LAKEPORT, Calif. – The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday directed staff to work on preparing for the November ballot another proposed sales tax measure to fund water quality projects related to Clear Lake.
However, county staff – particularly County Counsel Anita Grant – said the timeframe is extremely narrow in which to complete the work to place the measure before voters this fall.
“This is truly the 11th hour,” said Grant.
Registrar of Voters Diane Fridley said if the measure isn't ready by the start of August, another statewide election wouldn't take place until 2016, which Board Chair Denise Rushing considered too long of a wait.
In June, Measure L – the latest attempt to pass a half-cent specific tax that would dedicate sales tax revenue to the lake – received a “yes” vote of 65.2 percent, 1.5 percent – or about 225 votes – short of the supermajority it needed, according to Scott Knickmeyer, chair of the Save the Lake Committee.
The group reviewed Measure L, the election results and an exit poll survey to find ways to create a new measure.
While Measure L lost, Knickmeyer said it was apparent that Lake County residents value Clear Lake and are concerned about the environment.
“With a little more education the measure will pass,” he said.
Knickmeyer, on behalf of the committee, offered the board a proposal for an updated ordinance.
The two main changes the committee proposed included an aquatic invasive species prevention program with a wider range of inspection stations, rather than just mechanical gates, which Knickmeyer said had been a concern for voters.
The new proposed language said the program seeks “to develop a lake access control program to determine and implement the specific projects based on a use/threat analysis. The goal of the program is to fund projects designed to control public access ramps around the County. The specific types of controls/projects will include options for manual inspection points at public ramps; mechanical controls at public ramps; inspection stations on highways entering Lake County; other controls as may be identified; or a combination of controls.”
That program is expected to cost $1 million, which was the past cost estimate.
Previously, that part of the measure had focused on “the development of mechanical ramp controls at approximately one-half of the public access ramps around the county in the first year with the remaining ramps to be modified in the second year.”
After the first two years, funds no longer needed for ramp control operation and maintenance would have been directed to new projects or programs.
The other proposed change relates to the oversight committee, originally to have had no more than 11 members who were to have reviewed the expenditure revenues annually and then reported to the Board of Supervisors.
The original language specifically proposed considering nominations from the cities of Clearlake and Lakeport, and groups such as the now-defunct Clear Lake Advisory Committee, and the Fish and Wildlife Advisory Committee, Lake County Invasive Species Council, Lake County Chamber of Commerce, Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce, Lake County Board of Realtors, Lake County Farm Bureau, Lake County Tribes and Sierra Club.
The new language does not mention those groups, restricts membership to Lake County residents, requires quarterly meetings, is limited to 15 members and has a staggered system to have ongoing membership, with members serving no more than two terms.
Knickmeyer told the board that the term limitation was meant to address concerns about “stacking the deck” with members of certain groups, and to constantly have bright minds looking at the expenditures.
Supervisor Jeff Smith was concerned that there wouldn't be enough people to keep the committee filled, which has been his experience with other count committees.
Knickmeyer also said during the discussion that the committee believes it's best to stick with the half-cent sales tax measure, rather than trying to reduce it to a quarter-cent, which Rushing pointed out wouldn't cover the Middle Creek Restoration Project.
Supervisor Anthony Farrington said his review of the exit poll results also indicated that voters were not concerned about a sunset clause and didn't seem troubled by making the measure permanent.
The exit poll showed a large number of people who are against any taxes, but Farrington said he believed voters distrustful of government – another segment of the electorate that was delineated in the poll – could be reached.
One proposal that he believed might address government distrust is placing the oversight of the measure through a nonprofit, resource conservation district or University of California Cooperative Extension, but he wasn't sure the county had the needed time to establish that alternative.
Grant said each option has limits, and she hoped to be able to review those in detail with the board in the near future.
Community member Mike Dunlap questioned why the county couldn't emulate Lake Tahoe's successful invasive mussel prevention program, which he said relies on inspecting every vessel. He said that approach resulted in an inspector recently coming across a boat that had been cleaned, drained and dry – but which had a mud-encrusted anchor with mussels in it.
Dunlap also said he believed the Middle Creek Restoration Project would not be completed as proposed. Board members pointed out that it wouldn't be finished if there was no funding.
Public Works Director Scott De Leon told the board during the meeting that Lake Tahoe's program costs millions of dollars. He said millions of dollars would be needed for the county's match on the Middle Creek Restoration Project.
Sarah Ryan, environmental director for Big Valley Rancheria and a Save the Lake Committee member, said the group was confident they can pass a measure this time around.
One of their approaches is to address misinformation that is circulating in the community, such as one claim that the county already was receiving millions of dollars for the lake, Ryan said.
Clearlake Oaks resident Jim Steele said he believed getting support for the measure was less an issue of people distrusting government and more a matter of them not understanding the program.
He said the community has a high risk of losing the lake to invasives. “That message doesn't seem to get out there,” he said. “There is a big educational issue here.”
Anita McKee, a member of both the Save the Lake Committee and the Lake County Association of Realtors, said she felt strongly that the new measure should be on the November ballot, adding that she believes it will pass.
She told the board that a measure to support a rail project in Sonoma County took three times to get the necessary voter support.
Rushing thanked the committee for the suggested changes, noting they were minor but important from a perception standpoint. She came close to describing the changes as “genius.”
“We're so close and it’s something that we desperately need” for Lake County, said Smith.
Farrington questioned if there was value in allocating the measure's funds to the watershed protection district.
Grant said that district's powers are very limited compared to the county government's. She also raised other concerns, including state law that makes Clear Lake navigable waters and limits on what agencies can accept such funds.
The board reached consensus to have staff move forward, with Rushing noting that the ball is in Grant's court.
Email Elizabeth Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow her on Twitter, @ERLarson, or Lake County News, @LakeCoNews.