|Clear Lake is located in the heart of Lake County, Calif., where voters will have a chance to decide in the November 2012 election whether or not to support a half-cent sales tax measure meant to improve the lake’s condition. Photo by John Jensen.|
LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – This November, Lake County voters will decide on a sales tax measure that promises to devote much-needed funding toward protecting and improving Clear Lake.
“Measure E” will be on the Nov. 6 ballot, offering voters the opportunity to devote a portion of locally collected sales tax to projects to improve the condition of Clear Lake, which is at the heart of the county’s identity and economy.
At its Aug. 7 meeting, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the resolution calling for Measure E to be put on the Nov. 6 ballot. The board chose to pursue the lake-centered measure over another proposed sales tax measure that would have raised funds for local roads.
Spearheaded by Supervisor Anthony Farrington, Measure E is a half-cent sales tax that would be used exclusively for Clear Lake-based projects.
It’s anticipated that the measure will raise $2.4 million on an annual basis – with estimates that about a third of the revenue will come from visitors to the county, Farrington said.
Farrington, who grew up in Lake County, said this is the first sales tax he’s supported while on the board.
The reason he’s pursuing the tax is that he’s witnessed a change in Clear Lake, and has heard from constituents about their concerns over what has happened to the lake over the past several years.
In addition to increasing problems with algae and weeds, over the past five years the potential for infestation by devastating invasives like the quagga and zebra mussels has become a concern for local officials, who want to implement more stringent protections to keep the mussels out of the lake.
“Clear Lake is the lifeblood of this community,” said Farrington, noting that dealing with algae, weeds and preventing invasive mussels “is in everyone’s best interests.”
What Measure E won’t do, he emphasized, is turn Clear Lake into a swimming pool. Clear Lake is a shallow, warm lake, “and we’re not going to change that,” or seek to dredge it, he said.
Rather, the focus is on mitigating nuisance issues that harm tourism and the economy, and preventing an invasive mussels infestation that would completely alter the lake’s ecological makeup and devastate the economy, he said.
The “Save the Lake” campaign to promote Measure E, which has a short time frame before the November election, has gotten off to an energetic start.
“It’s going great,” said Farrington. “The response has been very positive.”
The ballot argument was signed by a group of well-respected county residents, including Kelly Cox, retired Lake County administrative officer; businessmen Bill Brunetti, Dennis Darling and Walt Campbell; and Dr. Harry Lyons, an expert on Clear Lake who teaches at Yuba College.
So far it’s been endorsed by a broad range of local groups and individuals, including the Lake County Chamber of Commerce, the Lake County Association of Realtors, and the Sierra Club Lake Group and its parent Redwood Chapter.
“Restoring the health of Clear Lake is imperative for its own sake, and also vital for the future of our community,” the Sierra Club Lake Group said in a statement it released on Measure E. “The Sierra Club is therefore proud to endorse Measure E, and urges our members and all Lake County voters who care about the environment to vote in favor of it.”
The Lake County Association of Realtors is donating $3,000 toward the campaign.
“Our Realtors are very concerned about the severe decrease in tourism due to the condition of the lake which seriously impacts the economic survival of Lake County,” the group said. “Businesses are closing, wildlife is harmed, and property values are down. All of these things can be changed with a healthy, clean lake.”
In addition, the effort has a number of other individuals supporting it – including volunteers and contributors – and a committee to guide it.
Farrington started a Facebook page that in just a matter of weeks is hovering near 600 likes. It can be found at https://www.facebook.com/SaveTheLake2012?ref=ts .
A fundraising letter went out earlier this month that, along with other efforts, has so far raised about $5,000 to support the campaign, which has a goal of $20,000, Farrington said.
Fundraising letters also were sent to second home owners in the Bay Area. Since then, Farrington said he’s received 30 to 40 calls a day from people who are very excited about the measure, and are glad action is being taken.
He said those second home owners are sharing a consistent narrative – that of their families owning property in Lake County for generations, but now finding that their children don’t want to visit because of the lake’s condition.
He said the Measure E committee has ordered signs and will soon start placing those around the county, and a direct mailer will be sent to county residents.
How it works; what it would do
The dedicated tax must pass by a two-thirds “super majority” in order to ensure that the funds will be used for the lake only.
The half-cent sales tax – which would not apply to things like groceries – would end up costing about a dime on a $20 purchase, Farrington said.
The tax sunsets in 10 years, at which time voters can have the chance to decide whether to renew it, he said.
Measure E’s expenditure plan allocates 88 percent to weed and algae management, and invasive mussels prevention. Regarding the latter, Farrington said the long-term vision includes placing inspection stations at the four major entry points into the county to screen transient vessels.
Another 11 percent will be used for water quality programs, including wetlands preservation like the Middle Creek restoration project, which would address an area where 70 percent of Clear Lake’s nutrient loading occurs, Farrington said. Those funds also could be used as a match for federal and state grants and seed money to acquire properties in the project area.
Farrington said the last 1 percent would go toward a required independent audit.
A citizens oversight committee would monitor how the funds are used. Farrington said the committee will include two elected officials each from the Lakeport and Clearlake city councils and the Board of Supervisors, and one citizen each from Lakeport, Clearlake and the unincorporated county, for a total of nine members.
Farrington said it’s important to remember that the state rolled back its sales tax by 1 percent about a year ago, and that at 7.25 percent Lake County’s unincorporated area has one of the state’s lowest base tax rates.
One of the biggest challenges Measure E faces is distrust, which Farrington attributes to voters getting let down by state, federal and some local governments.
He said the only pushback the effort has received so far comes from individuals who want to make sure the funds raised actually are spent on Clear Lake.
“They understand the connection of the lake to the entire county, they just have concerns about being certain that it’s going to be spent on the lake and in the lake, and it’s not being spent on government bureaucracy,” he said.
That’s why the board chose to make it a specific tax, Farrington said.
He said the money would stay in Lake County, and not go to Sacramento. “The money can only be spent for lake-related programs and it’s locked in solely for that purpose.”
Improving the lake will preserve and enhance property values, improve tourism, and create jobs and a more stronger economy, said Farrington. “This investment is going to create a better, more vibrant community.”
It’s estimated that the measure will create 20 to 30 local jobs – from running inspection stations to seasonal jobs harvesting algae and weeds.
Using ‘focus and flexibility’ to help Clear Lake
Dr. Harry Lyons, one of the measure’s supporters, frequently gives talks on the lake, as he did last Wednesday night at the Sierra Club Lake Group meeting.
He said he was planning to discuss the lake’s transparency – it’s become clearer than it has been – which speaks to what Lyons calls a “regime change” in the lake. The most notable result of the regime change in Clear Lake has been the increase in cyanobacteria, which is feeding on the nutrient rich conditions in the lake.
“The lake does change,” Lyons said.
“We’ve had important shifts in how the lake behaved,” he continued. “Now is the time for some pilot projects.”
Lyons said that he likes the nice combination of “focus and flexibility” that Measure E offers.
The focus part, he said, regards algae, weeds and preventing a mussels infestation. “It’s not about highfalutin research that I might want to do or someone else might want to do,” Lyons said. “It’s about practical projects on those three areas.”
Lyons expects those projects also will help lead to a better understanding of Clear Lake.
Where the flexibility comes in, Lyons said, is in the form of the citizens oversight committee, which is empowered to decide where the available funds go. As projects succeed or fail then the pattern of effort can change, he said. “I like that.”
As for preventing quagga mussels getting into Clear Lake, Lyons said the issue about the potential for invasives “alerts people to what we have and the value we place on what we have.”
People understand that Clear Lake is a unique system, Lyons said.
“That’s what’s really great about talking to the people who use the lake. They know the lake has changed,” he said.
He doesn’t think there is a common misperception about the lake any more. “People are hip.”
Email Elizabeth Larson at [email protected] .
written by mscheel, September 24, 2012
written by a guest, September 24, 2012