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 today, Monday.

With a 59-percent no vote on a mail-in ballot, Contra Costa County voters roundly 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.'"

Regular Guy May 08, 2012 at 04:39 PM
>it seemed as though the agency was trying to "sneak" this past the electorate. michael, approval of a tax via ballot measure requires a 2/3 yes vote. This vote by mail "fee" required only 50% yes if you accept their untested legal reasoning. I think it's fair to call this an end run around the law, so I agree with you. As I posted on Lamorinda Patch: The problem is the unfunded mandate. The solution is repeal of the mandate, not a new tax, not even one masquerading as a "fee". Our water is clean enough, something that I would not have said 40 years ago. Governments at all levels are bankrupt unless they eliminate huge amounts of promised spending. This mandate is one of those items. It's a race to cut spending before bankruptcy overtakes us. If we can eliminate this mandate we will make some minor progress in that race.
Local Mom May 08, 2012 at 07:25 PM
My household voted no for a variety of reasons, including poor campaign literature and the reasoning that our single family small house should not be assessed the same amount as El Cerrito Plaza. If the quote from Donald Freitas above is correct, he should not be criticizing "the public" for voting no, but rather engaging in constructive solution brainstorming with the local governments to figure out how to make it happen within the voter-approved funding.
Dorothy Coakley May 08, 2012 at 10:21 PM
I admit to major confusion when the ballot arrived at our house. The ballot seemed phony as it didn't come through CCC, the "voting" seemed unfair (One vote for two voters with different opinions?) and the knowledge that only a 50% vote was required seemed downright sneaky. But...thanks to Larry Craighill, I knew to vote "yes." Next time, maybe Larry could run the campaign?
Kathy A. May 09, 2012 at 10:12 PM
Patch and its readers did its part to let voters know what was going on. I agree that the ballot materials were somewhat confusing. This was an unusual kind of ballot measure -- and perhaps because it was being run by the water board and local municipalities, it did not have a big fancy expensive campaign. Here's the deal, though. This measure got voted down, even though it was an inexpensive fee. El Cerrito and other local entities will need to pay for compliance with state law, anyway -- or pay big fines. That means the money will come out of something else. You might have noticed that El Cerrito is not exactly rolling in money; we will be paying for compliance, but at the cost of other things. If you do not understand what you are asked to vote on, please EDUCATE YOURSELF. In a situation like this, the city and the water program could not possibly afford to run big ads on TV, radio, internet. I wish the larger papers would have covered the situation better, but they didn't.
Dorothy Coakley May 11, 2012 at 01:36 AM
Don't blame the voters for a lack of "education." They saw a ballot coming from an unusual source, took the time to read it, and voted to avoid raising their own taxes. It would have been better (and more honest) to put it on the regular ballot, In my household, this would have meant *two* voters, rather than just the one. Has nothing to do with running the campaign on a small budget, it has to do with listening to a political consultancy who believed that optimal results would happen though this methodology. Sorry, Kathy A...I disagree with your assessment of the events!


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »