Two-Word Error Might Cost Water District $548 Million

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

When the Santa Clara Water District wrote a ballot initiative for November’s election, asking voters to approve a $548 million property tax measure to fund trails, creek restoration and dam maintenance, who knew that two words could scuttle the whole effort?

Actually, the Santa Clara County registrar knew, the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association knew and the water district should have known.

The summary of the ballot measure submitted to the registrar was two words over the maximum 75 allowed by law and the district was dutifully notified that it needed to correct that. The district held a rush meeting of its board, approved new wording and resubmitted the measure.

Unfortunately, in its haste, the district had not given proper public notice that a meeting was going to be held as required by the Brown Act and the taxpayers association noticed. The group, which maintains a running count of how much money it saved taxpayers in 2008 when it won a lawsuit against Santa Clara County's Open Space Authority over a special assessment, immediately threatened to file suit if the initiative weren’t pulled off the ballot.   

The district has resisted, insisting that there was no intention to deceive, the two extra words don’t change the substance of the measure and the money is badly needed.

The deadline has now passed for the district to rewrite the measure and the water district refused to pull the measure voluntarily.

The taxpayers association filed suit Monday, but not over that measure. Instead, it went after a $498.5 million sales tax measure, also headed for the November ballot that is being pushed by Santa Clara County. The eighth-of-a-cent tax would pay for law enforcement, job creation, emergency rooms, health care for lower-income children, housing for the homeless and programs aimed at keeping students in school.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Taxpayer Group Takes on Santa Clara County, Water District (by Tracy Seipel and Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News)

Two-Word Error Could Cost Santa Clara Valley Water District Half a Billion Dollars (by Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News)

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