It is not an overstatement to say that the creation of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District in 1972 is the single biggest reason for the extensive open space and recreational opportunities we enjoy today up and down the Peninsula, and out to the coast.
One need only look west to the tree-covered coastal mountains to see the legacy of that voter initiative, passed locally the same historic year as voters statewide established the California Coastal Commission to protect the entire coastline.
On the June 3 ballot, voters in the 17 Santa Clara and San Mateo county cities that make up the open-space district will have the chance to ensure these lands are maintained properly and made more accessible for public enjoyment over the next few decades.
Measure AA, which requires a two-thirds vote for passage, authorizes the sale of up to $300 million in general obligation bonds over 30 years. It will increase local property taxes by up to $3.18 per $100,000 in assessed valuation, or about $30 a year for a homeowner with a property assessed at $1 million.
The district's current operations are funded primarily through a property tax of $17 per $100,000 in assessed value, which will continue unaffected by the outcome of Measure AA.
Over its 41-year history, there has always been a tension between land acquisition, whose aim is to seize opportunities as they arise to convert private land holdings into public open space, and developing trails and other facilities that allow the public to enjoy these acquired lands.
The elected governing board has done a good job over the years at this delicate balancing act, and the result is 62,000 acres in 26 different preserves between Los Gatos and San Carlos and from the bay to the ocean open for hiking, biking and horseback riding.
Over the last year and a half, the district has undertaken a public process to evaluate its priorities and develop a vision and plan for the next 40 years. After input from many public meetings, the district has created a list of 25 priority projects that will be undertaken if the bond measure passes.
These include opening more areas to public access, improving and constructing more trails and facilities, restoring creeks and streams, and strategic acquisition of additional land as it becomes available. A list of the specific projects can be found on the district's website at openspace.org/MeasureAA.
We are strong believers in the work of the Midpeninsula Open Space District and the value it brings to our increasingly urbanized environment. Having such extensive open space so close is a major contributor to our quality of life in this region.
We are also heartened by the district's commitment to focusing on increasing the public use and accessibility of these publicly funded lands rather than simple preservation. Going forward, the district's success should be measured by how many new trails, trail connections and facilities are added, and the extent that opportunities for all types of users, including hikers, bikers, horseback riders, campers and particularly dog owners are significantly expanded.
The public made clear these desires during the public meetings in preparation for the bond measure proposal, and the district needs to move in this direction regardless of the passage of Measure AA.
The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District is made up of the cities of Palo Alto, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Atherton, Portola Valley, Woodside, Redwood City, San Carlos, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Monte Sereno and Half Moon Bay.
In essence, the taxpayers in these cities have banded together for the last four decades to preserve open space in perpetuity and create opportunities for readily accessible recreational activities.
Measure AA provides a way of spreading the costs of significantly improving these opportunities at a very low cost per taxpayer.
It is hard to imagine a more important public investment than to maintain and improve the valuable open space that provides us with beautiful views, recreational opportunities and protection against development.
We urge a "yes" vote on Measure AA on the June 3 ballot.