Walkers and runners in Wildcat Canyon, in the Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve in Los Altos.
Voters in three counties, including San Mateo County, will decide June 3 on a $300 million bond measure that focuses on expanding access to public lands, while restoring and preserving land in the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District for the next 30 years.
If two-thirds of voters in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties and portions of Santa Cruz county pass Measure AA, officially called the Access, Preservation and Restoration of Open Space Lands, the Midpeninsula Open Space District would be able address a list of 25 environmental projects — 14 specific to San Mateo County — it claims cannot be addressed with its current funding.
Its current $34 million annual budget is paid for with property assessments currently $17 per $100,000 assessed value. That budget pays for offices, property purchases, projects and salaries.If Measure AA passes, each residence will pay an additional maximum $3.18 per $100,000 assessed value. That money will go to projects, preservation and restoration of sites.
Opposition is coming from the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association. Aaron Neighbour, member of the association’s Board of Directors, said the group’s concern is another tax increase and the use of preserving as a main characteristic of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.
“As an organization, we look out for the interests of taxpayers. In this particular measure, we oppose it because it seems to be doing nothing,” said Neighbour. “There are no grants on this and it’s just taxes. General obligation bonds often lead to more increases and just adds to the tax burden.”
People themselves should be able to help out without the need for a new tax, he said. “I would flag out areas that people can naturally make and simply ask people to walk on them. The trail would be made by people who want to be there. It’s moral and free of charge, allowing us to focus on biodiversity roles and take out all the construction on parking lots and bathrooms,” he said.
However, the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District emphasizes the public’s desire for this measure to pass. Kirk Lenington, Natural Resources manager at Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, helps oversee the numerous projects in line for the future.
“We conducted a series of public deliberation meetings, which featured real key-time voting,” said Lenington. “Twenty-two-hundred conversations with community members and farmers’ markets were examined and results showed that the public wanted us to expand public access and be more protective of the agriculture in these areas. Feedback from the meetings created a vision for our environmental future, pushing us to be stewards of these lands.”
The 14 sites specific to San Mateo County include restoration of populations for endangered species and habitats like the salmon runs at La Honda Creek and preserving of redwood trees near Purisima Creek Redwoods. Other projects feature helping fish and red-legged frog habitats at Miramontes Ridge’s creek watersheds, developing educational destinations, creating roadside parking and restrooms and improving cattle grazing throughout multiple ranch sites.To expand public access, the district will create and maintain trails for hiking and horseback riding. One of those sites is East Palo Alto’s Ravenswood Preserve near Cooley Landing.
“We want the Bay Trail to have an extension that will connect to other trail segments. That gets people more engaged with preservation and creates a great opportunity for free public access in East Palo Alto. The goal is to hopefully be able to connect with more of Silicon Valley,” said Yuriko Kishimoto of the Regional Open Space Board of Directors.
The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District is also hoping to connect other trails as well. This includes the Purisima-to-Sea trail connection between the Ridge Trail and the Coastal Trail, as well as numerous other trails across Pescadero, Portola and Skyline Redwoods and Big Basin State Park. T
he project length will vary, said Steve Abbors, general manager at MidPeninsula Regional Open Space District.
“If Measure AA is successful, we hope to have 85 percent of each site in the first phase done in two to three years,” Abbors said. “There are multiple sub-elements to each project site. That includes the maintaining or creation of trails, water systems, fences, or creating fuel breaks to establish a site.”
Measure AA has already received backing from about 250 groups like the League of Women Voters in the Bay Area, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups and school board members in Redwood City.
“The Open Space District’s main goals are to acquire, restore and access lands,” Kishimoto said. “Our natural environment is our largest infrastructure, so we need to be able to take care of it.”