Contra Costa water initiative loses big

The contentious Contra Costa countywide clean water initiative has failed by nearly 19,000 votes. Property owners rejected the per-parcel fee by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin, which would have raised $14 million a year for water pollution prevention programs.

In a snippy press release, Clean Water Program Director Don Freitas blames the loss on the media, the voters in 1996, the California Constitution and the sun coming up. (Okay, I made up the last one.) Nowhere, it seems, does Freitas point the finger at himself.

Check out what Freitas put out a few minutes ago:

The purpose of this email is to inform you of the final election results for the “2012 Community Clean Water Initiative”. Contrary to recent press articles, Monday, May 7th has always been designated as the deadline to receive this information. Passage of the Initiative required fifty percent (50%) plus one of those casting a vote which included all property owners in Contra Costa County. The results are as follows:

Mailed Ballots – 339,586

Received Valid Ballots – 100,768

“Yes” Ballots – 40,924

“No” Ballots – 59,844

Invalid Ballots – 1,355

Based on the aforementioned results, the Initiative failed by approximately a 60% to a 40% margin. 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 from the regulatory mandates of the Federal Clean Water Act and California’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Act. 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.

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.”

Donald P. Freitas

Project Manager

Contra Costa Clean Water Program

 255 Glacier Drive

 Martinez, CA 94553-4825

 (925) 313-2373



Lisa Vorderbrueggen

  • JohnW

    Like the majority, I resolutely voted against this and lobbied others to do likewise because of the sneaky and arrogant way it was handled. Plus, having to wait weeks for results is absurd. But, for the sake of discussion, let’s assume the additional fee revenue is needed and that, without it, the district will be forced into non-compliance and exposed to penalties, not to mention the environmental implications.

    With that assumption in mind, how should the district have approached this? Comments?

  • Arne Simonsen

    Blaming Prop 218 is so wrong. I can’t believe that message sent out by Program Director Don Freitas which was nothing more than sour grapes and borders on the absurd!

    The real problem is with the over-zealous regulations from the state and federal governments which are really unfunded mandates. They expect the citizens to pick up the tab for Mother Nature producing rain (Hey, I thought we needed rain!!).

    Hooray for common sense and the property owners seeing through this scheme.

  • John Case

    Property owners should not be a target of a government that simply tries to extract cash rather than look at new ways (including private enterprise) to meet these unfunded mandates that the State and the Federal government are so quick to impose.
    This includes all local government to look for innovation rather than taxation to meet their requirements.

  • karl dietzel

    i will never vote on anything anymore which increases my property tax or any other tax increase. our city gov has to learn that they need to cut spending. period.
    the median income in antioch is about $ 65,000, while city gov jobs pay an avg of $ 170,000 and up to $ 300,000 plus.
    i would like to know how our city voted, since we the people have/ own 650 parcels.

  • Larry L. Harrison

    I have been aproperty owner in Antioch for over 43 years. I received a brochure on the Contra Costa clean water initiative, but never received a ballot in the mail. I can at this time only speculate on how I may of voted, but I was inclined to vote against it because it isis a larger issue that all citizens should fund if necessary, not just property ovners. Also there was not, as I recall, any specific information on how the money would be spent. “Clean water” goes along with “motherhood” as something we all support, but, even so, I do not want to pay for other peoples children. And there are already a number of programs and agencies adressing clean water isssues at the local, State, and Federal levels.

  • Wendy Lack

    @ Arne Simonsen:

    “The real problem is with the over-zealous regulations from the state and federal governments which are really unfunded mandates.”

    I disagree. The root problem is state and fed EPA regs that are environmentally unnecessary and toxic to the private property rights and the economy.

    However I agree with you that using Prop 218 as a funding vehicle in this case is a distortion of its original intent.

    It’s a good thing that voters saw through this sham and soundly rejected it.

  • Truthclubber

    @1 —

    Heck, I voted against it THREE times, and I don’t even live in the district!

  • Elwood

    Of course it’s everyone’s fault except Donny babe’s.

    After all, he has immaculate perception.

  • Bruce R. Peterson Lafayette

    It looks like property owners are wiser than the politicians think they are. All of the expensive pro tax propaganda failed to convince people to be foolish.
    I went to the February meeting. It was an obvious sham. The BOS & their hired help, acted like morons. That afternoon, the results of the meeting were in my mailbox. Now the lame excuses arrive.

  • Next task: See if the Feds have gotten the message. This is a simple problem of an agency long ago achieving its agenda of removing industrial waste, but, in fear of their jobs, they keep ratcheting up the mandates. But they work for politicians, too, and this should be a pretty clear hint to them that the EPA has gone too far. As further evidence, look how well Ron Paul is doing picking up wins by explaining how their out-of-control spending costs society the ability to pay for capital improvements they would otherwise choose. Let them impose fines; they can’t get blood from a stone.

  • Common Tater

    The Board of Supes (Stupes?) really blew this one. They are definitely out of touch with the folks. This strongly indicates that a new board should be voted in as soon as election laws permit. Mark my words, they will try this again.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if they take this to one of the activist judges who will reverse the vote since the voting public is too stupid to decide such important issues.

  • Arne Simonsen

    And even more discouraging is that the Clean Water Program used about $1.5 million in NPDES taxes it had collected on this campaign, when that money should have gone towards clearing our creeks, channels and storm drains.

  • Hopefully, the tax/fee/etc. measures to be proposed for funding fire services will also FAIL!

    Just say NO to Obscenely Overpaid Firefighters!

  • JohnW

    Re: #11

    “…indicates that a new board should be voted in…”

    San Francisco supervisors have term limits. How come CoCo doesn’t? Is that because SF is unified city/county? Could CoCo vote for institute term limits, or is that pre-empted by the state?

  • 86 percent of fire departments are all or mostly volunteer; they protect 39 percent of the population.

    Volunteer firefighters save local communities $37.2 billion per year in tax money.


    Just say NO to any more taxes/fees for firefighters!

  • Reality Checker

    Of the 3 Supervisors up for election;

    G. Uilkema, voted ‘for’ the tax and is not re-running.
    F. Glover, voted ‘for’ the tax and is running unopposed.
    M. Piepho, voted ‘against’ the tax and is running unopposed.

  • JohnW

    Re: #16

    So, maybe there’s hope for Mary Piepho after all. If Candace Anderson wins the District 2 seat, she and Piepho could give the BOS more fiscal discipline. Even Gioia, who has intellectual bandwidth, might be persuaded to join forces with them.

    Okay, time to wake up from the dream.

  • Fred the Red

    I own 2 parcels in the lamorinda area and was never sent any ballots on both parcels even though I always recieve a tax bill for both properties. Would never have even know of this if not for the contra costa times article. 2 week before the election I made many calls to get a ballot sent for both parcels. I recieved only one ballot that had to be driven to Martinez to be counted. I was told that for the second parcel I would have to drive to Martinez on the day of the vote again to apply in person for the ballot which would be only available from the hours of 1:00pm to 4:00 pm. No ballots were available before that time. This whole misuse of public funds and the way it was handled should include an investigation into the way elections like these are handled. I can only thank god that this measure was defeated for the sham that it was.