Since it was first established in 1994, the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority has preserved roughly 28,000 acres — an area the size of the city of San Francisco — on hillsides, farmland and other open spaces in Santa Clara County for wildlife, recreation and agriculture.
But over its 26-year-history, the agency has struggled at times with funding.
Now, it is asking voters to extend a $24 annual parcel tax that raises roughly $8 million a year, or two-thirds of its annual budget. The tax, first passed by voters in 2014, was set to expire in 2030. The extension on the Nov. 3 ballot, Measure T, would not expire unless voters qualified a measure in a future election and overturned it.
The open space authority, a government agency based in San Jose, most recently has been involved in several major deals to protect areas in Coyote Valley between San Jose and Morgan Hill. And it has seen the number of hikers, bicyclists and horse riders enjoying its lands double this year as thousands of people cooped-up amid the coronavirus pandemic have headed outdoors for fresh air and exercise.
Measure T is endorsed by environmental groups like the Sierra Club, Save the Bay, Green Foothills and the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, along with the League of Women Voters, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, congresswomen Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Santa Clara County Democratic Party. Supporters say with population growth, it is critically necessary to preserve nature amid urban sprawl, and that it merely continues an existing tax of $2 a month, rather than raising new taxes.
“Voting for Measure T is a no brainer,” said Megan Fluke, executive director of Green Foothills, an environmental group based in Palo Alto. “With the recent Coyote Valley acquisitions, we need the Open Space Authority to care for this land and open it up to the public. Without funding, they can’t do this.”
But taxpayer activists recommend a no vote. They say taxes should be lowered in the current economic climate. The measure requires a two-thirds majority to pass. The previous measure in 2014 that first set up the tax, Measure Q, narrowly passed with 67.95% — clearing the bar by just over 3,200 votes out of 250,722 cast.
“We have a significant slowdown in the economy,” said Mark Hinkle, president of the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association. “People are having trouble making rent and mortgage payments. Unemployment is three times what it was a year ago. Now is not a good time for taxes.”
Hinkle said open space has benefits. But he said he believes land should be privately owned, rather than owned by the government. Asked if that means the National Park Service should sell Yosemite National Park, he said yes.
“Ideally they would sell it to the Nature Conservancy or Audubon, and I think people would support that,” he said. “As a Libertarian, to force people to pay for something they are not interested in, to me that’s morally wrong.”
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Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment