The proposed Community Clean Water Initiative is put forth by the Contra Costa Clean Water Program, operated by a consortium of the county and its 19 cities and towns. The initiative would represent a slight tax increase for county homeowners. Revenues would pay for the installation of trash filters and other efforts to eliminate waste.
According to Program Manager Tom Dalziel, the tax is necessary in order to comply with state demands that water pollution be cut 40 percent by 2014 and 100 percent by 2022.
“This is a phased effort,” Dalziel said.
Residents in Antioch, Oakley and Brentwood would pay $12 annually over the 10-year life of the program ($6 for parcels smaller than 5,000 square feet). If passed, the measure would raise roughly $8 million in fiscal year 2012-13.
The initiative requires a simple majority to pass.
Instead of putting such a measure on the general or special election ballot, the consortium opted to use a homeowner mail-in vote in compliance with Proposition 218, a measure passed in 1996 that allows such a move. Homeowners have until Friday, April 6 to return the ballot by mail or submit it in person at Carol Keane and Associates in Walnut Creek. The official ballot guide was mailed to all homeowners in the county on Feb. 21.
Many homeowners have been unhappy with the initiative, feeling that it’s just a cash grab offering no tangible result. Antioch City Councilman Gary Agopian said Tuesday night that he was “aghast” when he received his ballot.
Antioch resident Don Williams echoed Agopian’s sentiments. “I will not vote for it,” said Williams. “I don’t think it’s necessary. I think we’ve already got stuff taking care of that; they just want extra. They just see a chance to try to get us for more money.”
According to Dalziel, it’s not uncommon for organizations to pass the ballot to homeowners on stormwater issues. He feels that the people who benefit the most from these clean water programs are homeowners in developed properties, so they should be the ones who decide on the tax.
The ballot guide notes that several controls will be in place to ensure the money goes to where it’s needed, such as annual audits and an independent citizens’ oversight committee. The measure would also sponsor cleanup efforts and bans on problematic rubbish such as plastic grocery bags.
“They’re the ones that pay for it, so they’re the ones that should be allowed to vote for it,” Dalziel said. “We found that a majority of Contra Costa residents support clean water funding for the things that are mandated in our program.”
The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors decided Feb. 7 to submit the measure to homeowners. Supervisors Federal Glover, John Gioia and Karen Mitchoff voted in favor of allowing the ballots to go out to residents; Mary Piepho voted against it and Gayle Uilkema was absent.
Glover spokesman Ed Diokno said the District V supervisor’s vote wasn’t an endorsement of the initiative, but rather an approval for homeowners to make the choice: “His vote indicates that he believes the voters should express their opinion. He’ll support the voters whichever way they go.”
Though Piepho sided against it, stating that taxpayers have felt enough heat already, she sees the need for such an initiative. She noted that the revenues from current clean water fees won’t cover the cost of the state’s newest regulations, but doesn’t believe a tax increase is the best way to go about paying for the upgrades.
“They are requirements, so we don’t have any option to not comply with them,” Piepho said. “I do recognize the need for the measure, but I feel that the taxpayers are fatigued right now by more and more money coming out of their limited wallets.”
The Contra Costa Clean Water Program has also come under fire for choosing a third-party CPA to handle ballot counting, which is allowed under Proposition 218. Some voters were quizzical when they saw that ballots are being mailed back to Walnut Creek-based Carol Keane and Associates instead of a county office.
Dalziel said the CPA firm is an independent party. Residents concerned about the legitimacy of the process can contact the Contra Costa Clean Water Program to observe the ballot counting in person.
“If folks are interested in witnessing the tabulation, we are making arrangements,” Dalziel said. “It seems like there’s a vocal minority that has come out against this, and it’s kind of a general backlash against taxes. I guess it’s not surprising in that sense. We’ve been trying to respond and answer questions.”