By Lauren Foliart
City News Reporter
Come Nov. 4, registered Santa Cruz voters will cast their votes on 13 propositions and measures. Among them will be Measure E, the only local measure on the ballot.
Proponents of Measure E say it is a necessary expense to bring Santa Cruz cleaner oceans, rivers, and beaches in an effort to continue protection of public health and the environment.
In addition, without these improvements, Santa Cruz could face up to $10,000 per day in fines from the state for failure to comply with new clean storm water standards.
Measure E would impose a property tax explicitly for clean water maintenance and education. The tax would amount to $20 per year for single-family parcels and $94 per year for larger parcels. Revenue from the tax would continue funding clean water projects already implemented by the city. Additionally, it would provide money for improvements and innovations in water regulations.
“[Measure E] allows us to do more monitoring and pollution prevention of storm water runoff that goes directly into the ocean,” said Mayor Ryan Coonerty, who helped write the measure.
In 1994, Santa Cruz put into action the Storm Water Management Utility, which funded projects to control the flooding of the San Lorenzo River. By installing levees and bridges along the river, the utility was successful in fixing the urgent problem.
However, the structures need regular maintenance and don’t address the issue of storm water pollution.
While the Storm Water Management Utility has significantly reduced downtown flooding, Santa Cruz needs to look beyond prevention, Coonerty said.
“Now we want to increase our storm water pollution and prevention fund, that’s why we created Measure E,” Coonerty said.
In a city renowned for its breath-taking views and solitary beaches, some people consider a fund like Measure E to be essential in preserving Santa Cruz’s essence. Bacteria, chemicals and trash caught in runoff and deposited into the ocean harm everything from marine wildlife to the health of surfers and swimmers.
“What’s unique about Monterey Bay is that Toxoplasma gondii has been identified as decreasing the sea otter population,” said Brent Haddad, UC Santa Cruz professor of fresh water policy. “It’s a rare toxin from cat feces, but it’s deposited in our runoff and it’s deadly to sea otters.”
Still, the measure faces criticism from organizations that say it does not provide enough specificity as to the use of the funds.
Aldo Giacchino, author of the counter-argument for Measure E in the voter booklet, is concerned about the lack of details in the measure.
“What the city is trying to do is impose a new tax that is a forever tax, meaning that it will go on forever and that tax proposes to raise money for purposes that are not sufficiently specific,” Giacchino said.
While Measure E does not outline precise projects the city intends to oversee, Coonerty and the city council have rough ideas of how the money will be spent, like installing more storm drain filters on streets.
“We also want more monitoring to see where pollution might be getting into the Bay,” Coonerty said, “more money for education through Save Our Shores and Surfriders, and we want to expand our green business program, which includes making sure that businesses aren’t putting anything down the storm drains that will cause pollution to the bay.”
Legally, the tax revenue supplied by Measure E can only be used on projects relating to water pollution.
Whether Measure E passes or fails will have far-reaching implications for the future of Santa Cruz.
“Most of what goes down the drains in the city of Santa Cruz goes directly to the ocean,” Coonerty said. “And we want to do a better job of stopping pollutants from getting into the Bay.”