The San Francisco Bay Clean Water, Pollution Prevention and Habitat Restoration Measure, a proposal by the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority (SFBRA), will be on the June 2016 ballot of nine Bay Area counties. In an earlier article, San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority - Nickel and Diming you to the Poor House, we discussed the proposal’s background and purported objective. Here we are encouraging voters to consider some general issues that might be of concern.
o SFBRA and the media characterize this proposed measure as “historic,” because the taxation applies to nine Bay Area Counties. In our view, this measure is historic because it opens a can of worms. “The Authority proposes to levy a special parcel tax of $12 per year for 20 years on each parcel wholly or partially in the San Francisco Bay Area, subject to two-thirds voter approval, to fund the programs identified in the Measure. Such a levy is anticipated to generate approximately $25,000,000 a year to fund specific clean water, pollution prevention and habitat restoration projects and other purposes, including, without limitation, the possible payment of debt service on bonds issued by or on behalf of the Authority…” The creation of the Restoration Authority with powers not only to tax and spend but also to incur debt which might affect our next generation sets a significant precedent. What is to keep other agencies in the growing pool of agencies from acquiring the same power?
o SFBRA characterizes its Board of Directors as “elected officials.” Although these officials might be elected by the jurisdiction in which they live as Mayor or Dog Catcher, they are appointed to the SFBRA Board. “(c) Each member shall serve at the pleasure of his or her appointing authority. (d) A vacancy shall be filled by the Association of Bay Area Governments within 90 days from the date on which the vacancy occurs.” (AB No. 746, Chapter 226). Traditionally, the kind of money management these officials are proposing is reserved for elected officials, who voters can recall or not re-elect. Voters have no power over appointed officials.
o SFBRA’s ballot measure is being spearheaded by two prominent and financially well-endowed business groups, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Bay Area Council. Both groups engage in extensive community-benefit programs; although their cooperation with governments is not limited to doing good. For example, the following is from their websites sections on objectives and accomplishments: “Support the state government’s increased focus on international trade and domestic economic development strategy.” (Bay Area Council) “Manufacturing Sales & Use Tax Exemption: Persistent advocacy by the Leadership Group has pushed California to adopt a sales and use tax exemption for jobs and equipment purchases for manufacturing, R&D and biotech.” (Silicon Valley Leadership Group). Voters need to take a good look during elections at who is doing what and why.
o Regionalism is promoted as an efficient way of “getting things done.” The price of using this form of governance is the erosion of voter control of what gets done. Decisions are made by people we don’t know or had the chance to decide whether to vote for. Entrenched regionalism represents an abdication of duties by our elected representatives. Funding regionalism by approving measures such as the Clean Water, Pollution Prevention and Habitat Restoration Measure represents an abdication of power by voters.