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El Cerrito Only City in the County to Support Clean Water Measure

Among Contra Costa County's 19 cities, El Cerrito was the only one where a majority of voters approved the recent mail-in ballot for the Contra Costa Clean Water Initiative, a proposed parcel fee for water-protection mandates.

In the recent mail-in ballot for the , only one of the county's 19 cities approved it – El Cerrito.

Newly released data shows that the – a proposed parcel fee for water pollution control – was rejected by a majority of voters in each of the county's 18 other cities, as well as in unincorporated areas. In El Cerrito, however, it was supported by 54.9 percent.

The attached graph shows city-by-city results.

The measure, mailed to property owners in February, received a 59-percent no vote in the county as a whole. It needed a majority of all votes to win. The overall result was announced May 7, and the percentages of votes cast by each municipality were recently released by a consultant company that worked on the measure, SCI Consulting Group in Fairfield.

The lowest margin of support came from Pinole, where only 33 percent of voters approved it.

It's not the first time that El Cerrito voters have displayed an above-average willingness to support extra taxes to fund public services. In November 2010, the city's voters approved a half-cent boost in the local sales tax, Measure R, raising El Cerrito's sales tax at the time to 10.25 percent to prevent cuts in city services. The increase meant that El Cerrito, along with Union City, had the highest sales tax in California outside of Los Angeles County.

Earlier, in 2008, El Cerrito voters approved a local half-cent sales tax, Measure A, for street improvements. Those revenues helped support a remarkable turn-around in street quality, earning the city the Bay Area's "Most Improved Roads" award last year from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

The mail-only ballot for the Clean Water Initiative generated some public confusion and criticism because 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 Contra Costa Clean Water Program, a consortium of the county's 19 cities plus the county government and the county flood-control district.

Also, the amount of the tax would have been determined by location, apparently adding to voters' apprehensions.

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 runoff that enters streams, storm drains and the Bay. The tax would have come on top of an existing $35 annual fee.

The defeat of the measure means that local governments need to find other ways to fund measures to meet tightened water-quality standards imposed the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Don Gosney May 22, 2012 at 05:09 PM
I truly believe that the biggest reason for the failure of this initiative was the way it was presented to the public. Although it may have been legal, the phony baloney ballot methodology, the one sided arguments sent to the public and the secretiveness of the process left a sour taste in the mouths of many voters who expressed their distaste of the process through their votes. Add to that the amount of public money spent on the election and the level of distrust of the board overseeing the Contra Costa Clean Water Program intensified. I'm sure there was the thought that if we can't trust them with this election, why should we trust them with even more of our tax money?
Kathy A. May 22, 2012 at 05:30 PM
It was certainly an unfamiliar process -- not a normal election ballot. I recall people here questioning why there were different charges for different locations, which is explained by each municipality setting its own rates to comply with its own responsibilities. I thought the EC Patch did a good job of trying to explain what was going on; perhaps that accounts for why EC supported the measure and other places did not. Unfortunately, all our cities still have to pay for compliance, or pay large fines. EC does not have spare cash, so it means less for other things. We have the June 5 election, and then the big one in November. It is worthwhile to take the time to really think about issues and candidates. Choices made out of unhappiness with the process (or just because we haven't thought much about something) may not be the best ones. These decisions have real-life consequences we have to live with.
Rick Wood May 22, 2012 at 08:05 PM
Taxpayer advocates put Prop 218 on the ballot, so it's hard to believe the process used here was unfair. Complicated and confusing, perhaps, but unfair, no. This was a benefit assessment, not a tax. Property owners pay in proportion to the calculated benefit they will receive. That's fair. And they get to vote the same way. That's fair too. Any other method of paying will be less fair. And pay you must, because these are state and federal pollution control requirements. Contra Costa County voters shot themselves in the foot this time. Or would the circular firing squad be a more apt analogy?
John Stashik May 22, 2012 at 10:29 PM
The people in charge rigged this one to win. It lost. As for the state and federal requirements, people must vote the bums out that create these costly rules. Create some manufacturing and jobs first, then tax people to death after they have the ability to pay.
Kathy A. May 22, 2012 at 11:07 PM
i respectfully disagree, john. these regulations are important to public health and safety. there are things more important than letting anybody make a buck any way they wish; and more important than letting our unhealthy waste wreck everybody's water, just because it is more convenient for us.
Toni Mayer May 23, 2012 at 05:37 AM
Well said, Kathy.
Rick Wood May 23, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Maybe John can elaborate on how people "rigged this one to win." My assumption is they followed the Prop 218 rules to the letter. You MUST run such elections that way, by law, a law the people voted in by initiative. That's not "rigging," it's direct democracy. I prefer the republican form of government myself. This election is an example why.
Alvin Mabuhay May 25, 2012 at 02:25 AM
"Benefit assessment" not a tax. It never ceases to amaze me how people come up with different terms and euphemisms to cloak the word tax. User fee, duty, levy, excise, tariff, redistribution-and now we have "benefit assessment". No matter what you call them or try to disguise them, they are all taxes.
Alvin Mabuhay May 25, 2012 at 02:33 AM
So Rick, I believe you are in favor of the State embracing the voters wishes with respect to Prop 187, passed in 1994 by a wide margin (59%-41%). That form of direct democracy was halted by an activist court. Direct democracy is a fantasy as long as the Judicial Branch of our goverment continues to thwart the will of the people along ideological, and not constituional lines.
Kathy A. May 25, 2012 at 03:12 AM
for goodness sake, alvin. there are miles of difference between an unconstitutional statewide ballot measure meant to substitute the judgement of local law enforcement regarding immigration matters for federal law (prop. 187) and this little local measure which hoped to find a way to pay for obligations our city (and others in our county) have about clean water. the decisions on prop 187 were actually about the federal constitution. with respect, let's not mix completely different situations, shall we?
Toni Mayer May 25, 2012 at 04:33 AM
Thanks, Kathy, for your good common sense.
Alvin Mabuhay May 25, 2012 at 05:34 AM
It's the principle that matters, not the gravity of the matter. I was referencing Rick's embrace of direct democracy-does not matter what the law, propostiton or bond is-it's the integrity.
Rick Wood May 25, 2012 at 04:10 PM
I don't embrace direct democracy. The initiative process is much abused in California. I was trying to point out the inconsistency of demanding direct democracy, then complaining about how difficult it is.
Kathy A. May 25, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Thanks for clarifying, Rick. I thought you were pretty clear earlier, saying "I prefer the republican form of government myself. This election is an example why." I basically agree, both about preferring representative democracy and that initiatives are over-used in California. We hire the legislature; they have staff who can do research and consider the impact of legislation. We have gotten a good deal of bad law via ballot initiatives. This measure appears to be something that needed to be done by ballot. When we participate in direct democracy, it is our obligation to be informed of the pros and cons. In this case, the question was whether to pay a very modest assessment, or to have compliance with clean water regulations come out of the city's already-strapped budget. For me, that was a no-brainer; we cannot afford to cut city services, and the very small yearly fee will do me no damage.
Rick Wood May 25, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Thanks Kathy, and congratulations to El Cerrito for seeing it your way.
Rick Wood May 25, 2012 at 09:54 PM
Sorry I don't see how to nest comments. Alvin, it never ceases to amaze me how people want to call every government charge they oppose a tax, when they are not. I am only pointing out that by the legal definition in the state constitution, this was not a tax. I didn't make this up. You either use words correctly or you don't, but we cease to communicate when we don't use the same meanings. I'm only trying to communicate. I don't care what it's called, only that it be accurate.
Rick Wood May 25, 2012 at 10:54 PM
Now that I'm at a desktop PC, not my smartphone, I can see how to nest a reply. I've also gone back to do more research (I'm not in CCCo, so didn't vote in the election), and to be true to what I just wrote, I need to correct myself. This wasn't a benefit assessment but was, rather, what the constitution calls a "property-related fee." The procedures are different. It's still not a tax, but admittedly, it's a bit closer to a tax than a benefit assessment. The main difference is the vote for a property-related fee is not proportional like a benefit assessment would be; each property owner gets one vote per parcel instead of votes in proportion to the payment obligation. Taxes, in contrast, do not have to be property-related or proportional and follow different procedures for approval.
Alvin Mabuhay May 26, 2012 at 02:07 AM
I maintain my disagreement Rick. It will have to be enough for me to know I'm right-I am sure you feel the same.
Alvin Mabuhay May 26, 2012 at 02:16 AM
And funny how you challenge me on correct use of words/terms, and you end up admitting you were using the wrong term "benefit assessment" yourself.
Rick Wood May 26, 2012 at 05:57 PM
I have to be true to myself, and correcting mistakes is part of that. Too many people leave such things hanging and mislead in comments because there is no accountability. We should all self-regulate.
Rick Wood May 26, 2012 at 05:59 PM
We can both be right. I am only using the definitions of tax that we all put in the state constitution. You can choose to use whatever definition you wish. It's just better for communication if we understand what definitions we are using. In this context, it was important to use the legal definition.

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