City to Cast 3 Dozen Votes for Clean-Water Fee in Mail-in Election

The El Cerrito City Council Tuesday night agreed to vote "Yes" with the city's numerous votes in the mail-in election for the proposed "Clean Water" parcel fee.

The El Cerrito City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to cast the city's multiple votes for a Contra Costa County ballot measure for a "Clean Water" parcel fee.

Owners of parcels in Contra Costa County recently received mail ballots for a proposed 2012 Community Clean Water Initiative, which would add between $6 and $22 per year on the property tax bills of most parcels. The money would be used to help local governments meet stricter standards for water run-off entering streams and the Bay.

The election has generated some public confusion and criticism since it is being 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 vote is also being sponsored, not by the elections department, but by the Contra Costa Clean Water Program, a consortium of the county's 19 cities plus the county government and the county flood-control district.

All the money raised in each city by the fee would be given to that city to meet its clean-water requirements.

The owner of each parcel gets one vote, and since the city owns multiple properties, it gets to cast numerous votes. City staff, which recommended that the city cast its votes in favor of the measure, estimated that the city owns "approximately 30" parcels subject to the fee, while the Municipal Service Corporation, also a creature of the city, owns an additional seven subject to the fee. (The staff report is attached to this article.)

El Cerrito Public Works Director Jerry Bradshaw said that not passing the fee would cost the city an estimated $254,000 from the general fund per year by 2013-14 and expose the city to the risk of fines up to $10,000 per day if found not in compliance with the new standards, particularly the ones on capturing trash like plastic bottles and bags.

The five members of the City Council voted to cast the city's votes for the fee, and then the council members, plus City Manager Scott Hanin and Assistant City Manager Karen Pinkos, reconvened as the Municipal Services Corp. board and agreed to cast the corporation's votes for the fee.

During the public comment period, Al Miller, a board member of the , said the public criticism is seriously misinformed about the legitimacy of the election and the need for the fee and that the experience offers a "learning opportunity for every elected official in Contra Costa County of how not to put a measure forward."

"Unfortunately, most of them (members of the public who are reacting strongly to the measure) through their lack of knowledge, lack of information provided to them, don't really know what's happening," Miller said.

Councilman Greg Lyman echoed Miller's comments saying, "Certainly I think this campaign could have been done in a much better fashion, but ... the ramifications for the city are severe, and I feel we're going forward with the correct action."

For alerts on future articles about the Clean Water ballot measure, click the "Keep me posted" button below.

George March 07, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Please clarify: a city can vote in this poll because it pays all taxes and fees on its parcels already?
Kathy A. March 07, 2012 at 09:17 PM
This particular election is a bit unusual. The voters are owners of parcels of property -- so unlike other elections, the ballot came addressed to both me and my husband, since we jointly own our property. The city owns a bunch of properties. It voted to pay this particular fee on each parcel. The vote is not a surprise, because the city has to pay for compliance (or fees for non-compliance) even if a majority of voters do not agree. If the measure fails, the money for compliance (or fees) will come out of general funds -- meaning something else will be cut. That's why we voted in favor of the measure -- we do not want other things cut. George -- The voters for this particular election are owners of individual pieces of property. Since the city owns pieces of property, city council needed to make a decision on behalf of the city. The funds can only be used for compliance with water standards that the city is required to meet.
Toni Mayer March 07, 2012 at 10:16 PM
That clarifies a lot. I agree the election has been badly handled and that understandabvly raises mistrust.
Charles Burress March 09, 2012 at 12:00 AM
I just got off the phone with Tom Dalziel, program manager for the Contra Costa Clean Water Program, the agency conducting the election. He said that ballots went to all parcels that have improvements on them and thus are considered likely to contribute to water run-off. Prop 218 elections assign one vote per affected parcel, and since the city has about 30 parcels with improvements among its 70-plus total parcels, it has about 30 ballots, in addition to the seven ballots for affected parcels owned by the Municipal Services Corporation.


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