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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.

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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