Friday, October 05, 2012

Brian's call to Santa Clara County environmentalists to vote for the Safe Clean Water Measure

After the jump below is a shortened version of a letter I'm sending far and wide to the local environmental community in support of a funding measure for the Santa Clara Valley Water District that I represent.  The funding goes to watershed restoration, water supply, and flood control, with this appeal directed to environmentalists.  Mail-in ballots will go out next week.

Letter to Santa Clara County Environmentalists about the Safe Clean Water Measure
Brian Schmidt
October 4, 2012

As a long time environmentalist with what I hope is some “street cred” on valuing the environment and knowing the Water District, I urge you, I beg you, to support the Safe Clean Water measure - Measure B - on the November ballot and to tell your friends to do the same. This fall might be our only chance for a decade or longer to get expanded environmental funding, and it definitely is our best chance based on what we currently know about future circumstances.

(More after the jump....)

It’s far better than the funding we have now, and that funding is on its way out

In 2000 voters passed, just barely, the Clean Safe Creeks funding measure with the support of most environmental groups, and the measure expires in June 2016. About $15 to $20 million for environmental funding could be available under this measure, but it’s not required to be spent on the environment and could end up shifted elsewhere if Safe Clean Water doesn’t pass.

The new Safe Clean Water measure by contrast has over $20 million in grants for streamside and wetland habitats, $24 million that makes restoring South Bay tidal wetlands possible, $21 million for removing contaminants like mercury from our watersheds, $20 million for improving fish habitat and removing barriers to steelhead, $8 million for implementing the new County Habitat Conservation Plan, $7 million in pollution prevention grants, and $2 million in new water conservation programs and projects that encourage use of drinking water instead of bottled water.

Some of these things would happen anyway without Safe Clean Water, but some would not or not as extensively, or other worthy projects would lose funding instead. There are other good environmental aspects of Safe Clean Water as well, like natural flood control along San Francisquito Creek, that I haven’t even counted. What is clear is that the original, year 2000 Measure B is going away and will be gone before the next presidential election, so now is the time to move forward.

This is our best chance

A special tax like Safe Clean Water requires a two-thirds majority vote, even just for the purpose of renewing it at the same rate. The Water District did polling in the runup to the Clean Safe Creeks measure 12 years ago and again for the current Safe Clean Water measure. In June of this year, Safe Clean Water polled 69% support, two percent higher than Clean Safe Creeks did in June 2000.

If Safe Clean Water ends up failing, then one likely conclusion the Water District may make fopr the future is that if preliminary polling doesn’t show even higher than 69% support, then don’t go through the planning process again, which cost over a million dollars this last time. Statistics in non-presidential elections are not encouraging – 71% of city and special district parcel taxes like this one failed last June, according to the Calwatchdog website. Younger, more environmentally-oriented voters and voters of color favor this measure and are far more likely to come out for the presidential election than the one in November 2014.

After this year there may be other open space funding measurers, a state water bond measure, and a Palo Alto flooding benefit district; all of them potentially competing with or reducing support for renewing the special tax. After June 2016, the existing tax expires, and trying to get people to renew an expired tax is far more difficult. We simply don’t know if we have another chance, or if we do whether that other chance will win.

Environmentalists think long-term

If Safe Clean Water passes, it is likely that in a decade or so we will be looking at revising and renewing it, just as we are now for Clean Safe Creeks. As is the case now, renewing an existing tax in a decade will be easier than starting a new tax. Passing Safe Clean Water now isn’t just a matter of this decade, but of making funding possible for the next measure. Just as Safe Clean Water is better than Clean Safe Creeks, I expect the next measure will be better still. For that, we need your help.

If Safe Clean Water fails, the realistic option is to prepare for reduced environmental funding until there’s another major river flood, tidal flood, or drought, which could be many years in the future. Before then we might be able to do something to help environmental funding, but we can’t count on it, let alone that it would be nearly as much help.

We live in an imperfect world. I’m not suggesting that Safe Clean Water is perfect and couldn’t have been made better (although there will be chances to improve it during implementation if it passes). What I’m asking of the environmental community is that we reach out our hand and grasp this opportunity in front of us.

Please forward this letter on to any local environmentalists you know. This letter is only a summary, and there’s a lot more to discuss for those interested in discussing it. I am happy to talk to you or your friends to go into those details or to refute misinformation you may have heard (and acknowledge the occasional correct criticism). You can also get more information at

Looking forward to the election – please vote YES on Measure B for Safe Clean Water!

Brian Schmidt
Director, District 7, Santa Clara Valley Water District
Former Santa Clara County Advocate, Committee for Green Foothills
Former Board Member, Santa Clara County League of Conservation Voters
Former staff attorney, Earthjustice
Former co-president, Stanford Environmental Law Society

P.S. If you can do a little more than just spread the word, please do! Contact me for ideas, or if you can make a contribution at the website above, that would be incredibly helpful.


Anonymous said...

Any chance some of these funds could be used to turn the "creek" along San Tomas Expressway into something more like the creek along Lawrence?


Brian said...

Gator, I have to admit I don't know those areas well - I represent a different part of the County. I think you're talking about San Tomas Creek and Sunnyvale East Channel, though.

There's $23 million for habitat restoration and $20 million for fish passage, either of which could potentially be spent on pulling cement and making streams more natural. So depending on flooding conditions, it's possible those two streams could benefit.

Richard McMurtry said...

Brian’s letter is a good summary of what he honestly thinks to be true. However, there are many of us in the stream and fishery restoration community of activists that believe that Brian has not made an objective evaluation of the chances of passing a much better tax in June 2016 and the opportunity that rejecting Measure B offers to get the Water District to make some basic changes for the better in terms of its capacity to keep its environmental commitments.

For another view, watch this short video:

And please send to all your friends and family who are voters in Santa Clara County.

And see our website at:

EliRabett said...

Why does Richard remind Eli of the vote for someone without a chance of getting elected for purity's sake crowd?

Thanks Ralph.

Richard McMurtry said...

No body is talking about purity or perfection. We'll talking about engineering common sense. We're talking about specific commitments made in 2000 and 2003 which if not kept will prevent Measure B from being effective. We're talking about getting to the end of 15 years and looking around and realizing that not much really got done. That's simply "not a good way to run a ship."