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No on Prop. AA the Regional wetlands tax

May 21, 2016

By Tim Redmond : sfbg – excerpt

This measure ties an urgent cause, the restoration and protection of the San Francisco Bay’s wetlands, to a dangerous policy, a regional tax levied by appointed officials. It also starts to expand regional government in the Bay Area – before anyone has had a chance to discuss what that ought to look like.

Long before sea level rise was recognized as a threat, environmental groups were working to save The Bay’s shrinking tidal marshes. The wetlands cleanse and retain the Bay’s waters, help prevent flooding, and provide habitat for wild plants and creatures. Climate change has made their value even more apparent. To borrow the Sierra Club’s apt phrase, tidal marshes offer “a natural and growing levee” that slows storm surges and lowers the height of waves and encroaching waters.

And the Bay wetlands are in dire need of help. A regional approach makes sense; everyone in the nine Bay Area counties has a stake in the wetlands’ health. Measure AA would raise $500 million over 20 years for projects that reduce trash and pollution, restore wildlife habitat, improve water quality, and more.

But the measure has problems. While an annual $12 parcel tax seems like a small price to pay for ensuring the wetlands’ health, it’s unfair: Google and other corporations whose big new campuses are threatened by rising water would pay the same $12 as individual homeowners. A tax on the assessed value of property would be much more equitable.

And Measure AA has a much bigger problem.

The tax would be levied and administered by the San Francisco Bay Authority, a public agency created by the California Legislature. The Authority is governed by a five-member board of appointees who are chosen by yet another appointee, the president of the Association of Bay Area Governments, which is itself on the verge of a hostile takeover by an autocratic state agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

So who would decide how to spend the money? Nobody who was elected to that job. Whom do you complain to if you think the decisions are wrong? Good luck with that; SF’s current representative is Scott Wiener, and it’s entirely possible in the future that nobody ever elected by a San Francisco voter (and thus not accountable to any of us) will be doling out our tax dollars.

Measure AA also furthers the creeping privatization of government, stating that “[t]he Authority shall give priority to projects that,” among other things, “[m]eet the selection criteria” of the Coastal Conservancy, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, and San Francisco Bay Joint Venture.

San Francisco Bay Joint Venture is a public-private entity whose members include the Bay Planning Coalition, a private organization that last year backed MTC’s efforts to remove key anti-displacement policy from the forthcoming update of our region’s official land use and transportation blueprint, Plan Bay Area.

The measure’s supporters note that it would be the first regional tax in the Bay Area. If it passes, it would set an somewhat disturbing precedent at a time when local business and political elites are clamoring for the expansion of regional government– without any discussion of how that government should be run.

We’d gladly support an equitable proposal to restore and protect the Bay wetlands that mandated democratically accountable governance. We’d also gladly welcome a much larger discussion of how regional government should work – how much power it should have, and how the people who wield that power should be chosen.

Regional government may very well be part of the Bay Area’s future, and there are good arguments in favor of it (should someone be able to tell Cupertino not to approve a huge new Apple headquarters without providing any housing at all)? But it involves really complex issues of local land-use authority, local spending authority, and how the members of a regional agency are chosen.

We’re already worried about how the regional bodies, the Association of Bay Area Government and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, operate with little oversight (which means, in the end, in the interest of developers, not the public). Measure AA takes us a long way further down a path that we haven’t even begun to map.

Paying taxes for wetlands restoration is a fine idea. We can even live with the unfair parcel tax. But first let’s decide who ought to handle the money. Vote No on AA.

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