On January 13, the SF Bay Restoration Authority voted to place a modest parcel tax on the June ballot that would bring dramatic benefits to the Bay Area. Over the past few months, my colleagues and I have traversed the Bay Area to talk to different stakeholders and elected officials about the importance of restoring wetlands for the health of the Bay and for the safety of our shoreline communities. But no matter the audience or the location, one question persists: Why now? What’s the urgency in passing this tax in 2016?
We deal with so many serious challenges in the region – housing, transportation, health care, just to name a few – that it can be difficult to understand the urgency of passing a funding measure for wetlands restoration, especially if you do not live near the shoreline or don’t regularly access the Bay. But no matter where you live in the Bay Area, we all stand to benefit significantly from the projects this tax will fund. And a confluence of events, driven largely by our rapidly changing climate, tells us that now is the time to get this done. Here are the reasons.
Scientists urge acceleration of wetlands restoration to adapt to climate change
In late October, more than 100 Bay Area scientists released a long-awaited follow up to a 1999 report that assessed the health of the Bay ecosystem. That original report, the Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals, determined that a healthy Bay was dependent on at least 100,000 acres of baylands, or tidal marsh and flatland. Historically, the Bay had more than 200,000 acres; after 150 years of urbanization, however, that has been reduced to 44,000 acres – a decrease of roughly 80 percent.
The October report, The Baylands and Climate Change: What We Can Do, reiterated the need for wetlands restoration and called for accelerating these projects to guard against rising tides and flooding from extreme storms. The authors noted that failure to act quickly will cause the baylands to shrink, producing a number of devastating effects: We would lose the natural, cost-effective infrastructure that adapts to sea level rise and buffers our shorelines against storms; the loss of habitat would diminish the Bay’s diversity and abundance of wildlife; water quality could degrade, as the wetlands would no longer absorb excess nutrients and filter pollutants; and we would lose large areas of public access to the shoreline that currently allow us to enjoy the Bay’s beauty up close.
Fortunately, it’s not too late. We now have more than 30,000 acres of wetlands in public stewardship awaiting restoration. All that’s missing is the funding.
Local money will help leverage additional funds to benefit the Bay Area and a wider range of projects
Unfortunately, the state and federal government have long failed to produce much in the way of funding for restoration work in the Bay Area, forcing us to seek a local source. Each year, the Bay receives far less federal restoration funding than other major watersheds in the nation. Federal and state money is always difficult to access, but it’s particularly difficult in the current fiscal climate. This was the basis for creating the Restoration Authority in the first place. With a local source of funding, it will demonstrate that the region is serious about this work and that multiple stakeholders are invested, demanding a larger contribution from the state and the federal government.
If we can secure a local funding source now, it will help us access additional state and federal funds that much sooner. And the sooner we can fund these important projects, the sooner we will reap the benefits and adapt to our changing climate.
New working relationships mean opportunities for lasting partnerships
To advance this effort, Save The Bay has partnered with a diverse group of stakeholders – some of whom are not traditional allies. Because of the myriad benefits these projects will have, including habitat restoration, flood control and sea level rise adaptation, and improving public shoreline access, Save The Bay has the chance to work with groups and individuals with whom we may not regularly work and with whom we do not always agree. This includes business groups, organized labor, and a wide array of elected officials and community leaders in a large geographic area, including people who live and work miles from the Bay.
The Bay is a regional treasure that crosses county boundaries, and people’s love for the Bay is not divided along age, racial, economic, or partisan lines. Working together to pass a measure that benefits us all, in many different ways, gives us the opportunity to create new and lasting partnerships that will help us tackle other challenges to come. Climate change demands our action now, but it gives us the chance to cement those relationships for future work.
Bay Area voters support this, and the economy is strong
When the Restoration Authority was created in 2008, it was a lousy time to propose new funding measures in the region. The whole country was reeling from a severe economic depression and would be for a number of years. Voters simply weren’t receptive to the idea of any tax. Fast forward eight years, and we are in a much better place for proposing a measure like this. The economy is the strongest it has been in those eight years, with low unemployment and rising consumer confidence.
Despite the high cost of living in the region, voters have shown that they are willing to pay this very modest tax in order to keep the Bay clean and healthy and to protect communities and critical infrastructure from flooding. Given the strong support we are seeing from voters, and in light of the ever-improving economy, we are confident that now is the time to move forward with placing this measure on the ballot.
The climate is changing, and protecting our Bay cannot wait. Now is the time. We can do this.