WHY RESIDENTS AND BUSINESSES OPPOSE MEASURE AA:
1. Measure AA is Taxation Without Representation
A coalition of Bay Area residents has come together to oppose Measure AA because it expands regional government and does not answer directly to voters. Regional government takes away authority from local officials, depriving communities of responsive, accountable, accessible decision-making at the local level.
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Regional agencies give lip service to “public input” but, in fact, are unresponsive to public concerns. Bay Area residents have experience with regional agencies such as the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments. During recent decades we have watched these agencies grow into powerful, expensive, insensitive bureaucracies that practice top-down decision-making with poor transparency and low public accountability.
Measure AA will benefit the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority, a Joint Powers Agency whose governing board is not directly elected and doesn’t represent the diverse interests of the Bay Area region. The seven-member Restoration Authority governing board is appointed by another unelected regional agency, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).
By definition, the Restoration Authority’s governance disenfranchises Bay Area voters. The Authority’s governing board does not represent all nine Bay Area counties. For example, residents of Marin, Solano and Sonoma counties have no representative on the Authority board.
Similarly, even those counties with representatives on the Authority board fail to offer true representation for all residents. For example, the Authority’s Contra Costa County representative is County Supervisor John Gioia who is elected by residents of one of five county supervisorial districts. This means most county residents are deprived of direct representation because they live outside of Mr. Gioia’s district, thus cannot vote for or against him.
The Restoration Authority does not truly represent residents. Its unelected seven-member governing board does not represent all nine Bay Area counties and lacks moral authority to raise taxes on the 7.5 million people who live here.
2. Reform is Needed Before Bay Restoration
We value clean water and a healthy environment. We need to protect the Bay, but Measure AA doesn’t offer a genuine solution.
Measure AA promises to do many things that require coordination among many agencies – local, state and federal. But it offers no plan to efficiently coordinate efforts among agencies. In addition, there is no systematic way for scientists to share data and evaluate progress.
Measure AA funds could get tied up indefinitely in bureaucratic red tape and legal fights. Recent press reports illustrate the complex web of jurisdictions and private property rights issues associated with wetlands restoration.
Reform is needed first so residents get good value for their tax dollars, rather than wasting money on red tape and litigation.
3. Wetlands Restoration Increases Flood Risks, Especially in Santa Clara
Restoring bay wetlands involves tearing down old levees, to allow tidal flow from the sea. Tearing down levees increases flood risks, which means new, improved, stronger levees are needed to provide flood protection to homes, businesses, roads and other infrastructure.
To restore wetlands, construction of new levees is especially critical in the South Bay where salt ponds are below sea level. Most Measure AA money necessarily would be spent in the South Bay building new levees and other flood protection measures.
So it’s no surprise the “Save the Bay – Yes on Measure AA” campaign is heavily funded by Silicon Valley corporations and organized labor groups who stand to benefit from Measure AA at Bay Area taxpayers’ expense.
There is no good reason that taxpayers in eight Bay Area counties should pay for Santa Clara County’s flood protection.
4. Measure AA gives a blank check to politicians
There is no Measure AA spending plan, only lists of “example” projects. No one knows how money actually would be spent.
The ballot language says, “The Governing Board of the Authority shall be empowered to amend this Measure by majority vote of its members to further the purposes of this Measure . . . .” This means the seven member Restoration Authority Governing Board could change Measure AA on a 4-3 vote.
Further, it is a common practice for government agencies to convert taxes into quick cash, using the tax itself as collateral. If voters approve Measure AA, it is expected the Authority would borrow against the $500 million tax revenue stream in order to have a large pot of money to work with right away. This means the $500 million, 20-year tax would yield roughly $250 million to pay for projects and administrative overhead. The other $250 million would be spent on financing expenses and interest on the debt. Thus Measure AA’s promise to spend $500 million could fall flat.
This is too much money in the hands of politicians, with too little accountability to protect taxpayers and ensure funds are spent wisely.
5. Measure AA is Inequitable
A parcel tax hits everyone the same. This means that very different properties would pay the same amount of tax. So a vacant lot . . . would pay the same tax as a condominium . . . would pay the same tax as a high-rise building in downtown San Francisco . . . would pay the same tax as a corporate headquarters in Silicon Valley.
Measure AA is a regressive tax that lacks fairness and justice.
6. Under Measure AA, Some Counties are Net Losers and Some Big Winners
Measure AA appears to be a mechanism to fund Santa Clara County flood protection at the expense of the other counties. Under Measure AA, it is anticipated all counties would pay more in taxes than they would receive in benefits, with the exception of Santa Clara County. Santa Clara County could receive up to 65% more funding each year than it pays in taxes – about $2.65 in benefits for every $1 paid in taxes.
Measure AA divvies up tax money by regions, as follows:
o “North Bay” = Marin, Napa, Solano and Sonoma Counties;
o “East Bay” = Alameda and Contra Costa Counties;
o “West Bay” = San Francisco and San Mateo Counties; and
o “South Bay” = Santa Clara County.
Measure AA says that half the tax would be divided, as follows: North Bay = 9%; East Bay = 18%; West Bay = 11%; and South Bay = 12%.
The other half of Measure AA tax money would be spent however the governing board decides. It is expected that all or nearly all of this 50% portion, by necessity, would be dedicated to flood mitigation in the South Bay.
Assuming that 62% of all Measure AA funding (South Bay’s 12% + 50%) is allocated to the South Bay, the cost-benefit breakdown would look like this:
Measure AA taxes suburban and rural areas for the benefit of urban centers. Regional taxation is wrong because it creates financial windfalls for larger counties at the expense of smaller counties. It is unfair for some counties to disproportionately benefit from taxes paid by others. It is unjust for larger counties to impose taxes on smaller counties.
7. Politics, Not Science, Would Drive Measure AA Spending
Measure AA has no requirement for a scientific advisory board to evaluate proposed projects or assess project accomplishments. This means grants would be based on politics instead of objective priorities and accomplishments would be measured based upon dollars spent rather than genuine environmental progress.
According to estuary expert and retired UC Berkeley professor Dr. James R. Hunt, this lack of scientific oversight raises doubts about how efficiently Measure AA funds would be spent:
Wetlands restoration is a new science and the tools are not fully developed that allow projects to be designed and implemented with certain outcomes. Even the term “restoration” is a misnomer since the San Francisco Bay and Delta have been so altered, there is no expectation that the system can be restored to its former state.
The regulatory environment is cumbersome with multiple agencies having different mandates, resulting in their own permit requirements, and delays related to inadequate staffing. What is monitored is not consistent among agencies, the time period required for monitoring does not reflect the long duration necessary for the reestablishment of physical processes, the time required for the appearance of suitable habitat, and then the biological response to that habitat.
An additional theme is the lack of a common approach to monitoring the evolution of the restored systems and even the sharing of the monitoring data in a timely fashion among governmental institutions.
Measure AA could end up spending gobs of money but have very little to show for it. This is a poor value for taxpayers.
8. Bay Area Residents Are Already Nickel and Dimed to Death
The cost of living in the Bay Area is 50.5% above the national average according to Forbes magazine. Measure AA would increase the cost of living by increasing the housing costs for Bay Area homeowners and renters.
Bay Area home prices and rents are already sky high. In addition, Bay Area residents already pay some of the highest tax rates in the nation. Year after year, state and local taxes and fees continue to increase.
Further, Bay Area residents currently pay federal taxes to fund the Army Corps of Engineers which is chartered and funded by Congress to act as chief federal steward of wetlands – marshes, tidelands and vernal pools. The Corps has responsibility for regulating and enforcing rigorous environmental standards while balancing appropriate development on Bay Area shorelines.
Taxpayers already pay for stewardship of the Bay. Many residents cannot afford to pay more in taxes and fees – they’re barely getting by as it is.
9. Measure AA Eventually Could Cost Up to Six Times More than Advertised
Measure AA would raise an estimated $500 million over 20 years (at $25 million each year). The Restoration Authority’s long-term plan is to borrow $1.5 billion to achieve its long-term vision.
How do we know this? Because reports from Bay Area Wetlands Ecosystem Goals Project call for the investment of public funds to restore 36,000 additional acres of tidal wetlands around San Francisco Bay to achieve the 1999 vision of 100,000 restored acres. Reports by Save the Bay estimate that at least $1.43 billion over 50 years is required to restore the 36,000 acres as well as undertake monitoring and maintenance activities.
Consistent with these goals, in September 2015 the Restoration Authority lobbied for special state legislation to raise its debt limit to $1.5 billion. If Measure AA is approved by voters, it is anticipated the Authority will ask voters to approve a $1.5 billion general obligation bond, likely within two years. Such a bond could cost taxpayers up to $3 billion in financing expenses and interest. This is the logical next step in the Authority’s well-documented plan.
Measure AA represents only a small down payment on the Authority’s ambitious – and expensive – long-term goals. The Restoration Authority seeks to burden Bay Area taxpayers with repaying billions in debt during coming decades.
10. Measure AA Would Create Yet Another Government Agency to Endlessly Tax Residents
There are thousands of local public agencies with jurisdiction in the Bay Area. Measure AA would fund yet another new agency destined to become a permanent, costly fixture here.
The Restoration Authority is an obscure, virtually invisible joint powers agency that was created in 2008. It operates without public input or accountability because few know it even exists. Currently the Restoration Authority has no income, except for occasional grants to provide consulting advice and polling related to its tax proposal.
Bay Area residents are taxed enough already by hundreds of local government agencies, most that operate without visibility, press coverage or meaningful accountability. As a result, Bay Area local government has become bloated, costly and unaffordable.
The last thing we need is another new government agency that builds an empire of public employees who receive pay and benefits far richer than those of most Bay Area residents.
11. Obscure Joint Powers Agencies, like the SF Bay Restoration Authority, Lack Transparency, Accountability
Joint Powers Agencies (JPAs) operate without adequate oversight, virtually invisible to the public. These agencies employ staff, set up offices and, most importantly, make financial commitments for which taxpayers are responsible but usually have no knowledge or meaningful say.
Many Joint Powers Agencies (JPAs), like the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority have jurisdiction in the nine Bay Area counties. However, no one knows the precise number because there is no centralized reporting requirement for JPAs. This is because JPAs are accountable to their government agency members rather than voters.
The Bay Restoration Authority answers to the governing board for the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), itself a Joint Powers Agency with an unelected governing board.
Most JPAs are invisible to the public. JPA governing boards meet without active public participation or press coverage; ABAG and its Bay Restoration Authority are no exception. Public accountability and oversight is not possible for agencies that few people even know exist.
The primary reason JPAs are formed is to incur debt. According to the State Treasurer’s Office, during the past 15 years California JPAs issued over $148 billion in debt, an amount that is second only to that issued by the state. JPA member agencies – that is, taxpayers – are responsible for repaying this debt, on top of the nearly $943 billion in debt issued by other agencies for this same period.
Four years ago, the State Auditor condemned two Bay Area Joint Powers Agencies
(the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and its Bay Area Headquarters Authority) for improperly using $180 million in bridge toll money to buy a downtown San Francisco office building.
In a 2015 report the California Task Force on Bond Accountability acknowledged the lack of JPA’s public oversight and accountability, following the embezzlement of nearly $3.9 million by ABAG’s former financial services director from one of ABAG’s own Joint Powers Agencies, the ABAG Finance Authority.
The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) appoints Bay Restoration Authority governing board members. In 2015 the State Auditor-Controller issued a report on ABAG noting “serious weaknesses in internal controls” in addition to insufficient controls over the ABAG’s cash accounts and inadequate reporting of grant contracts.
Bay Area regional agencies, including the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) (which appoints Bay Restoration Authority board members) have poor track records for financial management and public transparency. The Restoration Authority is ill-prepared to manage and provide proper oversight of public funds; it is undeserving of public trust.
12. It isn’t needed
Water quality, environmental protection, flood control, and wetlands and wildlife habitat restoration activities are ongoing projects of state and federal agencies and numerous non-profit groups, including these. The work has been underway for decades and will continue.
The Bay is not in crisis. Measure AA is about a whole new layer of government imposing new regulations and taxes on Bay Area residents, in order increase its power. Measure AA is about building a new, expensive bureaucracy that will demand increasing amounts of money from taxpayers.
The Bay doesn’t need “saving” and Bay Area taxpayers don’t need Measure AA.