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About this blog: In January 2002 I started writing my own online "newspaper" titled "The San Ramon Observer." I reported on City Council meetings and other happenings in San Ramon. I tried to be objective in my coverage of meetings and events, and...  (More)

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Proposed fee for clean water

Uploaded: Dec 22, 2011
Contra Costa Clean Water Program sent out a brochure explaining their proposed 2012 Community Clean Water Initiative and Public Hearing Notice. The brochure I received lists my fee at $22 a year for 10 years. I don't know if that's the fee all property owners in the South County pay or if it is based on assessed value or some other criteria.

The Clean Water website lists this Initiative as "subject to California Proposition 218." I recently boned up on Prop 218 after the attacks against the Dublin San Ramon Services' planned policy for formal "protests" as defined in the proposition.

The Clean Water brochure announces a "Public Hearing on February 7, 2012 at 10:00 AM in the Board of Supervisors Chambers, Room 107, 651 Pine Street, Martinez, CA to receive public input." The brochure doesn't mention Prop. 218, but the Public Hearing is scheduled 48 days from my receipt of the announcement. Prop 218 requires a Public Hearing scheduled a minimum 45 days after the announcement.

"At this hearing, the Board of Supervisors . . . will consider all protests against the proposed Clean Water fee. A majority protest exists if written protests are presented by a majority of owners of the identified parcels . . . " The Board will not impose the fee if there is a majority protest against it.

The Board seems very confident, "a majority of property owners [will not submit written protests by the close of the public hearing," since they have already set the date of April 6, 2012 for receipt of the completed ballots on the initiative, which property owners will vote on by mail.

I'm not against clean water. In fact I support clean water. South San Ramon Creek is one of the local creeks which will be protected from trash and pollution by this program. South San Ramon Creek runs through my back yard. Yes my back yard extends at least half-way across the creek.

The plan also proposes to "Capture, clean and use rainwater to irrigate local parks and landscaping, (which) will also decrease impacts of polluted stormwater and urban runoff on our local creeks." Gee I started promoting "rainwater harvesting" two years ago! See the the photo of the connection to my "landscape irrigation" barrels. So I'm all for this too.

What bothers me about this slick brochure is the sly way it complies with Proposition 218 without really notifying anyone what it requires. At least DSRSD is trying to codify its policies about how property owners must submit valid written protests.

Most property owners in Contra Costa County won't take the time to read all the details of what is required for a written protest; so the County Supervisors can be pretty secure they won't receive a majority of valid protests by the close of the Public Hearing on February 7, 2012.

However, the fee could be defeated in the mail-in vote. It depends how serious the "no new taxes" mindset is, but even 1%-er's in Alamo, Blackhawk, and Diablo need clean water.


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Posted by Jim Poyer, a resident of San Ramon,
on Dec 28, 2011 at 4:50 pm

I agree with your comments on this and have even more comments to add. The glossy flyer that we received in the mail is a "sales piece" and provides only "feel good" statements with pictures and bullet items that are generic and items that everyone would agree with. This is what concerns me. They cover their bases by putting out a piece like this with very little detail. I see this as being similar to the Norris Canyon HOV overpass issue (in terms of public notification). All the bureaucrats keep saying that this (Norris Cyn HOV Ramps) has been public knowledge for several years and they imply that the general public must be asleep at the wheel if they didn't hear about it. The Clean Water Initiative flyer is all fluff and no detail and in fact it does not even provide you a link to more detail if you are so inclined to read all of it. If you go to their website you cannot find any detail on what the initiative will require in detail. Just more fluff. If anyone can point me to more detail on this, I'd like to see it. I will be contacting Mary Piepho's office to get more detail on this. It must exist, but why is it not being disclosed to us in this piece? What I am concerned about is that there is probably a mountain of regulations that are not being readily disclosed other than the "Baseball, Motherhood and Apple Pie" fluff piece they sent out. I can afford the $22.00 and that is not the issue. The big concern for me is that they spin this as one thing that is supposed to be good for us, and when the ugly details finally come out, it is too late to stop it. Just like Norris Canyon HOV Ramps. I will be keeping a close eye on this one and will demand to see more details on it. I wonder if there will be new regulations about washing your car in the driveway or sprinkler runoff - - and a new set of "water police" created to run around town and cite people. Don't get me wrong, I am for clean water, but it seems to me that there are ample laws on the books already at the federal, state and county levels to address the required protection. Why do we need yet another set of laws? My biggest concern right now is the lack of detail being provided and the fact that it will go the next step easily, since it is virtually impossible to come up with 50% of the parcel owners to object to it at a County Board meeting. I may have fallen for Measures C and J due to their similar tactics of slick flyers, but I will not fall for this one. Oh, and who paid for the "fluff piece"? Answer: Us.

Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Dec 28, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Great comments, Jim. You nailed it. Too many of us will fall for the pretty nature photos in the brochure. The devil is always in the details in these measures and unless you read the whole thing, you won't know what the devil it is about.

Here are some additional links I found on the Clean Water website.

* Documents from 1999-on Web Link
* More publications and requirements for new developments Web Link
* More reports and PowerPoint presentations listing big fines for polluting the water Web Link

* This is from Slide 27 of SpillResponse.ppt

Fish and Game code 5650- any substance or material deleterious to fish, plant, or bird life- To $25,000/occurance
PC 374.7(a),(b)- dumps any waste matter into any bay, lagoon, channel, river, creek, slough, lake, reservoir or and bank or shore within 150 feet of high water or any body of water- To $10,000/occurance

I doubt these are new laws, but the Clean Water fund will probably provide for stiffer enforcement.

That's all the links I can add in a blog message, but you can find more of them under the Resources menu on the Clean Water website. The link to that is in my original blog entry above.


Posted by Cynthia Ruehlig, a resident of another community,
on Dec 29, 2011 at 8:13 pm

Murky Facts by the Clean Water Initiative

Public officials and the media are flooding the news with hype on the urgent needs of the Delta as a prelude to the Prop 218 election. Still, vital questions are left unanswered on this new property related fee which will be imposed throughout Contra Costa County.
1. The Delta is bounded by Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin and Solano. Is the Delta clean-up shared by counties who equally benefit from these waters? Or is Contra Costa dirtier than others? According to an environmental justice case study:

?Since 1989, there have been 35 major industrial accidents in Contra Costa County, California. This makes it one of the most dangerous places to live in the nation. In fact, between 1989 and 1995, there were over 1900 different incidents reported in the county, making it the eleventh worst area in the entire United States with regards to toxic accidents.? Web Link

How much of the Delta?s problem was caused by the 2008 Discovery Bay and 2009 Richmond sewage spills or the toxic leaks and gas releases from industries on the rim of our county which all eventually end up in the water?

2. Contra Costa collects 14M for stormwater yearly. The clean water fee could possibly increase funds by 50% with no promise to build new or repair existing infrastructure. Are we splashing more money for the same purpose to continue the same solutions which apparently has failed despite a 14M budget? Is there an assurance that the 14M will not be diverted for other uses such as salary increases and OPEB liabilities as restricted money from the new source comes in?

3. The clean water fee apparently is a parcel tax in disguise. The amount charged will be imposed on the parcel / person as an incident of property ownership. The charade to use the word ?fee? rather than ?tax? apparently justifies the special election process adopted for the Clean Water Initiative. This fee passes on a majority vote rather than the 2/3 voter approval required to impose a parcel tax.

Additionally, many strategies to sneak through a parcel tax in a stealth election are being utilized ? expensive consultant, informational campaign paid by public resources, scare tactics by politicians and media, simple friendly sound bites that ?it is only a few dollars? while embarrassing the opposition as cheapskate, scheduling a quick and probable low turnout but expensive election by mail in April despite 2012 being an election year. If Prop 218 is as good as the glossy flyers allege, why engage in deception?

Finally, watch who pours money at the next election and trace the slick from known industrial offenders to the well-oiled campaign coffers of politicians supporting Prop 218.

Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Dec 29, 2011 at 9:35 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.


Thank you for posting your comments, which illustrate how confusing this Clean Water Initiative is. The initiative to be voted on isn't Proposition 218. That was passed in 1996 and added to the State Constitution. It governs the way fees are added or increased by Special Districts, primarily water districts.

Proposition 218 requires the agency hold a Public Hearing not less than 45 days after announcing a fee increase. If a majority of property owners submit written protests before the end of the Public Hearing, the fee cannot be increased.

If there is not a majority of written protests, the fee can be passed by a simple majority of the mail-in ballots. This isn't an election by the general public, but it is, as you called it, like voting for a Parcel Tax.


Posted by Rich Halket, a resident of Dublin,
on Jan 3, 2012 at 1:25 pm


A client of mine who lives in Alamo received the flyer as well. I also found it too slick for my taste. I can confirm that my client's proposed fee is different than yours. The flyer says the calculation involves the impervious surface of the parcel (more asphalt equals more runoff so a higher fee). The thing I find interesting is step two of the 218 process - the mail in vote. If I remember my 218 correctly the votes for a new fee are weighted by impact to the property (in other words the proposed fee). The Board of Supervisors must have some very large property owners on board for them to risk the vote - they need a 2/3 majority. One property with a $1,000 fee equals 50 parcels with $20 fees. I wonder if the mainstream press will cover this? If not, it will likely fly under the radar.

Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Jan 3, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Thanks for the clarification, Rich. I'll have to go back and look at that wonderful Prop. 218 book again to see what the vote requires.

Years ago Bob Maddow told me this measure was put on the ballot by a landlord organization; so weighting the vote by the value of the property makes sense in that context.

Prop. 218 isn't clear if a renter can submit a Protest instead of the owner, but since only one Protest is allowed per parcel even if all of the renters in a building Protest, they count as only one Protest. I'm sure if apartment owners vote for this fee, it will be passed on to the renters.


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