Election: Measure AA would raise $500M to restore marshes

Tidal marshes are seen as a critical to flood protection.

Bay shorelines edged by tidal marshes and wetlands have natural flood protection, are habitats for native plants and animals, and are often locales where people can observe wildlife in close proximity to a metropolis.

Advocates for wetlands along the shores of the nine Bay Area counties are asking voters to approve Measure AA, a $12 annual parcel tax on the ballot in the June 7 primary election. The measure would need a two-thirds majority to pass, and polling shows support from more than 70 percent of those surveyed, San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine said.

The measure would make available $25 million annually for 20 years to public agencies to use in restoring Bay Area shorelines, including many former salt ponds, to functioning tidal marshes.

Tidal marshes are seen as a critical to flood protection, an important consideration since sea levels are expected to rise in coming decades in response to greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere. Marshes moderate the impacts of waves on the shore and absorb water like a sponge, trapping it and then slowly releasing it, scientists say.

Restoring the shore

Measure AA would raise $500 million in tax revenues to restore marshes to about 15,000 (out of 35,000) acres of shoreline now in public ownership, Mr. Pine said.

Mr. Pine chairs the seven-member board of the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority, which put Measure AA on the June ballot. The state Legislature created the nine-county agency in 2008 "for the sole purpose of the collection and distribution of revenues for restoration of wetlands," Mr. Pine said.

Of the $500 million that Measure AA would generate, 50 percent would be allocated to the nine counties organized as four regions named after the four major points on a compass. The other 50 percent would be distributed in grants for the "highest and best" uses, Mr. Pine said.

Using a formula based on population, the West Bay region, San Francisco and San Mateo counties, would receive 11 percent, or $55 million, Mr. Pine said.

Most of Measure AA funding would likely be used as matching funds to leverage as much or more state or federal grant money, he said.

Plans that would likely qualify for Measure AA funding in San Mateo County include the SAFER Bay Project, which focuses on areas of south San Mateo County threatened by rising sea levels, and the Ravenswood Slough adjacent to Bedwell Bayfront Park in Menlo Park.

A map of the slough published in April by the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project shows plans for a 295-acre marsh, a 60-acre managed pond and a 270-acre salt flat protected by an improved levee for the nesting of the snowy plover, a threatened species.

Related Measure AA goals include:

■ Restoring beds and meadows of eelgrass, an important species in the lives of crabs and scallops as well as salmon, rockfish and shellfish, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

■ Constructing 20 miles of levees for flood protection. All levee work that draws from Measure AA funding must be done in conjunction with wetland restoration.

■ Constructing 25 miles of the Bay (perimeter) Trail -- if the trail work is associated with wetland restoration. A priority would be closing gaps in the trail. Included in the plans is a new trail and observation platform at the Ravenswood Slough.

In a ballot argument against Measure AA, the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association says the measure is not specific enough in its goals and lacks oversight by a panel of scientists. The measure would create "a whole new bloated and expensive bureaucracy," with overhead costs and expense accounts, the association says.

Asked about these allegations, Mr. Pine said the language of the measure puts a 5 percent ceiling on revenues spent on administrative expenses. Support work for the Restoration Authority tends to be done by employees of the Coastal Commission, which can bill the authority for expenses, he added.

Go to for information in support of Measure AA.

Go to the county Registrar of Voters website for the ballot arguments supporting and opposing Measure AA.

Salt pond to marsh

Converting a salt pond to a marsh is a matter of dismantling the water-flow management system once used by salt companies to channel water into evaporation ponds and collect the resulting salt, said biologist John Bourgeois, the executive project manager of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project.

When tide-driven sea water is allowed to inundate a salt pond, it brings in suspended sediment, Mr. Bourgeois said. Much of that sediment, critical to marsh development, entered the bay in the mid-1800s. Gold Country miners used water cannons to scour soil from the sides of mountains.

The soil, including particles of gold, flowed into rivers where miners could pan for it as the water made its way to the bay. The miners dislodged enough soil to leave the bay shallower and muddier, Mr. Bourgeois said.

As the sediment becomes mud, it attracts birds to feed on the small lifeforms in the mud, and eventually marsh grasses take root, Mr. Bourgeois said. A functioning marsh normally takes 10 or 15 years to establish itself, but since it's a dynamic process, it can be visually interesting to the human observers from the start, he said.

"The bay will deliver a lot of sediment," Mr. Bourgeois said. "The vegetation will start to come in on it's own."

Other species have come to inhabit the salt ponds, so care will be taken to respond to their interests, in particular the snowy plover, a threatened species. Plovers prefer beaches for their nesting sites, but salt flats will do, Mr. Bourgeois said.

Asked about mammals living in the slough, Mr. Bourgeois said he expected a return of the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse and, when the marsh is established, possibly harbor seals.

The marsh at Ravenswood would include an upward sloping habitat transition zone to dry land. A gradual slope dampens wave energy and offers a refuge for the mice during high tides.


Flood control through the use of marshes in San Mateo County is challenging because so much of the shoreline has been developed with infrastructure, a situation that leads to a talk of levees. Salt ponds have levees and they have been serving as flood protection, but they weren't built with that function in mind, Mr. Bourgeois said.

"We have to build real flood protection," he said.

A salt pond levee in the Ravenswood Slough will be made higher and more compacted to add both flood control associated with the new marsh and protection for the snowy plover, he said. This improved levee, unlike salt-pond levees built with the water-logged dredged material, would use tested soil. "We have an entire team of people that (testing soil) is all they do," Mr. Bourgeois said.

Measure AA would be "a huge plus for us to be able to leverage state and federal money," he said.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Chris Shaw
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on May 20, 2016 at 4:59 pm

Could Mr. Pine and/or the Almanac clarify the quote from the article copied below? On the surface, it appears that funds from Measure AA would be used to restore 15,000 acres of tidal marshes that we (the public) already own.

My specific question is shouldn't the private, for-profit company that created the salt ponds bear some of the financial burden of restoring the marsh? If the land was donated back to the State, sold at a discount, or the previous owners are helping fund the effort, it isn't clear from the article (but worth knowing nonetheless).

"Measure AA would raise $500 million in tax revenues to restore marshes to about 15,000 (out of 35,000) acres of shoreline now in public ownership, Mr. Pine said."

Like this comment
Posted by acomfort
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 20, 2016 at 5:11 pm

"Measure AA, a $12 annual parcel tax on the ballot in the June 7 primary election."
I agree with the objective of the measure however . . . do we have to use such a regressive tax? A 1 million dollar parcel and a 20 million dollar pay the same $12.

Why not create a new parcel tax . . . a proportional parcel tax?
Maybe create a parcel tax that adds a percent increase to the property tax or the assessed value of the property. We could get the same revenue and I would happier with the tax. Too late now . . . maybe next time.

2 people like this
Posted by Dave Boyce
Almanac staff writer
on May 20, 2016 at 5:57 pm

Dave Boyce is a registered user.

A decade or so back, the company that owned the salt ponds, Cargill, sold 15,000 acres of them to the public, which paid for them with a mix of donated, state and federal funds organized by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Mr. Pine said.

Cargill kept some of its ponds, those in Redwood City for example, he said.

Mr. Pine said he did not see how Cargill could be required to contribute to their restoration, but commended the company for selling them to the public. A larger question, Mr. Pine noted, might be why the federal government did not set aside money for their restoration.

Like this comment
Posted by Alan
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on May 23, 2016 at 10:11 am

My impression was that the funding for the initial restoration Menlo Park ponds was already set (as it may begin as soon as this summer) - however, there's a lot more work to do as park of the bigger south bay restoration. See: Web Link

6 people like this
Posted by YES on AA
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 23, 2016 at 4:00 pm

Today we received a leaflet in our mailbox from the Republican Party. It advertised "Vote NO on Measure AA tax hike"! Tax hike? If Measure AA passes, the "tax hike" would amount to $12/year or $1.00/month or $.03/day per household. That can hardly be called a "tax hike"!
Measure AA is supported by both environmental groups, individuals, and industry including NRDC, Audubon Society, Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space, Save the Bay, Diane Feinstein, Facebook, Google, Chevron, PG&E, Jackie Speier, Jerry Hill, Community for Green Foothills, People for a Clean & Healthy Bay, Sierra Club, Silicon Leadership Group, and others.

8 people like this
Posted by leaf let
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on May 23, 2016 at 4:11 pm

Well, that very same fringe group, which you identified as something called "the Republican Party" also believes that there is not any warming of our planet, despite all evidence to the contrary.

So, no need to listen to them. They are bankrupt, in more ways than one.

4 people like this
Posted by Homeowner
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 23, 2016 at 5:04 pm

Parcel taxes are regressive and the worst way to fund any project. No wonder businesses love it. They only have to pay $12 per parcel, the same as any other homeowner. That means that homeowners are shouldering the majority of the tax burden. Google, Facebook, Apple, they all pay $12 make billions, but pay $12 per parcel. I'm all for the project, but funding it by parcel taxes is unfair and unjust.

Remember, these projects used to be funded by taxes we already paid. Then the budget crisis hit and they took the money away. Now the economy is doing well, the politicians have siphoned off the money for their pet projects and come up with another tax to stick it to us.

4 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 23, 2016 at 6:50 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Yes on AA:

You know the story of how to boil a frog? $12 now, how much later? Please don't tell me they'll have to come back and ask for more. It will "only be $12 then too, and the next time, and the next time, and the next time, and the next time, ad infinitum. It will just keep going up and up. As Homeowner noted, these things were previously paid for. Why aren't they reapplying the taxes they stole from these projects?

Sorry, but I'm a NO.

Like this comment
Posted by leaf let
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on May 23, 2016 at 6:53 pm

12 bucks, ruuuuuuuuuly sticking it to you in a most regressive way!

Love the folk who argue a parcel tax is sooooo 'regressive'... when it comes to income tax, they'd vote for a flat tax!!

Not our poster above, of course...

From me? A big, parade drunk Draymond "YUP" on AA!

5 people like this
Posted by Menlo Skeptic
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 24, 2016 at 8:48 am

The $500 million will be spent by a board appointed by ABAG, the same non-elected folks who force cities to add more dense housing. Just remember these famous words: "No taxation without representation."Vote no on AA.

2 people like this
Posted by Alan
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on May 24, 2016 at 10:50 am

It's regressive - but people have to own property first. People located near the Bay would benefit more from this (like myself, but our house is 7 feet above sea level) - but everyone uses the roads near the bay sooner or later. A property tax that's a function of parcel size and proximity to the bay would make sense.

How many parcels does Facebook, Google, and Yahoo! own near sea level? I think they can pitch in more than $12 each.

Because this is about flood control and bay restoration - it really needs to be funded one way or another.

3 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 24, 2016 at 1:49 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"Because this is about flood control and bay restoration - it really needs to be funded one way or another."

How about the state returning the funds that were already dedicated for this task instead of asking for more?

Like this comment
Posted by Alan
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on May 24, 2016 at 2:41 pm

I'm curious ... was restoration actually fully funded? I have the impression that the early stages were funded - and, of course, the land acquisition costs were funded - but I looked for evidence that the ongoing costs were secured, and I haven't found it (much less evidence that someone had diverted the funds for other purposes). I know this has been considered a 50 year project.

The FAQ on the restoration website:
Web Link

The main comment on funding appears to be rather vague:

"Q. What are the plans for funding implementation, how much will implementation cost, and are there mitigation opportunities?

"A. Currently, the Project Management Team plans for restoration to be funded by public agencies and foundations. Based on other restoration projects in the Bay Area and depending on the level of construction work needed, the cost could range from the low hundreds of millions to the high hundreds of millions over many decades. Resource and regulatory agencies will decide whether or not some of the implementation funds will come from project sponsors seeking to mitigate impacts to habitats in other parts of the San Francisco Bay."

If someone has clear evidence that the funds for this were diverted, or the costs of this project were misrepresented - please provide documentation. If not, then acknowledge it. Thanks.

Like this comment
Posted by Alan
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on May 24, 2016 at 2:50 pm

By the way - this is similar to restoration project on Bair Island. That project was finished several years late ... but, due to using clean fill from local construction sites, cost $6.9 million instead of the original estimated $12 million. (source: Web Link). They're using that project as a model for this one. I think the restoration work is an example of the government being good stewards of money.

11 people like this
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 24, 2016 at 5:20 pm


Here's the documentation that the funds were cut/diverted by the state legislature:
Web Link

"Following years of budget cuts, innovative and robust strategies are needed to fund this critical work. The Restoration Authority was created by the California Legislature in 2008 to find solutions to the need for new, **local** funding.

Basically, the legislature wanted out the business of funding bay restoration, yet they didn't set aside any tax revenue for the authority. They gave it all the responsibility, but none of the money.

This happens all the time. The legislature diverts money from one account to fund their pet projects and special interests. When the account doesn't have any money left to pay for what citizens really want, the legislature asks for another tax or offloads the responsibility. Unfortunately, most citizens aren't aware of the bait and switch, which is why they always get away with it.

This is not the SF Bay Restoration Authority's fault. I'm just saying this is part of the reason why people are really unhappy with how taxes are pitched and sold to the public by California.

Like this comment
Posted by Restore Marsh Road
a resident of another community
on May 25, 2016 at 10:41 pm

Marsh Road was not always so congested. Restoring the road to its prior state is surely worth the price. Glad I was able to explain just how the tax revenue will be used.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 26, 2016 at 7:10 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"Glad I was able to explain just how the tax revenue will be used."

And exactly when and how did you do that? Your handle appears nowhere above.

Like this comment
Posted by Out of Control
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 26, 2016 at 9:52 am

Yes, this tax isn't a large dollar amount, but as noted earlier, the money collected will be spent by an agency made up of appointed people who will be free to pursue whatever projects THEY feel warrant the use of the money they collect. You may think that some people are naive to not believe in global warming, but it is even more naive to believe that an un-elected group of bureaucrats will spend OUR money efficiently and on environmental Bay projects that benefit all of us. The issue isn't about regressiveness or the importance of funding environmental projects. It's about not empowering yet another un-elected group of appointees to spend OPM (Other People's Money). Let's find a way to fund these projects through our elected leaders and existing taxes and fees. Shame on all those elected leaders who are abdicating their responsibility to "own" these kinds of projects and instead hide behind these uncontrollable "regional boards."

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Don't be the last to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

Palo Alto, rejoice. Mike's Cafe is back.
By Elena Kadvany | 5 comments | 2,278 views

Premarital and Couples: Musings on Life
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,630 views

Why we are Warming
By Sherry Listgarten | 31 comments | 1,558 views

Cap On? Cap Off? The Cities Respond
By Laura Stec | 4 comments | 1,289 views

List for a new baby
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 404 views