Greening the Bay With Measure AA
The Clean and Healthy Bay parcel tax may be this generation’s chance to step up and restore the bay before it’s too late.
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“It’s a dollar a month, and by improving the wetlands, you filter out the pollution for cleaner water for fish and birds and habitat for other wildlife,” said Bay Area Council policy director Adrian Covert. “You can expand hiking trails, and you can also protect low-lying areas.”
In 2015, the Bay Area Council released a study that estimated that an extreme weather event, “the 150-year storm,” could cause about $10.5 billion in damages to the bay’s economy. “That number will increase, and we know this effort would actually get us on the right track to providing flood protection to certain areas in the bay,” Covert said.
But will a $12 annual tax be enough? The Bay Area Council estimates that it would cost about $1.5 billion to restore all wetlands currently listed as eligible for funding from Measure AA.
“So, Measure AA would bring us a third of the way,” Covert said.
Today, there about 44,000 acres of tidal marsh in the bay, down from a historic high of 200,000 acres, and the current goal is to return it to 100,000 acres. Lewis says that raising funds to complete work on 35,000 acres that is currently waiting for restoration would go a long way toward achieving that goal.
“It’s about taking diked areas that don’t have vegetation, which the bay needs now, and turning them back to tidal marshes, which re-vegetate with native plants, creating a biologically diverse habitat where, right now, there is not enough,” Lewis said. “That benefits endangered species like the clapper rail and the salt marsh mouse, but it also benefits a whole host of other birds, fish, and wildlife.”
And over time, tidal marshes capture carbon from the atmosphere and store large amounts in marsh soils. “Tidal marshes sequester carbon through their root system, and carbon gets buried in the sediments over time,” Lewis said. “Even if we restore all tidal marshes, it’s still a small portion, but it’s better than not sequestering any carbon at all.”
Measure AA also would expand the Bay Trail, which brings people closer to nature and wildlife. “The bay defines our region and the trails we build would be constructed for hikers, joggers, bicyclists, birdwatchers, people in wheelchairs and children,” said Bay Trail project manager Laura Thompson.
To pass, Measure AA requires a two-thirds supermajority vote; since this ballot measure raises revenue, it needs more than a simple majority of votes. That’s a high threshold, but political heavyweights like Measure AA co-chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein believe it’s a target we collectively can’t afford to miss, on behalf of the future.
“The bay is the very heart of our region’s identity, and is vital to the economic and ecological future of California,” Feinstein said. “It is up to us to protect and restore it for the benefit of our children and our children’s children.”
Some may question the timing of the ballot measure, wondering if it would be better to wait until November, when voter turnout is expected to be higher.
“The November ballot is going to be so crowded that it will be much more difficult to educate voters, and much more expensive to communicate about this measure in that noisy atmosphere,” Lewis said. “June is an opportunity to get more attention.”
What does Gioia expect if Measure AA doesn’t pass?
“In the short term, we lose opportunities for additional access to the bay, we lose fish and wildlife habitat, and the bay doesn’t get cleaner,” Gioia said. “In the long term, we start feeling the affect of sea level rise. It’s more cost effective to start addressing sea level rise now rather than in 20 years.”