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."
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