With a 59-percent no vote on a mail-in ballot, Contra Costa County voters roundly rejected a , the Contra Costa Clean Water program announced Monday.
Ballots for the "2012 Community Clean Water Initiative" were mailed to 339,586 property owners in the county in February and were due back April 6. Tabulation of the result was delayed because the ballots were counted by hand.
Voters returned 100,768 ballots, with 59,844 voting no (59 percent) and 40,924 voting yes (41 percent), according to Donald Freitas, program manager for the Contra Costa Clean Water Program, a consortium of the county's 19 cities plus the county government and the county flood-control district.
The ballot generated some public confusion and criticism since it was conducted under the infrequently used Proposition 218, which permits an election for a parcel fee to pass with a simple majority, instead of the two-thirds needed for a parcel tax. The election was sponsored, not by the county elections department, but by the clean water program.
The votes were tabulated by Carol Keane and Associates, CPA, of Walnut Creek.
The measure would have added between $6 and $22 per year on the property tax bills of most parcels. The money would have been used to help local governments meet stricter standards for water run-off entering streams and the Bay.
The defeat of the measure means that local governments need to find other ways to fund measures to meet tightened water-quality standards, Freitas said in an emailed notice announcing the results.
"As was stated many times during this process, the defeat of the Initiative does NOT negate the need for all twenty-one affected jurisdictions in Contra Costa County (to meet) the regulatory mandates of the Federal Clean Water Act and California’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Act," he said. "Each entity needs to immediately determine how the necessary funding will now be generated in order to implement the regulatory mandates or be found to be in noncompliance and subject to fines which could run into the thousands or millions of dollars."
Freitas also criticized press coverage of the election and warned that the measure's defeat could jeopardize funding for other important local services like hiring police officers:
"The election results can and will be interpreted in many ways, but suffice it to say, the methodology outlined in the voter approved 1996 Proposition 218 (California Constitution XIII) had great challenges even though the Program followed its provisions religiously. Courts in California have said the legal nexus between urban runoff and property is valid, but the requirements of Proposition 218 became suspect in the voter’s mind and the press. It’s very easy for the press to condemn actions of local government; but rarely if ever, do they suggest valid alternatives. The election result has worsened local government’s ability to finance Federal and/or State mandates when it is done with no local financing. If the general fund becomes the only alternative to finance the regulatory mandates than the public debate will be simplified between 'clean water vs. hiring police officers and other vital community services.'"