This November, Santa Clara County residents will vote on a tax measure that would significantly expand efforts to preserve and protect open space areas. A $24 annual parcel tax put forward by the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority, the ballot measure would generate local funding to preserve open space in San Jose, Milpitas, Santa Clara, Campbell, Morgan Hill and unincorporated Santa Clara County. The tax would expire in 15 years and could not be renewed without voter approval. SPUR has endorsed this measure because we believe it will:
- help focus growth in the urbanized areas of the county by strengthening the greenbelt of land around cities
- support a regional food system through investments in agricultural land and programs that support agricultural viability
- improve the urban quality of life through investments in local parks and open space
The Santa Clara County Open Space Authority (OSA) recently adopted a long-term vision called the Santa Clara Valley Greenprint. The document prioritizes protection for natural areas and wildlife habitat, water resources, the viability of the county’s agriculture, and additional opportunities for the public to enjoy open space, parks and trails in their communities. The OSA measure would implement the Greenprint goals by providing funding for:
- protecting new open space lands
- improving, maintaining and increasing public access to open space, parks and trails
- additional environmental education programs
- grants to cities, non-profits and schools
This strategic plan echoes the findings of the recently completed Healthy Lands & Healthy Economies Initiative, a pioneering report that underscores how investment in open space lands in Santa Clara County contributes to quality of life and provides valuable economic benefits in terms of ground water recharge, maintaining water quality, reducing flooding and more.
The proposed parcel tax would generate approximately $8 million annually. Currently, the Authority operates on a lean annual budget of $4 million, which is primarily funded by a benefit assessment that went into effect in 1994. Without additional funding sources, the OSA will not be able to implement the high priority projects called for in the Greenprint.
To give a sense of how the Greenprint strategy and increased funding would translate into on-the-ground improvements in the county, the OSA developed an interactive map showing examples of projects identified through the strategic planning process that could receive funding through the ballot measure.
SPUR believes that future Bay Area growth should be directed into existing urban areas. We have long supported the preservation of our region’s open space, including wilderness, parkland and working lands. In part, this is because these areas are uniquely valuable as aesthetic, cultural and ecological resources. But our support for preserving a greenbelt of open space around the Bay Area also stems from an interest in building a buffer against sprawl.
In addition to the general benefits of open space conservation, SPUR also supports two other areas of focus the OSA has explicitly highlighted in its expenditure plan. First is including agricultural land protection in its strategy. According to a 2012 analysis by Greenbelt Alliance that we highlighted in our report Locally Nourished, 55 percent of the county’s farmland and seven percent of its grazing land are at risk of being developed in the next 30 years. The OSA can use funds from this parcel tax to maintain that land in agricultural use through either acquisition or easements. Maintaining a “critical mass” of agricultural land is crucial to the economic viability of farming in the county as well as the success of our regional food system. Second, in addition to its focus on supporting open space around cities, the authority will also spend up to a quarter of the revenue to support urban parks through grants to city park departments and nonprofit organizations in its service area. This funding will help San Jose and other cities in the county continue to invest in parks that contribute to the vitality of the region.
The Open Space Authority’s Greenprint offers a vision for strategic investments in parks, natural areas, and working lands. The proposed ballot measure and expenditure plan would allow the authority to implement that vision, helping direct growth toward San Jose and the other urban areas of the county while also supporting conservation of natural areas and agricultural land preservation. For voters in Santa Clara County, SPUR recommends a “Yes” vote on the open space funding measure.