Bay Area agency eyes wetlands parcel tax measure


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

By Barry Eberling
From page A1 | January 22, 2014

FAIRFIELD — Residents in the nine Bay Area counties – including Solano County – could vote this November on a parcel tax of $10 annually to restore regional wetlands.

The San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority has been considering the idea for several years. This agency was created by the state Legislature in 2008 to restore, protect and enhance Bay Area wetlands, but has no funding.

A successful ballot measure would raise about $15 million annually, according to the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority. Possible wetlands projects in the region include Cullinan Ranch and Suisun Marsh in Solano County. The measure would have to get at least two-thirds of the vote across the Bay Area to pass.

An update on the regional wetlands ballot effort was presented Thursday to the Association of Bay Area Governments board. Dixon Mayor Jack Batchelor Jr. attended the meeting on behalf of Solano County.

Among the points that came up is that it would be an “arduous” task to get the measure placed on the Nov. 4 ballot, Batchelor said.

“It’s very extensive because it covers so many cities and counties,” he said.

Batchelor is just learning about the measure and didn’t predict how Solano County voters might receive it. But he called it a “tough sell.”

“It’s a tough sell just to get a water-rate increase,” Batchelor said.

The San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority has a governing and advisory board, but no staff since it has no money. The Association of Bay Area Governments and state Coastal Conservancy have provided staff support.

Judy Kelly of the San Francisco Estuary Partnership is listed on the authority’s website as a contact. She said the authority has yet to decide whether to pursue the ballot measure this November.

Removing pollution, restoring wildlife habitat, preserving clean water and increasing public access to Bay Area shorelines are among the potential benefits of a successful tax measure, according to an Association of Bay Area Governments report.

“The San Francisco Bay Area is well-positioned to maximize the benefits of a regional special tax,” the report said. “Over the last century, city building, agriculture and other land uses changes have hugely impacted the Bay with landfill and toxic pollution.”

If a tax passed, the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority would use the bulk of the $15 million raised annually for wetlands restoration and other projects. It could use the money to match and attract state and federal grants, the report said.

The agency could use up to 5 percent of the $15 million to pay for administration costs, the report said. That comes to about $750,000 annually.

Money in Solano County could help pay for monitoring and managing restored wetlands at Cullinan Ranch, a San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority report said. Cullinan Ranch is 1,500 acres located along Highway 37 west of Vallejo and is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

It could help enhance marshes within Suisun Marsh to benefit shorebirds and waterfowl, the report said. Suisun Marsh is 115,000 acres of wetlands, uplands and sloughs located south of Suisun City.

Other potential projects on the long list range from restoring former salt ponds to tidal wetlands near San Jose to having educational programs on wetlands at Crissy Field in San Francisco.

The governing board of the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority has no representatives from Solano County. The North Bay representative is Napa County Supervisor Keith Caldwell. The chairman is Samuel Schuchat, executive officer of the state Coastal Conservancy.

A 2011 report done for the authority by Storefront Political Media estimated the cost of gathering 220,000 signatures for a ballot measure is $825,000 and the cost to put the measure on ballots in nine Bay Area counties is $3 million to $5 million.

Parcel taxes are usually a fixed amount on properties and do not vary with the value of the properties. Various government agencies pursue them as a funding source. For example, the Fairfield-Suisun School District is doing a public opinion survey on whether to pursue a parcel tax ballot measure to benefit local schools.

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