Voters in many Peninsula and South Bay communities will decide on the June 3 ballot whether to approve Measure AA, which would use a slight property-tax increase to give the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District $300 million over the next 30 years.
If approved, the bond measure funds would pay for a host of preservation and improvement projects that Midpeninsula identified as priorities in its recently unveiled Vision Plan. The Vision Plan was the result of a 1½-year outreach process, during which the organization talked with residents to find out how they are using open spaces and which preserves and projects they feel are most important.
Midpeninsula spokeswoman Amanda Kim said the number of residents using parks and preserves within Midpeninsula's jurisdiction has doubled since the late 1990s, jumping from approximately 1 million to 2 million annual visitors. One of the agency's priorities will be to use the additional funds to open up access to preserves that are currently off-limits to the public, such as Mount Umunhum in the Santa Cruz Mountains and Miramontes Ridge in the hills above Redwood City, Kim said.
Kim said Midpeninsula hopes to purchase additional properties in order to protect and restore habitats and make them available to visitors, but such opportunities might not be possible without adequate funding.
Although Measure AA has been widely endorsed by newspapers, elected officials and civic groups, Kim noted it must receive at least two-thirds of the vote to pass, and that could be a high bar to reach. The bond measure would impose a property tax of $1 per $100,000 of assessed home value per year, so a homeowner with a $1 million home would pay an extra $10 per year. The tax could increase over the years, but it would never go above $3.18 per $100,000 of home value, and Kim noted that the theoretical $3.18 maximum might never be reached.
As a public agency, Midpeninsula is prohibited from campaigning in favor of the measure. That task has been taken up by the Peninsula Open Space Trust, a Palo Alto-based private nonprofit organization. POST spokesman Marc Landgraf said one reason homeowners might favor the measure is that having well-maintained, accessible open spaces in close proximity is good for real estate values.
"Property values go up when you're near open space," Landgraf noted. "Businesses open and are successful because people want to live and work here."
One of the few organizations opposing the measure is the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, which authored the argument against the measure that appears on voter ballots. In that statement, association president Mark Hinkle argues that issuing bonds creates debt, which has to be repaid with interest. He also claims that the legislation's language is too vague about how the funds might be used.
Midpeninsula Director Yoriko Kishimoto noted that by law, all funds collected could only be used for open-space preservation, could never be taken by the state for other purposes and would be monitored by a citizens' oversight committee. She stressed that there are many sensitive species habitats that Midpeninsula is interested in acquiring and protecting from developers, and those lands may not be available for purchase in the future.
The Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association did not respond to a request for comment.