Talk about a sore loser. Contra Costa Clean Water Program Manager Don Freitas blames the media, voters and even the Constitution for the spectacular flop of his water pollution fee.
Freitas blasted countywide a snarky email news release announcing the stunning 19,000-vote loss among voting property owners, writing "It's very easy for the press to condemn the actions of local government; but rarely, if ever, do they suggest valid alternatives."
Not surprisingly, the former Antioch mayor and notoriously thin-skinned Freitas shoulders no blame, despite having led the taxpayer-funded $1.5 million campaign.
That said, others do deserve reproach.
Distrustful voters conveniently forgot they were warned about the unorthodox election rules contained in Proposition 218, the 1996 constitutional amendment that allows agencies to petition property owners directly for new fees.
Unlike a typical ballot initiative, a property-related election has no required neutral analysis or pro and con statements, although nothing prohibits them. The sponsoring agency conducts the election, not the county Elections Department. Votes may not be secret. All property owners regardless of residency or citizen status are eligible to cast one vote per parcel.
Nonetheless, residents cried foul over the ballot rules. And in one of the proponents' more politically tone deaf moves, they defensively touted their adherence to Prop. 218 rules.
The sour economy didn't help. Some voters urged mutiny of federal and state regulations. Others said it was unfair to put the financial burden of clean water on property owners.
Those forces alone probably doomed the fee.
But Freitas and the staffers of the 19 cities who ran this campaign never gave people concrete reasons to vote yes.
The taxpayer-funded "official ballot guide" and slick mailers were dissatisfactory propaganda. The materials didn't disclose existing pollution fees or say specifically how the money would be spent.
With no other sources of analysis, property owners were frustrated with the lack of useful, neutral information.
Sure, a persistent voter could have cracked open the hundreds of pages of indecipherable technical supporting documents online.
Good luck. Nowhere in these voluminous backup reports did analysts answer a homeowner's most basic question: How much money will my city receive from this fee, and how will it spend it?
"Yeah, it took me a couple of hours to figure out these tables myself," responded one of the initiative's consultants asked to decode the data.
Engineers used a computer model to calculate each local agency's theoretical cost of complying with the new rules and aggregated the data into watersheds named west, central and east.
Unable to identify with an amorphous watershed, I devised my own spreadsheet and with the consultant's help, calculated per-city numbers. What voter has time do that?
Property owners ultimately interpreted the mumbo-jumbo as an unnecessary $8.7 million annual cash infusion into local agencies' coffers for who-knows-what.
Freitas knows better.
Most residents are unaware that Freitas has been on the front lines for years negotiating with powerful federal and state regulators bent on reducing urban runoff pollution, while unburdened by local budget shortfalls.
Why target cities and counties? They own stormwater drain systems, which inconveniently convey trash, toxics and urban pollutants into rivers and lakes.
Voters can shake their fists at state and federal regulations all they want, but it is local elected officials who must comply with pollution rules or risk big fines.
Either way, as Freitas and other officials accurately note, there's no free lunch. The money must come from somewhere.
"I understand the voters' frustration, but we don't get fined if we don't have police protection," said Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho, who sought unsuccessfully to redesign the flawed campaign before it went to a vote.
But if proponents expect voters to elevate water pollution to a special tax and remove it from competition with potholes and police for funding, they are going to have to do a better job communicating with the public.
Freitas' temper tantrum disguised as an official release of the election results hardly qualifies as the display of humility voters deserve after they reject a measure by 20 percentage points.
GOT POLITICS? Read the Political Blotter at IBABuzz.com/politics.
AND FINALLY: Contra Costa hasn't cornered the market on indecipherable regulatory-speak.
Just Google Alameda County's clean water program annual report and behold its glorious 891-page homage to bureaucratic subjugation.
Or ingest some of the most toxic verbiage on the planet as found in the Bay Area's "National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Permit Municipal Stormwater Permit."
If we levied $1 for every incomprehensible sentence in these reports, we would have enough money to disinfect the spit from our mouths before it hits the sidewalk.