Mary Nejedly Piepho, District 3 Supervisor, was the lone “no” vote against a proposed parcel fee that would be used to clean trash out of storm drains to keep pollutants out of Bay Area lake and rivers. Her no vote caught me off guard so I decided to reach out to her and find out just why she voted the way she did.
“We do need the fees, we do need the funds, but we also need to prioritize what we ask voters to pay for,” said Piepho. “The well is only so deep and we must pick and choose what we ask voters to support.”
By way of a 3-1 vote, the Board of Supervisors cleared the way for an election in which voters will decide on the $12-22 annual parcel fee (which is a tax) to solve storm water pollution problems. Ballots will go out Feb. 21 to 307,000 property owners, who will have until April 6 to vote. The cost of the $500,000 election will come from existing fees paid into the 18-year-old clean water program county-city consortium.
If approved by a majority of landowners, the fee would raise $8.7 million annually for programs to meet tightening state and regional water quality requirements, including a new Bay Area mandate to all in order to keep trash out of storm drains.
While she did support her colleagues for passing this trigger for an election, she personally could not do it. Piepho explained that she was all for compliance, clean water, and has been a big proponent of the Delta, but this was just a fee that they must push back on and say enough is enough.
According to the Contra Costa Times, communities must comply with federal and state law or risk fines of $10,000 a day plus $10 a gallon. Her colleagues appeared to have less fight in them and simply took the fee as opposed to much larger penalties.
Piepho admitted she went to Regional Water Quality Control Board meetings, explained the concerns and position of the County, its lack of resources and stated its constraints, however, it fell on deaf ears and here they are today seeking a fee from residents.
“I looked at it as a taxpayer of East County and looked at my own personal priorities. I could not sacrifice the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District upcoming parcel tax by including another tax for them to compete with. Quite frankly, pocket books are worn down to nothing more than lint,” said Piepho.
Upon completion of the 10 minute phone call, I understood her position and believe it to be honorable.
I am glad she voted no to this even if she knew it would pass. The reality is this is a parcel tax under another name from an appointed board that have no consequences while local governments are forced to pick up the tab and political heat to enforce the guidelines.
The $12-$22 is not the problem, the problem is when you add all these proposed taxes together, it adds up rather quickly to something unmanageable to East County residents. It’s reckless for appointed boards to simply initiate policy in non-emergency situations without having any accountability for their decisions—Piepho is right, it’s time to push back.
Contra Costa Clean Water Program Website
Clean Water Staff Report – Dec. 2011 meeting