Consider that by the 1960s, nearly 90 percent of the wetlands that had once surrounded San Francisco Bay were gone. Thanks in large part to the environmental awakening that occurred shortly after that, the filling-in of the bay came to a halt and thousands of wetlands have since been preserved. But it has been slow-going. The tidal marsh area, which once totaled nearly 200,000 acres, is only at about 44,000 acres today.
Bay Area voters will soon have an opportunity to accelerate these efforts in a significant way. Measure AA on the June 7 ballot calls for approval of a $12-per-parcel annual tax for enhancing wetlands and wildlife habitat, for the expansion of public access and recreational opportunities and for the protection of public infrastructure — from highways to wastewater treatment plants to schools — from the threat of rising sea levels.
The tax would raise $500 million over 20 years. Half would be distributed to each Bay Area county based on population. The other half would be available through competitive grants, But the North Bay stands to benefit significantly as restoration projects have already been identified and public-private partnerships are in place to make them happen.
The kind of work involved was on display in October when crews broke through a 140-year-old levee at Sears Point, allowing saltwater to reclaim more than 1,000 acres at the southern tip of Sonoma County, land that had been used for hayfields. Another 35,000 acres of land has been acquired around the Bay Area, the largest estuary on the West Coast. But money is needed for restoration of those lands.
Officials from the Sonoma County Water Agency say the North Bay stands to receive at least $45 million, which would be used to leverage state and federal dollars for restoration projects along Sonoma Creek, the Petaluma River and in San Pablo Bay.
Tax funds also will be used to help protect infrastructure threatened by rising sea levels. According to the National Academy of Sciences, bay water levels are expected to rise by at least two feet by 2050 and as much as five feet by 2100. Studies by the Bay Area Council have found that such a rise would put an estimated 1,780 miles of roads and highways and 89 schools and health care facilities at risk of flooding. Flooding also would occur at the Oakland and San Francisco airports. Restoring wetlands would help provide protection from these storm surges.
The tax would be administered by the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority, which was created by state law in 2008 to restore wetlands in the Bay and along the shoreline.
As David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, said, “The sooner we start, the sooner they can provide benefits.” But it won’t be easy. The tax requires a two-thirds majority vote of residents in the nine Bay Area counties. It’s an ambitious goal. Yet, it’s a modest sum — $1 a month — for the cumulative benefit involved. Other regions — such as the Puget Sound area, Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes areas — receive significantly more federal dollars than the Bay Area for habitat and water protection. Measure AA would, once and for all, provide a stable revenue source that would allow Bay Area residents to ensure we get our share of those dollars while protecting this natural resource that binds us all.
We encourage a yes vote on Measure AA on June 7.