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Local Measures Address Water, Fire in the Midterm Elections

Gokce Sencan, Caitrin Chappelle November 26, 2018
photo - People Voting

The biggest water news from the recent election was the failure of the $8.9 billion statewide water bond, Proposition 3. This was the first time voters have rejected a statewide water bond since 1990. But this wasn’t the only story for water-related measures on Californians’ ballots. The midterms saw 33 local measures go to the voters that addressed issues ranging from flood protection to fire resilience. Here we summarize a few key votes.

In Los Angeles County, Measure W passed. This measure allows the county to collect a parcel tax of 2.5 cents per square foot of impermeable surfaces (such as concrete sidewalks and pavement) to fund rain and stormwater capture and clean-up projects, in addition to projects addressing water quality and groundwater recharge. The measure exempts permeable surfaces from the tax, which could incentivize developers to incorporate more green solutions into development and renovation projects.

In the Bay Area, San Francisco and San Jose both passed local bonds to modernize infrastructure. San Francisco easily passed Measure A, which will issue $425 million in bonds to strengthen the Embarcadero seawall to better withstand earthquakes and rising sea levels. San Jose’s Measure T will allocate $650 million in bonds to repair the city’s aging infrastructure. Although almost half of this bond is dedicated to repaving streets, the measure also includes $85 million for flood protection—a response to the 2017 Coyote Creek flood that caused $100 million in property damage. The bond will fund “green infrastructure” projects in the local floodplain to reduce the risks of future floods and groundwater contamination.

Across the state, the rise in devastating wildfires resulted in nine measures addressing fire protection and intervention services in communities, to be paid for through utility taxes, sales taxes, and parcel taxes. Four of these measures passed, while five failed.

Sonoma County’s newly adopted park and ecosystem restoration bill―Measure M, a one-eighth cent sales tax increase―will collectively fund wildfire prevention, ecosystem restoration, and projects to safeguard water supplies, including rivers and streams. Measure FF passed in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties; it extended an existing parcel tax to fund wildfire prevention and water quality activities on East Bay Regional Park District lands, as well as park maintenance. But voters didn’t approve Measure P in Laguna Beach (Orange County), which proposed a sales tax to pay for wildfire safety measures. It would have funded projects such as undergrounding overhead power lines.

Although the failure of Proposition 3 caught some by surprise, it’s important to remember that state bonds play a relatively minor role in funding California’s water needs. Local revenues—from water and sewer bills to taxes—provide 85% of water funding. The newly passed ballot measures carry on that tradition, with Californians across the state voting to address their communities’ needs and priorities for water, fire safety, and the environment.

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