After an uncertain outcome on election night, proponents of an initiative to protect Peninsula wilderness against spoilage and sprawl have declared victory.
Measure AA, which appeared on both San Mateo and Santa Clara county ballots June 3, received support from 67.8 percent of voters by latest counts. The measure needs a two-thirds majority to pass and authorizes the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District to issue up to $300 million in bonds to preserve redwoods, expand outdoor hiking and biking trails, protect wildlife habitats and build amenities for visitors to the area.
A property tax not to exceed $3.18 per $100,000 of assessed property value will be levied to repay the principal and interest on the general obligations bonds sold.
"The community has now come back and said that they're willing to fund that over the next 30 years," said Steve Abbors, general manager of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. "It's important because it's in line with what the community wants. They want us to preserve open space and save the redwood forest and protect native species and provide public access."
The district covers 550 square miles, including more than 73 percent of San Mateo County's land area. It extends into Santa Clara County and a small segment of Santa Cruz County.
Among the 25 projects to be funded with bond proceeds are efforts to secure the San Gregorio watershed and re-establish steelhead salmon runs there; to enhance connectivity between the Bay Area Ridge Trail, Alpine Road, and Skyline Boulevard; and to create routes extending from the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains down to the Pacific Coast.
Parking lots, bathrooms and staging areas will also be built at various points along the greenbelt.
According to Abbors, 74 projects were originally considered and then whittled down in discussions with a community advisory committee. The estimated cost of the remaining improvement projects was $300 million.
An independent citizen oversight committee will be established to ensure that all expenditures are properly authorized.
Opponents of Measure AA have argued that 30 years of interest payments could inflate the real cost of the measure for taxpayers while also putting pressure on housing costs across the Peninsula.
"Here in the Bay Area, we have a very limited area to actually build affordable housing. When you restrict the amount of land that can be built on, obviously you're restricting the number of houses that can be built and that drives up the price," said Mark Hinkle, president of the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association. "This bureaucracy is going to take $300 million to turn open space into open space."
While the counties have until July 1 to officially certify the election, Hinkle concedes that it is unlikely Measure AA will be defeated.
"The odds are in their favor. Two-thirds of the votes that remain to be counted would have to go in our column," he said.