Mixed Success for Conservation Measures

Tuesday was a big day for the environment.

Yet despite over $18 billion in new funding for conservation efforts being approved by voters across the United States, this week’s election was a tangible reminder that the success of environmental issues at the ballot box is not just about who spends the most money, sends out the shiniest mailers, or runs the dirtiest TV ads.  The “ground game” of making calls, knocking on doors and enticing supporters to the polls, as well as being smart about how ballot measures are crafted and which elections they’re on – these things matter just as much, if not more.

We’ve pulled together a rundown of the biggest wins and losses for environmentalists this November, in the hopes of learning some lessons about how Save The Bay and all of our fellow advocates around the Bay can be more effective in future elections.

Measure Q – Santa Clara County Open Space

Close doesn’t begin to describe the 706 vote margin by which Measure Q is passing in Santa Clara County.  Following the razor-thin victory of the Mid Peninsula Open Space District’s Measure AA this past June, advocates were hopeful that a second Bay Area conservation measure could pass in 2014.  If late ballots continue to trend as they have been, Measure Q will generate over $120 million for parks, open space, and public access in Santa Clara County.

 Measure Q received endorsements from environmental groups (including Save The Bay), South Bay elected officials, community leaders and news outlets including the Mercury News.  Keep your fingers crossed on this one, and remember that getting the 2/3 majority required for tax measures is never easy.

UPDATE:  We’re super excited that Measure Q has passed with 67.87% of the vote!

 Prop 1 – California Water Bond

After years of false starts and delays by the legislature, California voters overwhelmingly approved a new statewide water bond last night.  Approval means environmentalists must now focus on how the $7.5 billion in new funding is spent.  Here in the Bay Area, we’re focused on advocating for a significant portion of the $385 million allocated to two state agencies to be directed to wetland restoration throughout the Bay, including the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, the largest such effort on the West Coast.

 Measure J – San Benito County

One of two successful county level measures on the ballot to ban fracking in California (a measure in Mendocino County also passed). Measure J was one of the most expensive campaigns per vote cast in one of California’s least populated counties.  Opponents dumped as much as $1.8 million for a paltry 3,733 votes as of election night.  That’s a whopping $482 per No vote cast.  A similar measure in Santa Barbara, the only county of the three that currently has oil extraction, fell short with only 37% of the vote.

 Measure P – Los Angeles County

In LA County, Measure P would have established a flat-rate tax of $23 per parcel to fund restoration, conservation, and public access of parks and open space, replacing two funding measures that are set to expire soon.  The proposal was slammed by the LA Times editorial board for lax accountability and being rushed on to the ballot late this summer. Late last week, the Sierra Club’s Angeles chapter also announced opposition. Measure P was nearly 5 points short of the 66.7% threshold as of Wednesday afternoon.

 Across the Country

  • WIN – Larimer County, Colorado approved a ¼ cent sales tax renewal which will continue funding of open space conservation, parks, and protection of working farms and ranches
  • WIN – Voters in the Sunshine State overwhelmingly approved a tax on real estate filing fees that will generate $18 billion over 20 years for open space conservation, parks, and restoration. The constitutional amendment was opposed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, but received broad public support.
  • WIN – New Jersey voters approved a $2.1 billion corporate tax to fund farmland conservation and open space.
  • LOSS – Few states can rival the boom in oil and natural gas production more than North Dakota, where the aptly assigned Measure 5 would have directed 5% of the state’s oil severance tax to water quality, habitat, outdoor recreation and education. Voters rejected Measure 5 by a whopping 79%.

It’s heartening to see so many communities across California and the nation pushing forward creative ideas for funding habitat restoration, conservation, and natural resources protection. Win or lose, these campaigns are educating voters and making it even more likely that environmentalists will win at the ballot box next time.

They’re also showing proponents what elements voters need to see in order to approve ambitious campaigns like these.  When measures are placed on the ballot without sufficient public input, or lack accountability criteria or a clear assessment of the need, voters and editorial boards will continue to look upon them with skepticism.

Here in the Bay Area, we look forward to a possible regional Bay restoration measure appearing on the ballot in 2016, and will fight hard to bring additional funding to the Bay through the measures approved by voters this week.