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Posted by xaviervir on February 26, 2012

Property Owners Beware:

(from the Contra Costa Times)

Vorderbrueggen: Clean water ballot smells

Posted:   02/25/2012 06:18:00 PM PST
February 26, 2012 5:18 AM GMT Updated:   02/25/2012 09:18:05 PM PST

Contra Costa property owners received their “clean water initiative” ballots in the mail last week, and it left quite a few folks holding their noses.

In truth, it is a legal election conducted by a consortium of the county and its 19 cities called the Contra Costa Clean Water Program. State law permits public agencies to seek a majority landowner approval for fees through a direct mail election.

And, yes, people have fierce and disparate opinions about the program itself.

Nonetheless, the cities and the county say they need the fee to meet tightening federal and state regulations intended to reduce pollution from stormwater runoff into San Francisco Bay, creeks, lakes and groundwater.

But the bulk of the irate callers hate the way the clean water program managers are running the election.

The critics call it an attempt to sidestep the two-thirds vote threshold imposed on new taxes, and an untenable departure from democratic balloting procedures.

No one denies the former. Unfunded federal and state mandates often land on the shoulders of local agencies, which are forced to become increasingly creative in finding ways to pay for them.

As for the latter, the election procedures are troubling.

The ballot literature contains no independent analysis of the fee. There are no opponents’ statements. Both are required of initiatives and referendums that appear on traditional ballots.

Instead, the documents


sent to voters — using public money — are unabashedly promotional and clearly skirt the fine line between express electioneering and educational material. Public agencies cannot legally use taxpayer money to promote or oppose measures, but they can spend it on “public education” materials.“I have no way to make an intelligent decision based on the materials provided in my ballot,” said one property owner. “This material was prepared entirely by the proponents, who are then responsible for tallying the votes. It’s absolutely ridiculous.”

Then there is the question about why the election does not use a secret ballot.

The ballot requires the property owner to sign and date the actual ballot. In a traditional election, the voter signs the outside of the envelope, and election officials extract and separate the anonymous ballot that contains the actual vote.

“It’s un-American,” said another property owner. “How can this be legal?”

Looking at the campaign materials in his ballot, Supervisor John Gioia says he now regrets voting to put the fee before property owners.

“I am very unhappy with how this campaign is being conducted,” Gioia said. “This program has some clear benefits, but the campaign is, well, screwed up.”






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