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Close to Home: Measure AA comes with too much bureaucracy

By now we've all seen the stunning pictures of humpback whales swimming in San Francisco Bay and received in our mailboxes the expensive color brochures touting the benefits of Measure AA. The well-funded proponents of Measure AA would have us believe that $500 million in new taxes will result in a clean and healthy San Francisco Bay for ourselves and future generations.

Lovely sentiments, indeed. And who can resist the lure of whales swimming through pristine bay waters?

Unfortunately, Measure AA is far less about restoration of San Francisco Bay and far more about giving non-elected government bureaucrats unsupervised control over hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

Measure AA comes to us courtesy of the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority, a newly formed government agency based in Oakland. Major funding for the campaign in support of Measure AA is provided by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and other well-funded business groups representing San Francisco and South Bay business interests. While proponents like to say that restoring tidal marsh lands along the bay is their key objective, the actual language of Measure AA makes clear that flood control and the fear of rising sea levels attributable to global warming is the driving force. Hence the interest of major Silicon Valley tech giants like Google, Facebook and Apple as they seek public resources to protect their real estate investments built at or below sea level.

Measure AA's troubles begin with its governance, or perhaps more accurately, the lack thereof. The San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority is controlled by a seven-member board of directors, none of whom is elected by voters. The authority's directors are instead appointed by the board of directors of the Association of Bay Area Governments, another regional bureaucracy whose directors are also appointed.

The San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority's directors, who will award $500 million in new public works contracts, are thus two steps removed from voters. That lack of accountability is, quite simply, a recipe for disaster.

More troubling to us locally, not a single member of the authority's board of directors comes from Sonoma County. In fact, the four North Bay counties of Sonoma, Marin, Napa and Solano share a single representative, meaning that the remaining directors represent the more populous South and East Bay. Proponents may wish that some of the Measure AA money will find its way north, but we simply don't have the votes to make that happen.

A similar situation exists with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, another nonelected bureaucracy that directs the vast majority of regional transportation dollars to the South Bay. There is no reason to think the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority will handle things any differently.

The tax structure itself is inherently unfair. Measure AA is a parcel tax of $12 added to the property tax bill of each and every parcel in all nine Bay Area counties covered by the authority. The tax applies without regard to proximity to the bay or value of the parcel. Indeed, a retiree in Cloverdale will pay the same tax on a one-bedroom condo as Facebook will pay for its Mountain View campus.

And, finally, the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority is an unnecessary redundancy. There already exist several government agencies with mission statements substantially identical or overlapping that of the authority (e.g., the California Coastal Conservancy).

Moreover, local control in matters of regional concern is sacrificed. Cities and counties typically form joint powers authorities to pursue regional objectives while preserving local control over the decisions to be made. The San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority removes that authority from local elected officials and hands it to a board of nonelected bureaucrats.

We all want a clean and healthy San Francisco Bay. Measure AA is just the wrong vehicle. Please join me in voting no on Measure AA on the June 7 ballot.

Dan Drummond is executive director of the Sonoma County Taxpayers Association.

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