'Yes' on Santa Clara Valley Water District Measure S
By Thomas Rindfleisch
I was an author of a letter from Crescent Park residents supporting the passage of Measure S referred to in Sue Dremann's recent Palo Alto Weekly article. I continue my strong support.
Opponents claim that the remaining seven years of the current Measure B leaves time to complete flood protections. However, we have worked and waited 22 years for San Francisquito Creek flood repairs. After all those years, we still have nothing tangible to show for our work and planning to improve protection (especially upgrading Pope-Chaucer bridge) for the Crescent Park and Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhoods that were so heavily affected ($40 million worth) in the 1998 flood.
This is not the fault of the Santa Clara Valley Water District (now called Valley Water). The project involves coordination among five local government jurisdictions, long negotiations with myriad government agencies, and delaying tactics by the same groups opposing Measure S. Progress has been made, but seven years will evaporate quickly. Even if we are successful, there remain other longer-term challenges for adequate flood protection.
I participated for five years as a citizen adviser on a Stanford University study of the future of Searsville Dam. This is relevant because current flood control upgrade plans for San Francisquito Creek will protect against a 70-year flood (as happened in 1998), but we will still be short of the 100-year protection required by FEMA to remove flood insurance requirements on local properties and which would guard against future extreme weather events. The Stanford Searsville study recommended reconfiguring Searsville in a way that would dovetail with the downstream improvements to San Francisquito Creek and raise the flood protection to at least the 100-year level. This additional project is expensive and will require time, funding and cooperation to bring it to fruition.
Other long-term threats come from climate change. Sea level rise threatens to inundate many areas of the Bay shoreline, including areas of Palo Alto and other Santa Clara County communities. The effects will change the ecology in these areas, the availability of water, and livability. Planning, design and execution of needed shoreline and infrastructure upgrades will require solid funding support and will last well beyond the seven-year sunset of the current Measure B. Note that Measure S is not "double dipping" in that if approved, it will replace the older Measure B and will not impose new taxes — the near-term rate stays the same as the rate today.
A key concern of opponents seems to be: Can we trust the management of the Water District to use these funds wisely? After all, not all past projects have reached conclusion in a timely fashion. I would argue that the way to oversee and manage future performance is not through deferred funding but through effective citizen awareness, involvement and oversight using the ballot box. The complex cluster of issues involved in Measure S, the strong headwinds and time needed to accomplish highly meritorious and doable projects, the increasingly pressing impacts of climate change, the amount of compromise that has already gone into crafting Measure S (that can hardly satisfy everyone), and the fact that there is no discernible "sunset" on the issues we face (devising solutions and maintaining them over the years), have convinced me we need to confront the future now as best we can. The cost of money in this environment is about as low as it can get, so we risk much higher costs in future economic conditions.
For these reasons, I strongly support the passage of Measure S as a reasonable compromise to continue the water district's stewardship of our water resources, infrastructure and environment.
Thomas Rindfleisch is a senior research scientist, emeritus, at Stanford University. He can be reached at [email protected].
What Valley Water doesn't tell us about Safe, Clean Water
By Trish Mulvey and Dave Warner
When you see a ballot measure with an attractive name like "Safe, Clean Water and Natural Flood Protection" and read a campaign mailer promising to "protect every drop without raising taxes," do you ever think to yourself, "I wonder what's missing?"
We did, and now we want to let you know who we are and what we found.
We are longtime Palo Altans. Trish Mulvey and her family moved to Kings Lane in Palo Alto in the spring of 1951. She discovered pollywogs in San Francisquito Creek in a shallow pool under the big buckeye tree next to the Newell Road Bridge and, in 1994, was a convening member of the San Francisquito Watershed Council. Dave Warner and his family moved to Palo Alto Avenue, across the street from the creek, in 1995 and he has been active in neighborhood creek clean-up and restoration activities.
When looking for "what's missing?" in Measure S, we identified four areas of concern along with a reassurance. Here are the concerns. First is the lack of a sunset date — thus allowing the tax to continue indefinitely and taking away our right to vote on new projects and programs.
Second is lack of accountability for poor performance on timely completion of flood protection projects and environmental stewardship key performance indicators for restoring wildlife habitat and providing open space.
Third is continuing a very regressive single rate, which taxes all single-family residential parcels up to and including one-quarter-acre the same — meaning if your home is in a neighborhood with eight units per acre, you pay twice as much per-square-foot of your property as those with more spacious homes on quarter-acre lots.
Fourth is the remarkably misleading ballot language. No mention that the Valley Water Board can increase the tax rate by at least 2% annually or that taxes have already been raised from $39 in 2000 to almost $68 today. No mention that the independent citizen oversight committee is appointed by the Valley Water Board members who don't have to follow committee recommendations. No mention of selling $300 million in bonds that will cost $650 million to repay — meaning $350 million of our tax dollars go to investors rather than to Safe, Clean Water priorities and local jobs.
While we recommend that you vote "no" on Measure S, we want to reassure you that the current Safe, Clean Water parcel tax does not expire until 2028. Funding for all the current projects will continue — including the high priority Anderson Dam seismic retrofit.
There are updates in the September 2020 Valley Water draft Year 7 Annual Report regarding other projects of local interest.
Permanente Creek work was originally projected to be completed in 2016. Now, the final element is projected to be completed by April 2021 with construction of the Rancho San Antonio Flood Detention Facility. San Francisquito Creek flood protection was originally projected to be completed by last June; now the schedule has slipped to the end of 2023. For the upstream-of-101 reach, including the Newell Road and Pope Chaucer bridges, Valley Water continues to work in coordination with the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority on the 95% design document for channel constrictions. Construction is expected to begin in the summer of 2021.
We oppose Measure S because voters deserve clarity, transparency and accountability. A "no" vote now ensures that Valley Water will have the opportunity to respond with a better measure that includes a sunset date, a less regressive tax and truly independent citizen oversight — a new measure that we can all support in the next general election cycle.
Trish Mulvey is a community volunteer and can be reached at [email protected] Dave Warner is a finance manager and can be reached at [email protected] Both live in Palo Alto neighborhoods that were badly damaged in the 1998 flood, and they wrote the ballot arguments on behalf of the Vote NO on Measure S Committee.