As an editor, I sympathize. What could be worse than a $500 million typo? Unfortunately for the Santa Clara Water District, a mistake in ballot language could result in the loss of almost half a billion dollars in funding.
As reported by the Mercury News, the purpose of the ballot measure—the Safe, Clean Water Program—was to insure water quality for the Santa Clara Water District while also protecting the local water supply against pollution and contamination. The measure provided funding for these improvements via a parcel tax expected to generate about $548 million. The act was also supposed to fund habitat restoration, provide flood protection, and help the district with disaster planning.
But under local election laws, ballot measures can be no more than 75 words. The Santa Clara Ballot initiative just crosses the line at 77. The district raced to change the language before additional deadlines clicked into place, but despite the scrambling, they failed to fulfill all the necessary requirements. And this failure means the measure may have to be pulled off the November ballot.
The measure itself is not without controversy. In addition to the adverse reaction expected for any additional tax measure, many citizens are questioning the need to fund water improvements with a parcel tax rather than funding more directly related to water use. Additionally, the Silicon Valley Taxpayer’s association is already threatening to file a lawsuit should the measure stay on the ballot in its current 77-word form.
Although the District was notified immediately of the error and acted quickly to rectify the mistake, so far there’s no explanation as to why the measure was initially submitted with two extra words. And those two words could have a significant impact on the District’s ability to provide the much-needed services outlined in the measure.
“That would be devastating to the water district,” Linda LeZotte, chairwoman of the water district board is quoted as saying in the Mercury News. “We were not changing the essence of the measure. We were removing two innocuous words that mistakenly put us over the word count. It was a minor technicality. I just don’t see the substantial damage that has been done to the public.”
So what do you think? Are typos and technical errors just par for the course, or indicative of more endemic inadequacies? Does the potential loss of half a billion dollars highlight the fragile nature of infrastructure funding? And should we assign any larger meaning to this $450 million clerical error—as a symbol of the failure of our public funding or taxation run amok—or is this just an example of sheer dumb luck and one very chagrined office worker?