Open Space Parcel Tax
Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority Parcel Tax Renewal
Renews a $24-per-parcel tax, originally passed by voters as Measure Q in 2014, which provides funding for the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority to protect and preserve natural open spaces and agricultural land.
What the Measure Would Do
Measure T would continue an existing tax of $24 per parcel for property within the jurisdiction of the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority The original parcel tax, passed as Measure Q in 2014, expires in 2029. This measure would remove that sunset date and continue the parcel tax until voters decide to change or repeal it. The Authority projects that the tax will continue to raise roughly $8 million annually. The Authority developed an expenditure plan that commits these funds only to:
- Protect open space and agricultural land
- Protect land around rivers and creeks to prevent pollution and improve water supply
- Open, improve and maintain parks, open space and trails
- Assist cities, schools and nonprofits in providing access to parks and open space in urban areas through its Urban Grants program
In 2014, voters approved Measure Q, a $24-per-parcel tax that provides approximately two-thirds of the Open Space Authority’s ongoing revenue. The Authority has used Measure Q funding to double the number of acres under its management (including land in North Coyote Valley crucial to maintaining a greenbelt between San José and Morgan Hill), open new trails, and provide grants to improve access to parks and recreation for many nonprofits and city agencies in urban parts of the county. The Open Space Authority has also used Measure Q funds to attract additional investment. According to the Authority, every $1 of Measure Q funds spent attracted $3 in public and private funding for land purchases, habitat restoration and public access projects.
With expansion, however, came increased costs for management and operations. The Authority Board of Directors wishes to remove the sunset date to ensure that the parcel tax remains a dedicated funding stream for maintaining and expanding services in the newly acquired areas.
As a tax placed on the ballot by the Authority's board, rather than by voters, this measure requires a two-thirds majority vote to pass.
As a flat tax, this parcel tax is, generally speaking, regressive. The owners of parcels with large commercial office buildings or apartment buildings will pay the same amount of tax as owners of single-family homes or vacant lots. Parcel taxes can be designed more progressively by structuring the assessment based on square footage of buildings on the parcel — or some other similar mechanism — rather than as a flat rate.
In regard to how the revenue will be spent, the Open Space Authority has a track record of targeting some of the revenue progressively. In the past five years, the Authority has directed more than $2.8 million from the parcel tax to more than 30 different urban projects and programs in San José, Milpitas, Santa Clara, Morgan Hill and Campbell. Up to 25% of the funding would continue to go toward improving access to parks and open space inside the county’s cities, rather than just at the urban edges. The Open Space Authority has also identified six neighborhoods as “Deep Engagement Communities”1 that “experience greater environmental burdens and barriers to access of nature” and gives those neighborhoods priority in its grants, education programs and community engagement.
- Measure T provides stable long-term funding for an agency that has demonstrated a strong track record of successfully preserving open space and agricultural land and directing grants to increase access to parks in Santa Clara County’s cities.
- This measure would allow the Open Space Authority to plan far into the future knowing that it would have sufficient funds to maintain and operate the land it manages.
- This measure would eliminate the sunset clause from Measure Q, reducing the opportunity for accountability that comes when agencies have to make the case to the voters that dedicated funding for specific purposes should be renewed.
- The parcel tax is structured as a flat tax, which is generally regressive.
The Open Space Authority has made strong strides using the funding that voters authorized in 2014. In just five years, it has strengthened the greenbelt south of San José, encouraging infill development in urbanized areas rather than continued outward sprawl. And it has protected agricultural land and open space that support the local food economy and provide numerous environmental benefits. The Authority has also spent more than $2 million on environmental education and improving access to parks inside cities.
From a good government perspective, SPUR would have preferred for the Authority to seek a long extension rather than an indefinite one. A parcel tax with tiered rates that better reflected the value of the property would be a more equitable way to raise revenue than the flat tax. But, on balance, the Authority has demonstrated it is a good steward of its parcel tax funding and with this measure can continue to provide benefits for Santa Clara County residents for decades into the future.