Parks and open space measures win in Silicon Valley, East Bay and nationwide

This article was originally published in the November 10, 2014 edition of the San Jose Mercury News.

By Paul Rogers

Although Election Day was mostly a disaster for environmentalists nationwide, in one area — open space and parks funding — they found success in the Bay Area and other parts of the United States.

Supporters of the largest open space measure in Northern California, Measure Q, a parcel tax to raise $120 million over the next 15 years for open space preservation in Silicon Valley, declared victory Monday. With nearly all ballots counted, the measure had 67.64 percent of the vote, about 1 percentage point above the two-thirds threshold it needed to pass.

The $24-per-year tax will give the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority money to buy development rights to preserve farmland, build trails for bikes, hikers and horse-riders, and add roughly 15,000 acres of open space preserves and parks in the cities and rural hills of Santa Clara County.

“I think people felt that $24 a year was an incredible bargain for what you get — places to hike, great views and protection of the watershed and our water supply,” said Melissa Hippard, program director for Greenbelt Alliance, a San Francisco environmental group.

Opponents said they were disappointed, particularly with business groups such as the San Jose-Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce that endorsed the measure.

“Every time we pass a new tax that means more businesses are going to leave California,” said Mark Hinkle, president of the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association in San Jose. “Every tax increase adds to the burden. We literally are killing the goose that is laying the golden egg.”

Meanwhile, Berkeley voters also approved raising taxes for parks, passing Measure F by 74.9 percent.

The measure increased an existing special property tax by 16.7 percent, from 12.56 cents to 14.66 cents per square foot, to pay for maintenance and operation of playgrounds, ballfields and the city’s Rose Garden. The cost for an owner of a 1,500-square foot house will increase from $188 a year to $219 a year.

In Dublin, voters overwhelmingly rejected plans to annex farmland and open space on the city’s east edge near Livermore for new development. Measure T got only 17 percent of the vote, with 83 percent opposed.

The Pacific Union Land Co., based in Danville, had proposed building up to 1,990 homes in the area, known as Doolan Canyon, and had spent $150,000 on the campaign.

“The days of fast growth are over,” Seth Adams, land conservation director for Save Mount Diablo, told this newspaper. “It’s not just this vote or this area, it’s waking up a sleeping giant.”

In Los Angeles County, voters rejected a $23 annual parcel tax for parks and open space. Measure P would have raised $54 million a year for 30 years. It won 62 percent of the vote, but needed just over 66 percent to pass.

Perhaps the biggest open space measure to pass in the West was not billed as one. But Proposition 1, California’s $7.5 billion water bond, promises $1.5 billion to protect watersheds and other open space where much of the state’s drinking water originates. It was endorsed by the Nature Conservancy and other large land trusts.

Nationwide, voters gave control of the U.S. Senate to Republicans, placing in leadership positions key senators who say climate change is a hoax and who support more oil, gas and coal development. But voters also approved a record $13 billion for open space and parks funding, including in Florida, where a constitutional amendment to set aside 33 percent of an existing real estate tax for parks and wildlife projects passed with 75 percent support. The measure will raise roughly $18 billion over the next 20 years.

In North Dakota, voters rejected a measure to devote 5 percent of the state’s oil tax revenue to water quality, wildlife habitat and parks. Opponents said the measure would take money from schools, roads and other needs.

Voters in New Jersey, Colorado, Maine and Portland, Oregon, also approved significant measures for parks and open space.

“Tuesday was a remarkable day for land conservation in states and cities across America,” said Will Rogers, President of The Trust for Public Land, an environmental group in San Francisco.

“Whether voters are ‘red’ or ‘blue,’ they are both ‘green’ and they are willing to vote with their pocketbooks to protect special places.”

Paul Rogers covers resources and environmental issues. Contact him at 408-920-5045. Follow him at Twitter.com/PaulRogersSJMN

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