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January 20, 2021

Measure S aims to raise funds for water supply, flood control projects

Opponents worry about transparency, costs

Proponents of Valley Water’s Measure S on the Nov. 3 ballot say the parcel tax is crucial to reinforcing water supplies, flood protection and other priorities for nearly 2 million Santa Clara County residents; but its detractors say the measure lacks details and transparency, and caution that the proposed tax has no sunset date.

Measure S would continue to fund the water district’s Safe, Clean Water and Natural Flood Protection program. The measure would levy a parcel tax of about $.006 per square foot annually, until ended by voters. If approved by a two-thirds majority, Measure S could raise up to $45.5 million annually for capital projects that improve the valley’s drinking supply and flood protection.

At an Oct. 22 virtual town hall hosted by the City of Morgan Hill, Valley Water Director John Varela, who represents South County on the district’s board of directors, noted that the original Safe Clean Water program was approved by 74 percent of voters in 2012.

This time around, if approved, Measure S would provide additional funding for two Valley Water projects in South County that are key to both goals of water supply and flood protection, Varela said: the Anderson Dam Seismic Retrofit project, and the Upper Llagas Creek Flood Protection project.

Specifically, Measure S would provide the following amounts of funding to local projects, according to the website safecleanwater.org: $54.1 million for Anderson Dam; $46.3 million for Upper Llagas Creek; $10 million for the Pacheco Reservoir expansion; $9.8 million for pipeline improvements and upgrades; and $38.7 million for encampment cleanup, among many other projects.

Valley Water spokeswoman Rachael Gibson, who spoke at the town hall as a volunteer promoting Measure S, noted the Safe Clean Water program has five top priorities: ensure a safe, reliable water supply; reduce toxins, hazards and contaminants in the waterways; protect the water supply from earthquakes and natural disasters; restore wildlife habitat and provide open space; and provide flood protection to homes, businesses, schools and highways.

Gibson said in settling on the details for a renewed Safe Clean Water parcel tax, the Measure S campaign surveyed local residents and stakeholders to determine their priorities. She said among 21,000 respondents, the top three priorities were Anderson Dam, improved water supply and cleaning up homeless encampments. Measure S would provide funding for all three of those efforts.

“It’s not just for this generation; it’s for future generations,” Gibson added. “We bear a responsibility to take care of this environment.”

One group opposing Measure S is the Sierra Club, which takes issue with the lack of a sunset on the tax—“making it difficult for voters to hold Valley Water to its promises in the program,” reads a Sept. 5 press release from the Sierra Club. 

The Sierra Club is also concerned about Valley Water’s “history of missing commitments on stream stewardship and habitat restoration projects, and the use of parcel tax funds for mitigations that are already required by law,” reads the press release. 

Two members of the Vote No on Measure S Committee—Trish Mulvey and David H. Warner—submitted arguments against the parcel tax.

“Measure S eliminates accountability and responsiveness to voters,” reads Warner’s argument. “Voters approved the existing parcel tax in 2012 for a 15-year term ending in 2028. Measure S proposes to renew that tax but without a definitive end date.”

Mulvey’s argument notes that Measure S would allow Valley Water to issue $300 million in bonds, which would be paid back at a cost of $650 million. Furthermore, she argues that the parcel tax is paid to “investors and bankers” rather than directly on the Safe Clean Water priorities.

Arguments on the ballot in favor of Measure S are signed by State Assemblymember Evan Low, U.S. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, Jethroe Moore of the NAACP, as well as Valley Water representatives.

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