August 31, 2012
Mountain View Voice

Taxpayer group threatens to sue water district

by Nick Veronin
Mountain View Voice Staff

The Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association is threatening to sue the Santa Clara Valley Water District for violating the Brown Act -- a charge that a representative from the public utility said was politically motivated and twists the facts.

In a letter to the public utility, the taxpayers association told the water district that it would consider litigation if the "Safe, Clean Water and Natural Flood Protection" measure -- an extension and increase of the Measure B parcel tax from 2000 -- is not withdrawn from the November ballot.

The SVTA claims that the water district violated the Brown Act when officials there failed to notify the public and local press, as they are required by law to do, a full 24 hours before convening a meeting pertaining to a parcel tax extension proposal.

A representative from the district said that "good faith" efforts were made, and claimed his organization missed the deadline by only about an hour, at most.

Marty Grimes, spokesman for the SCVWD, admits that district officials were late in notifying the Mercury News and in posting a notice on the SCVWD website that a special meeting was to be held Aug. 8. However, Grimes said, the meeting was held for one reason only: to remove two words from the parcel tax ballot description because officials at the water district had exceeded the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters' restriction of 75 words for ballot descriptions by two words.

The board found out about the problem on Aug. 7, three days before the Aug. 10 filing deadline for the Nov. 6 election, and was acting as quickly as possible to address it, Grimes said. The district missed notifying the Mercury News by 59 minutes and posted the notification of the meeting on its website 45 minutes late, Grimes said.

"Our read of it is, we made good faith efforts to meet the Brown Act," he said. "There wasn't really a substantive breach of the Brown Act in any way."

"I agree that it was an honest mistake. I can't imagine why they would make this mistake on purpose," said John Roeder, president of the SVTA. But, he continued, "the law says that these are the notification periods. There was a violation of that."

Grimes maintained that the only reason Roeder and the association care about the violation is that they are opposed to the measure and always have been. "They are going to do anything they can to try to kill it any way they can," he said.

Roeder does not entirely dispute this statement.

"I would like to see Measure B simply taken off the ballot, and I would like to see them put together a better, well thought-through project," he said. With the ballot measure, he added, the water district is simply seeking an extension and increase of a parcel tax without justifying the request by offering specifics on what the money will be used to do.

The water district taxes all parcels in the district, including in Mountain View, under Measure B, which passed in 2000. The current parcel tax, which the district calls the "Clean, Safe Creeks" plan, is set to expire in 2016.

The proposed ballot measure, also called Measure B, or "Safe, Clean Water," would extend that tax through 2029 and increase the amount collected by a maximum of 3 percent each year. The decision on how much to raise the tax each year would fall to the water board.

If raised by the maximum amount each year, it is estimated that that tax will raise $548 million over its 16 year life span. Different types of parcels would pay different rates.

A district press release said the money will be used to "ensure a safe, reliable water supply for the future, reduce toxins, hazards and contaminants, ... protect our water supply and local dams from the impact of earthquakes and natural disasters," and support other projects related to water and wildlife preservation.

That list is far too vague, according to Roeder. Furthermore, he said, it would require certain people to pay for projects that would not benefit or positively impact them.

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Correction: The print version of this story stated that the proposed tax extension would last an additional 13 years. Actually, the proposal would extend the current tax by 16 years.

-Mountain View Voice

This article is also available at the Web site of the Mountain View Voice, here.

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