Yes on AA

Measure AA is a Bay Area regional ballot measure, placed on the ballot by something called the “San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority”, to impose a $12 per parcel parcel tax on all prperties in the nine-county region.

The idea is that this money, being raised by a regional authority pursuant to a vote of the voters, would be untouchable by other agencies. The state could not take the money. The cities and counties could not take the money.The SFBRA would be guaranteed a revenue stream.

What would it use the revenue stream on?

The measure does not list specific projects. It instead lists some general, high-level conceptual *areas* that spending will be reserved for:

* “safe, clean water, and pollution prevention program”, which has got to be one of the worst named programs I’ve ever heard of.he idea is to “improve water quality by reducing in pollution”, “reduce pollution levels through shoreline cleanup and trash removal”, “restore wetlands that provide natural filters and remove pollution”, and “clean and enhance creek outlets”, so the idea is NOT to prrevent safe, clean water, and pollution, despite the fact that the poorly written title might cause you to think so.

* “vital fish, bird, and wildlife habitat program”

* “integrated flood protection program”

* “shoreline public access program”

in other words, this is a measure to impose a parcel tax to raise money to fund various San Francisco bay related cleanup and maintenance activities, as well as funding better public access to the bayshore.


At the outset, I think I should note that I *do not* like parcel taxes. Parcel taxes are a regressive tax on landowners – because they pay per parcel, they ensure that the owner of the smallest, shabbiest falling apart eyesore dump of a house pays the same amount as the owner of the giant multistory apartment building. I *vastly* prefer ad valorem taxes, which tax as a percentage of the assessed value of property; such taxes distribute the pain of the tax more fairly.

But, at the same time, $12 a year is a pittance for the overwhelming majority of property owners in the Bay Area. A bunch of pittances aggregatedd otgether can become a burden, and the overall parcel ttax situation in the region hasn’t, as far as I can tell, reached that level.

I also want to note that this problem – bay cleanup and restoration – is fundamnetally a *regional* problem. None of the nine counties which a but the bay can really do a whole lot on their own, and it’s unfair to ask the *state* to bear the burden; we are a fantastically wealthy region, and ew should be willing to bear the cost of cleaning and restoring the bay ourselves.


The argument against, in the ballot handbook, focuses on two issues:

* the fact that the SFBRA isn’t elected and doesn’t appear to be selected by the local governments means that this measure is fundamentally undemocratic, as it gives a huge amount of money to a body which is not accountbale to the people.

* the failure to list specific projects means that the money raised will be used as a slush fund to pay off the political allies of whoever is on the Board.

They have a thoretical point with their first objection. On the otehr hand, it’s important to note that measure AA does not *create* this Board; the Board was created by the legislature almost a decade ago. So the edmocratic deficit *already exists*.

I think there’s a fair argument that it would be better if this board were regionally elected, but that option isn’t on the table, and in my view a politically appointed regional board which has the ability to conduct region-wide projects is an *improvement* over a situation where the funding must come from the state or must be handled through the myriad of really small local governments.

Their second point is harder to grapple with. They have a fundamentally cynical view of politics – but even if I think that thye’re overly cynical, they’re right about the structural *potential* for abuse, and it would be vastly better to have a system which had lower potential for abuse, because fundamentally any system which can be abused eventually will be.

On the other hand, there are some safeguards. There’s a 5% cap on administrative expenses; the Board must prepare annual written reports showing the amount of funds collected and expended and the status of any projects or programs authorized to spend the money; that report shall be posted on the website; and there will be an independdent citizens oversight committee which will publish an annual audit.

That’s not a guarantee that the audits will be listened to, to be sure. But it’s hardly a sign that the measure is *intended* to create a corrupt slush fund, and it provides the benefit of a spotlight to help keep things out in the open.


There are two things which give me pause.

First, the tax expires in twenty years. It’s really not clear that this makes any sense, unless the theory is that the Bay will be *clean* by then, w hich seems unlikely – and even if so, it seems likely that there will be ongoing maintenance costs which should still be funded. So I expect there to be a measure in 2twenty years to extend the tax.

Second, half of hte money is allocated among four different regions (north bay, east bay, west bay, and south bay) on a per-population basis (rather than a per-percentage-of-shoreline basis). This will create the odd effect that the dollars-to-shoreline ratio in Santa Clara county will be massively high. That’s *probably* a bribe to the voters of Santa Clara county to get them to vote for it, and so I can understand the political necessity, but it irks me; surely if the goal of the measure is to cleanup the bay and improve public access to it, the money should be distributed on the basis of where the environmental damage is and where there is shoreline whose access can be improved, rather than on where people happen to live. And yet: politics is the art of the possible compromise, and I can see where the voters of Santa Clara county, whose support is absolutely necessary to get the 2/3 majority needed to pass this. might be reluctant to vote yes otherwise.


I am voting for measure AA. Cleaning up and maintaining the Bay is our resonsibility. We are the wealthiest region in one fo the wealthiest states in one of the wealthiest countries in the world; we can afford this.

The proposition isn’t ideal. But it’s an acceptable compromise. And that’s all I feel it’s reasonable to ask for.


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