|Marin United Taxpayers Association
P.O. Box 9072
San Rafael, CA 94912-9072
SEND MEASURE AA BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD By Kenneth Kelzer MUTA Member
(An Expanded version of a Marin Voice Article That Appeared on May 6, 2016 in the Marin Independent Journal)
With so much debate over Measure AA, to appear on our June 7th ballot, there must be a better way to resolve the current controversy. With its impressive official title "The San Francisco Bay Clean Water, Pollution Prevention and Habitat Restoration Program", who could possibly be opposed to such a measure? Its proponents are many, and they are the established political leaders of the Bay Area who have joined up with many leading environmentalist groups to promote Measure AA.
But the critics are raising their voices as well. The loudest criticism is that the proposal consists of taxation without representation, that the voters will over its 20 year life, not be able to vote in or vote out any member of the governing board. Remember also that the proposal will spend $500 million of our tax dollars!
The proponents of Measure AA repeatedly state that there is representation because the voters are allowed to vote on June 7th. But they conveniently neglect to say that if Measure AA passes, June 7th will be the last time we get to vote for the next 20 years!!
In order to see through the fallacy that Measure AA provides voter representation we need to make a simple distinction. There is a difference between direct representation and indirect representation. Measure AA, as it now stands, will provide only indirect representation in that its governing board will be appointed. They will be appointed from other elective positions they now hold around the Bay Area. This is diluted democracy.
The real danger of diluted democracy is that if some major controversy arises over any important issue and a board member does not respond to the will of the people, it will be impossible to vote him or her out of office. In effect, this is taxation without representation, or certainly without adequate, i.e. direct representation.
I attended the Measure AA promotional event, held in San Rafael on April 25th. Moderated by Supervisor Kate Sears, it was a totally orchestrated, controlled- in-advance piece of political propaganda. In the course of the evening, there was no debate or public discussion to evaluate the pros and cons of the measure.
All the speakers at the event moderated by Supervisor Sears said that we must pass Measure AA because it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that must be seized now. This was another part of their propaganda. This proposal can be sent back to the state legislature to be amended and improved upon if we reject it as it now stands. I would certainly look forward to an opportunity to vote on an amended proposal that did not have the serious flaws that Measure AA has.
In her letter in The Marin Independent Journal on April 14, 2016, Ann Thomas completely missed the point when she wrote that Susan Kirsch’s “antipathy to the bay and to funding needed to adapt our shoreline to sea level rise makes her unsuitable to serve on the county board”. The truth about supervisor candidate Kirsch is just the opposite. She is a strong environmentalist and cares deeply about the Bay. She was simply the first to sound the alarm about the flaws in Measure AA in her Marin Voice article of March 10, 2016, thereby demonstrating precisely the courage and clear, independent thinking that is strongly needed on our county Board of Supervisors.
No one disputes the positive intent and laudable purpose of Measure AA. But its political flaws are sorely in need of correction and they could be corrected. The proposal should be taken back to the state legislature to amend the political structure of the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority with at least 3 amendments: (1) The governing board should consist of nine members, not seven as currently mandated; (2) Each of the nine Bay Area counties should elect its own representative directly, for a four year term; (3) The $12 parcel tax for each residential parcel could be kept but only if something is also done to engage large businesses around the Bay Area to carry their fair share of the financial burden.
Those who say that sending Measure AA back to the legislature will create a multi-year delay in the project, a delay that we cannot afford, are voicing a valid concern. But this concern can be easily overcome if the legislature makes an amended proposal a high priority. Climate change is now widely regarded as an urgent matter. There is currently so much emphasis now on fighting climate change and sea level rise that it seems likely the state legislature would make it a high priority.
We are better off spending more time on Measure AA and making sound democracy a part of the measure. We can have both. We can have a sound environmental protection proposal and sound democracy at the same time.
Some proponents of Measure AA reject the idea of direct election of a governing board saying it is too expensive financially. This is another weak argument in that the board members could be elected at the regularly scheduled elections that we hold anyway. Quite simply rebutted, if we want good government, we have to work for it and pay for it. But in this case, the payment would not be so much in dollars as it would be in requiring the voters to inform themselves on the issues and candidates and vote wisely when the governing members of the board are up for re-election.
On January 13, 2016 Paul Rogers wrote in the San Jose Mercury News that Measure AA “is being bankrolled by Silicon Valley business leaders and Bay Area environmental groups … Among the leaders is Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which represents 390 large technology companies and other employers.”
It is also known that the headquarters of at least 20 major tech companies, including Facebook, Google, Oracle and Yahoo could be placed in jeopardy by sea-level rise. They too deserve protection, of course, but let these large companies contribute their fair share of the total costs of Measure AA.
Some defenders of Measure AA have pointed out that it is now illegal in California to set up a parcel tax that is gradated, so that large businesses and owners of larger parcels would pay a tax higher than average sized residential parcels would pay. Perhaps the only solution to this dilemma is to work with the leaders of large corporate entities to obtain strong commitments from them to contribute financially to bay restoration. These contributions would be voluntary, if they cannot be mandated by law through a higher amount levied by a parcel tax. Since some of these corporations are already making these voluntary contributions, there is every good reason to hope and expect that they will continue to do so in the future, whether Measure AA passes or an amended version of it passes is, of course, raises another argument, that perhaps a parcel tax is the wrong kind of tax to raise the $500 million now proposed. A sales tax would be another option, but I am going to leave that matter open for further discussion for the moment.
Another strong flaw in Measure AA is that, currently, there are too many details missing as to how the $500 million would be spent. This vagueness is bound to lead to controversy when practical decisions have to be made as to where and how the money will be spent around the vast territory of the San Francisco Bay. This makes the matter of direct representation, instead of indirect, all the more important.
This easily anticipated controversy will call upon Bay Area residents to engage in some measure of altruistic thinking in attempting to recognize which threatened or polluted areas of the Bay are most urgently in need of assistance and restoration. This could easily present a series of hotly contested issues. This will make it even more mandatory that the residents of each county feel that they are at least having their voices heard by their local representative. In the expected give-and-take of such political controversy, many will no doubt at times feel disappointed in not receiving their fair share of the allocated funds. To be allegedly “short-changed” and under-represented at the same time is the ultimate fuel for controversy. Having a directly elected board member from each county will help mitigate this type of controversy.
For now, I urge everyone to vote No on Measure AA. Send this flawed proposal back to the state legislature for revision. We can do much better than this. And I urge us all to work to end this type of indirect representation, this alphabet soup regionalism, that for too long has passed for democracy in the minds of many of our politicians.
Kenneth Kelzer is a Marin resident of 45 years, a political activist and a lifelong student of American history and politics.
Should our community college be asking us for another quarter billion dollars without a budget, master plan, or even a firm list of projects?
As occurred with COM's $249.5 million bond measure in 2004, the college's statement in the current voter pamphlet promises to modernize the college's facilities for the 21st century - implying the funds will be sufficient to do so -- but fails to provide specifics.
According to the IJ's April 25, 2016 article on Measure B, "the master plan for repairs and possible teardowns and rebuilds is still being put together." COM President Dr. David Wain Coon said "Priorities have not yet been assigned and specifics may shift before the list is finalized...we knew the last bond [$249 million in 2004] wasn't going to cover everything. A bond any larger than that would not have passed."
Translation: Taxpayers were misled on the last bond measure. Trust us, this time.
Absent a firm list of projects accompanied by cost projections, voters have no idea how far the Measure B bond funds will go, whether they will be spent wisely, and whether COM will return in 10-12 years requesting yet another quarter billion dollars.
The 2004 bond money did not go nearly as far as it could have. Rather than remodeling much of the campus, a number of buildings were demolished and replaced with costly new construction. Other higher education campuses renovate and retrofit COM knocks down relatively new buildings such as the less than 45 year old Austin Science Center for a parking lot.
Taxpayers have a right to expect that their money will be spent prudently.
MUTA recently received a letter that calls into serious question whether that's the case.
An email sent to MUTA, from a contractor who had previously performed work for COM reports recently receiving a request from the college's Yes-on-B committee asking him to donate $1,500 to be used to promote voter approval of the bond. The request for a specific contribution amount from a potential bidder for projects funded by Measure B may be interpreted as "Pay to Play". This gives the appearance of impropriety that contributors might receive special consideration.
Equally troubling is that the above-mentioned contractor's low bid for a 2014 boiler replacement was initially rejected by COM. It was awarded instead to an unlicensed bidder for an extra $30,000 (30% more). The higher bid was also inferior in scope: less work for more money. It took an official protest to get the contract awarded to the qualified low bidder.
How many other contracts have been awarded at inflated bids? How much money is wasted through mismanagement of projects and priorities?
With $265 million to spend, overpaying 30% wastes $79.5 million of the total. That would go a long way toward modernizing more of the college.
The request for contributions from the contractor makes us wonder how much campaign contributions influence COM's decisions.
An array of construction trade unions contributes to COM board members' election coffers. This may encourage expensive construction over less expensive renovations.
COM's Board of Trustees has demonstrated that it cannot be trusted with our tax dollars. The board acts as if it is more beholden to favored construction trades, unions, and consultants than to the taxpayers who pay all the bills.
Voters should NOT tax themselves a second time without knowing how the bond money will be spent and gaining specific guarantees of better decision-making and oversight.
Let's not give the college even more money to mismanage!
MUTA urges a "NO VOTE "on Measure B!
MUTA urges a "NO VOTE "on Measure B!
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©2015 Marin United Taxpayers Association