Irvin: What Valley Water doesn’t want you to know about Measure S
Almaden Lake. Photo by Katja Irvin.

The Sierra Club sees two big problems with Measure S, which would replace the Safe, Clean Water parcel tax approved by voters in 2012.

First, there is no sunset date, effectively taking away our right to vote. The Measure S parcel tax can only be reversed by a citizen’s initiative, requiring more han 30,000 valid signatures.

Second, we are only half way through the 15-year Safe, Clean Water program and we haven’t seen much progress. Here’s why this is important.

The Safe, Clean Water parcel tax lays out a specific set of projects to be funded by the tax. When these projects are completed, the tax should expire. If Valley Water wants to fund additional projects in the future to address aging infrastructure and climate change, voters should have an opportunity to vote for an extension of the tax. A parcel tax earmarked for specific projects should have a sunset date.

Several important projects promised under 2012 Measure B are scheduled to be completed in the next four years. This is a crucial timeframe for voters to find out if Valley Water is truly committed to completing these projects on time.

The Almaden Lake Improvement project to improve fish migration was originally scheduled to be completed in 2019. This project is now scheduled to be completed in 2024. Will this schedule continue to slip?

The Coyote Creek Flood Protection project was originally scheduled to be completed in 2016 (before the February 2017 flood). Phase I of this project is now scheduled to be completed in 2023. Will this schedule be met?

The Anderson Dam Seismic Retrofit project was originally scheduled to be completed in 2020. Phase I of this project is now scheduled to be completed in 2023. Will this schedule be met?

Despite the way Valley Water describes Measure S, these projects are all fully funded through the existing Safe, Clean Water parcel tax (Measure B) and other funding sources. These projects can continue without Measure S. Waiting four years to renew the parcel tax gives voters the opportunity to evaluate Valley Water’s performance and see how programs promised in 2012 progress and evolve.

Regarding sunset dates, Measure S is not the same as Measure T, which will cover basic operating costs for the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority (OSA).

Valley Water has plenty of funds from water charges ($258 million in 2019-2020) to cover water supply operating costs. Valley Water also gets funds from the 1% ad valorem property tax ($112 million in 2019-2020) that can be used to pay for flood control and stream stewardship projects.

If Prop. 15 passes in November and commercial properties no longer receive Prop. 13 protections, ad valorem tax collections will increase and it is estimated Valley Water will receive an additional $19 million.

The OSA’s annual budget is $22.5 million. The authority gets $4.5 million per year from $12 per parcel benefit assessment, but otherwise the Measure T parcel tax is their only predictable funding. They really need it. Valley Water doesn’t really need the virtually permanent Measure S parcel tax.

Last but not least, the Sierra Club is concerned because this parcel tax is regressive. All single-family homes on parcels up to one-quarter acre are taxed the same flat rate. Thus, residents on small lots in low-income neighborhoods pay much more per square foot than those in wealthier areas with spacious homes on one-quarter acre lots.

Holding Valley Water accountable for the special projects promised under Measure S makes sense. Vote no and ask Valley Water to come back in 2024 with a sunset date and a less regressive tax. That’s something the Sierra Club is more likely to support.

For more information see www.votenoonmeasures.org.

Katja Irvin is Water Committee chair for the Sierra Club Loma Prieta chapter.

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