Thursday, July 12, 2012

My six million dollar memo

I wish I always generated $3 million per page of writing.

So far I'm vastly oversimplifying and hogging the credit, but at the last Water District board meeting on Tuesday, I won the District's support to add $6 million of funding for environmental programs in a proposed special tax renewal, on a ballot measure that we may be sending to the voters this fall.  My original proposal was to shift some money around among environmental programs and pull some money out of the undesignated contingency reserves, where I guess little of the reserves might end up for environmental programs as opposed to other District programs.  The end result didn't shift money around, but did pull $6 million out of the $44 million in reserves to fund environmental programs.  I'm pretty happy with the outcome.

You can watch the discussion here (click on July 10, 2012 and then click on Item 2.2 for video and for written attachments).  While we don't necessarily want to reduce the contingency reserve, there's still plenty of money left in it.  And of course, we haven't yet even decided to send this to the voters, and if we do, we need two-thirds of them to support it.  A lot still remains before that $6 million shows up.

Memo is below:


Board of Directors
Brian Schmidt

Item 2.2 modifying an aspect of Safe Clean Water Priority D to demonstrate improvements over Clean Safe Creeks program
July 9, 2012


This Board has seen within the environmental community and at the Independent Monitoring Committee a concern over unspent reserves from Clean Safe Creeks Activity 3.2 for the creation of additional wetlands, riparian habitat and favorable stream conditions for fisheries and wildlife.  We have also seen a concern that the unspent reserves would “disappear” if Safe Clean Water passes.  The concern is heartfelt, even though I personally believe the Safe Clean Water measure has many environmental advantages over Clean Safe Creeks.

A solution to address this concern that I would like the Board to consider, would be to show even more clearly than is currently the case that Safe Clean Water does everything that Clean Safe Creeks measure does to enhance the environment, and more.  The way to do this is to expand the environmental provision D4 in Safe Clean Water, which already overlaps significantly with Activity 3.2 so it covers everything that Activity 3.2 covers, together with funding that exceeds Activity 3.2 reserves.  By showing D4 does everything Activity 3.2 does with more funding, together with the other environmental aspects of Safe Clean Water, I believe we can make an even more compelling case to the community for support of the measure.

Attachment 4, page 11 of Item 2.2 (moved from Item 6.5) describes Project D4 as “Fish Habitat and Passage Improvement”.  This overlaps significantly with the 2000 Clean Safe Creeks Activity 3.2 described above.  The current unspent reserves for Activity 3.2 are approximately $15 million.  The estimated funding for Project D4 is also $15 million.  Expanding D4’s focus so it covers the same range would not be difficult, although I think it would require some additional funding to achieve both the D4’s proposed Key Performance Indicators (Attachment 2, page 10) and any new KPIs to reflect the new scope.

Using the language the ballot language from Clean Safe Creeks that created Activity 3.2, we could consider altering Project D4 on Attachment 4 page 11 and the description on Table 1 of Attachment 2 to read something like:

Project D4:

Goal:  Implement the outcomes and activities in the second bullet point referenced in Table 1, Outcome 3 of the Clean Safe Creeks and Natural Flood Protection Plan, for creation of additional wetlands, riparian habitat and favorable stream conditions for fisheries and wildlife.

Description: Implement measure to create additional wetlands, riparian habitat and favorable stream conditions for fisheries and wildlife, which could include improvements to Alamitos Creek at Lake Almaden and Ogier Ponds and conduct studies of steelhead streams in Santa Clara County with consideration for improvement of fish habitat, including the use of large woody debris.

To achieve the existing KPIs and reflect the expanded scope, I believe a modest increase in the budget for this one item would be appropriate, approximately $8 million.  I am open to suggestions as to how to fund this increase.  One possibility is to moderately reduce the funding in Project D2 for removal of invasive species, now budgeted at $14 million, and another is to reduce the amount of undesignated contingency funding now budgeted at $44 million.  I would want to understand any adverse impacts of reducing Project D2 before supporting a reduction.  A budget could reduce Project D2 from $14 to $10 million and contingency from $44 to $40 million, or another budget could just reduce contingency from $44 million to $36 million.

Some addition to the existing KPI for D4 (Attachment 2, page 10) would also be appropriate.  I do not think we should use the KPI from Activity 3.2, creation of 100 acres of wetlands, because that has already been established.  Again I am open to suggestions but we could consider the following additional KPI:

In partnership with other agencies or other adequate funding sources, remove the highest priority barriers that prevent or impede the migration of fish from the bay to their upper watershed rearing and spawning habitats.

Highest priority would be defined by the Water District during implementation, with review by the Independent Monitoring Committee.

I should emphasize that I am very encouraged overall by the Safe Clean Water measure, and while I think this idea may be an improvement, I am open to suggestions.  I recognize this is late in the development, but it’s not too late, and it could potentially help passage just as a very modest change in the overall measure.

UPDATE:  in case anyone wants to watch just the final discussion instead off the full 90 minutes, it's here (and if the video doesn't work, just use the links above):

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