San Francisco Bay Restoration Measure Clears Two-Thirds Hurdle

By Lauren Sommer, KQED Science

San Francisco Bay Restoration Measure Clears Two-Thirds

Measure AA would raise millions to restore tidal marshes, like this one in Richmond. (Lauren Sommer/KQED)

A measure to restore San Francisco Bay wetlands and prepare for sea level rise appears to have passed with about 69 percent of the vote.

As of Wednesday morning, unofficial counts had  Measure AA clearing the required two-thirds vote by more than 31,000 votes. That’s a margin unlikely to be overcome by the few ballots yet to be counted. The $12 per year parcel tax would raise $500 million over 20 years for environmental restoration. The measure requires a two-thirds margin of all the votes cast among counties surrounding the bay.

Supporters worked for more than a decade to put the rare, all-Bay Area measure on the ballot. Thousands of acres of the bay’s shoreline are slated for restoration, but have lacked a funding source. Around 80 percent of the bay’s wetlands have been lost since the Gold Rush.

“People in the Bay Area love San Francisco Bay,” said David Lewis, executive director or Save the Bay. “They want it to be clean and healthy. The money raised by Measure AA could restore 10,000 to 15,000 acres of tidal marsh.”

It’s also one of the first times climate change adaptation has been put before voters. Sea level could rise 2 feet by midcentury and Measure AA supporters say wetlands are a key strategy in the face of rising water, since they absorb storm surges and protect important infrastructure.

Some anti-tax groups opposed the measure, saying a flat $12 per parcel would be unfair. Low-income households would pay the same as large tech campuses located right on the shoreline, like Google and Facebook.

Measure AA doesn’t specify exactly what restoration would take place. Instead, restoration projects would apply to the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority, a special governing board made up of local elected officials.

Half of the $25 million raised each year would be given out based on geographic region, while the other half could be allocated to any county. The projects must meet specific goals, like restoring habitat for wildlife, protecting shoreline communities from floods or improving water quality.

The parcel tax would begin in tax year 2017, with the first restoration funds being awarded in 2018.