For the owner of a $700,000 home, is paying up to $21 more a year worth a large set of improvements to the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District?
That is the core of the question behind Measure AA, officially called the Access, Preservation and Restoration of Open Space Lands.
With Measure AA’s passage, the open space district will tackle 25 projects in its areas that stretch from the southern end of San Mateo County, through Santa Clara County and into Santa Cruz County. It will provide the district with the ability to sell bonds every three years totaling $300 million to make the improvements. By selling the bonds every three years, the district aims to keep the overall increase in assessment lower than if the bonds were to be sold at once. The average home owner pays about $17 per $100,000 in assessed value of their home for the work the district currently does. The bond sales will increase that amount by no more than $3.18 per $100,000 in assessed value with some years seeing an increase of $1 per $100,000 in assessed value.
If the district currently collects money for its work, then why the need for the increase? That is also at the heart of the question behind this measure. It can still engage in these priority projects, but the timeline would be significantly longer.
And just what are these priority projects? They range from protecting water supply and quality in six preserves such as restoring fish and red-legged frog habitats at Miramontes Ridge, improving wildlife habitat in eight preserves including those for rare species, steelhead habitat, rare plants and grasslands at Sierra Azul and creating recreation and education access in 11 preserves like Bear Creek Redwoods where parking and stables will be improved and there will be additional facilities for educational and volunteer programs. Salmon runs at La Honda Creek will be improved and redwood trees near Purisima Creek will be preserved. Trails will be connected and, at long last, there will be a way to get from the Skyline Ridge to the coast.
At one time, the district was at the center of controversy over its eminent domain practices and agricultural policy. It has been 16 years since the district has engaged in eminent domain and it seems to have a new appreciation of the importance of the agricultural legacy of this county, particularly on the coast. This measure will assist the district in improving the property it currently holds to make it more accessible, more engaging and in keeping with the philosophy of maintaining our open space for all to enjoy into the future.
The additional expense on the tax bill is a real impact and, with interest, this bond will cost more than $300 million. But is the cost worth it to provide longtime preservation and access for future generations? Yes.