Valley Water has just revealed the language they propose to put on the November 2020 ballot. If the agency’s Board of Directors approves it, the measure would extend the current parcel tax (now scheduled to end in 2028) until, well, forever.
In one sense, this is welcome news.
At long last, the people we depend on for drinking water and flood protection are finally telling us the truth. For 30 years they have been stringing us along with the promise that if we only agreed to raise taxes temporarily, they could pay for needed improvements, and the added rate would expire.
A little history will shed light on this scam, and suggest how we can get the services we need without writing a blank check.
In 1990, voters approved an added parcel tax for flood protection. The extra money was needed to build levees and deepen creeks to keep floodwater from soaking new development built in the floodplain. The plan was to sell bonds then pay them off with the extra funds until the new tax expired.
Then a funny thing happened.
Instead of financing the needed improvements right away, the district waited until just before the tax expired (1999) and sold 30-year bonds guaranteed by the extension of the parcel tax for three more decades. Then they turned around and asked voters for a new tax increase to pay for additional projects.
Sure enough, in 2000 we approved the “Clean, Safe Creeks and Natural Flood Protection” initiative to fund more flood protection and environmental mitigation projects with another parcel tax that was scheduled to end in 2015.
Then in 2012, three years before the 2000 tax was set to end, the district rolled out the “Safe, Clean Water and Natural Flood Protection Program,” another parcel tax with another 15-year sunset provision.
The names were similar, only this time, in addition to flood protection the measure included water supply projects, like repair of Anderson Dam. That parcel tax was also limited to 15 years, set to expire in 2028.
This time the district is early.
Instead of coming back in 2025 to ask for another 15-year extension, they now suggest we approve the new fee “in perpetuity” so they won’t have to ask again. Even more water supply projects are added to the flood protection measures, further shifting the cost of water to renters and property owners, and taking it off the water bill where it belongs.
Adding insult to injury, while the money will fund the New Pacheco Dam, there is no mention of further developing our recycled water program—by all accounts the most resilient, environmentally friendly water supply we have.
Unless the board rejects the request for “an endless tax” and puts more thought into the projects it proposes, I will encourage voters to vote NO in November.
Honesty is nice, but accountability is better.
Patrick Ferraro is a former Valley Water Director (1972-1995) and adjunct lecturer of Water Policy & Management at San Jose State University. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches and letters to [email protected].