Op-Ed: Honesty is Good—Accountability is Better

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.

If only!

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].

6 Comments

  1. Nothing in their name suggests flood protection. If they change it to Valley Water & Flood Protection VWFP, then any thing will be passed by voters.

  2. What Ferraro proposes “recycled water program” is the most expensive of all water sources. Recycled water from feces costs 4 times as much as the current water. we are paying more for water than electricity in San Jose

    Valley Water should be spending money on keeping us safe in rock springs / coyote creek from flooding.

    Ferraro is a typical privileged white elitist . Now is wants us to pay for ass to glass water instead of us drowning from dams that need to be fixed

  3. This is a social justice issue and Pat is on the wrong side. The parcel tax is intended for flood control in economically challenged areas where people of color live. Places that have not received their fair share of resources in the past and for clean and safe drinking water.

    We need to realize systemic racism is built into our public funding systems. People of color need safe, clean drinking water. It is right that Valley Water is prioritizing this now; it is tone-deaf for white people who march in BLM protests to try to steal parcel tax money targeted to underfunded communities for their personal interests.

    Recycled Water is costly, as mentioned above and used for landscaping in wealthy areas. Valley Water has the right priorities and their openness and accountability should be lauded.

    BTW: The Pacheco Dam will be built with State and Federal funds, not parcel tax money.

  4. Agree Rich Robinson – why should us communities of color pay for Pat Boondoggle??

    The only feces I want to be associated is that feces to be removed from creeks

  5. If it were only so simple as money for Coyote Creek flood protection that helps disadvantaged communities. Far more money from this tax will still be going to flood control in more wealthy parts of the County such as Berryessa and Palo Alto, and they will get 100 year flood protection while Coyote Creek communities will only get 20 year flood protection. Recycled water is a local water supply that is drought resilient and can help us reduce imported water and help the Delta and Bay ecosystems – it’s the future in a water constrained world.

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