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Parcel Tax Measure Would Fund Climate Adaptation in Bay Area by Restoring Wetlands

Next month, along with picking presidential, U.S. Senate and legislative candidates, and local ballot measures in a primary election, voters in the Bay Area will also determine the outcome of the first regionwide measure in Bay Area history.
May 11, 2016, 7am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Andrei Stanescu

The defining feature of the Bay Area is the subject of the Bay Area's first nine-county measure in the region's history. Two prior regional ballot measures that voters decided in 1988 and 2004 raised toll rates on the seven Caltrans-owned bridges by 25 cents and one dollar respectively, but not all of the counties voted. Only those in "Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Solano counties" voted, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Those counties, plus Napa and Sonoma will vote on June 7.

Credit: Ballotpedia(Click here for expanded map [PDF].)

The measure is sponsored by a regional government agency that few in the Bay Area may be aware of: the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority. Created by Assembly Bill 2954 in 2008, it "is a regional government agency charged with raising and allocating resources for the restoration, enhancement, protection, and enjoyment of wetlands and wildlife habitat in the San Francisco Bay and along its shoreline."

"Measure AA would implement a $12-a-year parcel tax, raising about half a billion dollars over 20 years," writes Lauren Sommer for KQED Science. "The money would go toward building up the bay’s defense against sea level rise by restoring [about 35,000 acres of] marshes."

“The marshes are a great buffer because the plants in the wetlands slow down the wave action and reduce the flooding,” says David Lewis, executive director of the non-profit Save the Bay.

Low-lying plants in tidal marshes, such as those on the Richmond shoreline, act like sponges, Lewis says, absorbing surges from big waves and floods.

Around 80 percent of the bay’s marshes have been lost since the Gold Rush, many paved over for development.

A "Highly" Regressive form of Property Tax

Unlike property taxes based on the assessed value of a property, parcel taxes are the same, whether it be be a mansion, of which there is no shortage of in the Bay Area, or a modest cottage, which will still cost you a pretty penny in most of the region.

A Unique Tax Measure

If the measure passes, it’ll be a first. Coastal cities like New Orleans have turned to federal grants to protect themselves. But raising money directly from the public for climate change could be a model for other coastal areas.

Unlike the two prior regional ballot measures that needed majority support, Measure AA would require a two-thirds threshold for passage.

The decision to place a ballot measure before Bay Area voters was made by the district’s governing board in a 6-0 vote in January, wrote Peter Fimrite for the San Francisco Chronicle.

For more information on the measure and the campaign, see "Yes on AA."

For SF Gate and San Francisco Chronicle (may be subscription-only) articles on the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority and the tax measure dating back to 2008, click here (some may be subscription-only).

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Published on Monday, May 9, 2016 in KQED Science
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