and is 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 property owners of all the counties in the Bay Area, regardless of the property’s size or purpose.

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.

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, Rep. Jared Huffman and many other regional elected officials have endorsed the measure.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors also unanimously endorsed the measure.

One of the challenges facing Measure AA is to convince those who don’t live near the Bay in the affected counties - which includes nearly all of Sonoma County - to approve the parcel tax.

“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.”

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 April 25 at 7 p.m. at the San Rafael Community Center.

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