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First Wave Of Measure AA Funds Ready For Expenditure

First Wave of Measure AA Funds Ready for Expenditure

Post Series: The Leader Blog

By Mike Mielke, Senior Vice President,  Energy & Environment, Silicon Valley Leadership Group

Almost $18 million committed to diverse mix of restoration projects

In June 2016, Bay Area voters came together and overwhelmingly supported Measure AA, a first-of-its-kind effort to improve the health of the Bay while also fighting sea level rise. The Silicon Valley Leadership Group, along with Save the Bay and the Bay Area Council, played a key role in securing the successful vote, which will raise an estimated $500 million over 20 years through a $12 a year parcel tax to fund wetland and tidal marsh restoration projects.

The vote was historic.  Not only was Measure AA the first time all nine Bay Area counties voted on a single tax measure, it was also the first time a region had come together to, in effect, vote to tax itself to help prepare for climate change. Restored tidal marsh and wetlands provide habitat for migrating birds and other wildlife, reduce pollution and improve water quality, and they also help protect from rising and more violent seas we can expect due to global warming.

Just last month, the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority (SFBRA), the government agency that oversees the money raised from Measure AA, committed almost $18 million of the funds to a diverse mix of projects throughout the Bay, catalyzing critical restoration work on tens of thousands of acres. SFBRA received 22 grant applications requesting $47.7 million in funding (only $25 million in funding was available in the first year), and approved eight grants. These grants range from $150,000 for Sonoma Creek restoration, to $7.4 million to help restore the former South Bay Cargill salt ponds to wetland habitat. Another $5 million is expected to be approved later this year to help create wetlands at a former industrial site along the San Francisco waterfront.

While this is occurring, a parallel effort is under way to help ensure that these restoration projects can get permitted much more rapidly. This is important, because in 2015, scientists recommended that the establishment of tidal marsh ecosystems needs to accelerate as tidal marshes established by 2030 are much more likely to flourish and provide ongoing benefits when sea level rise accelerates in the middle of this century.

After approval of Measure AA, a group of business, community, environmental, and government agency representatives met and determined that it is critically important to expedite the process of permitting multi-benefit restoration projects. The proposed coordinated permitting framework will help ensure that all regulatory agencies are committed to resolving issues and expediting permits to advance restoration. And the resulting coordinated permitting group will achieve better permitting outcomes and help standardize permitting processes. This final product will include agency performance standards, and can serve as a model for complex restoration projects across the country.

While wetlands can protect from sea level rise and more intense storms brought on by climate change, they are also themselves threatened by the rapid rate of sea level rise. Tidal marshes have the ability to raise their elevation by trapping sediment and organic matter, to help keep pace with rising ocean levels. However, if tidal marshes cannot build vertically fast enough to keep pace with rising sea levels, the wetlands will drown and die.  Therefore, the sooner tidal marshes are restored, the more time they have to become established to better keep pace with rising seas.

Conservative scientific estimates predict that water levels in the Bay could rise 1 foot in the next 20 years, 2 feet by 2050, and up to 5 feet by 2100. Over the last century, sea level in the Bay Area has already increased by 7 inches.  We are clearly in a race against time, with wetlands and tidal marsh restoration our first line of defense against the rising seas. At stake are billions of dollars worth of highways, airports, businesses and homes on land immediately adjacent to the Bay, as well as the wildlife that depends on the Bay.  That is why the Silicon Valley Leadership Group is proud to support the work of the SFBRA and the coordinated interagency permitting group.

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