By Barbara Wood Special to the Almanac
If two-thirds of voters approve Measure AA, the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District will be able to issue up to $300 million in bonds to finance improving, preserving and restoring its properties as well as purchasing land needed to connect trails and preserve plant and animal habitats.
To reduce the cost of the bonds, the district will issue them in several series and will not allow the annual tax rate on the bonds to exceed $3.18 per $100,000 of assessed property value, which is equivalent to $31.80 a year for the owner of a property assessed at $1 million.
The bonds have a maximum term of 40 years and the annual tax is predicted to range from $1 per $100,000 assessed value (or $10 for a $1 million home) in 2015-16 to $2.90 per $100,000 assessed value (or $29 for a $1 million property) in 2044-45. The highest rate of $3.18 would be in 2034-35.
The bond measure also includes provisions for an oversight committee, made up of seven board-appointed district residents, to annually review how the bond money is spent and present its findings to the public.
Steve Abbors, general manager of the open space district, says the bond measure is the first the district has attempted to pass in its 41 years. The district covers southern and central San Mateo County from the Bay to the ocean, and northern and western Santa Clara County, as well as a small area in Santa Cruz County.
Property owners in the district, except for those on the coast, currently pay $17 per $100,000 of assessed property value, or $170 a year for a property valued at $1 million. Property owners on the coast will help pay for the bonds if Measure AA passes.
Diane Talbert, a resident of Woodside and president of the Sempervirens Fund, is one of those who signed the ballot argument in favor of the bond measure. "Measure AA is essential to protecting the miles of treasured open space that make the Bay Area such a wonderful place to live and work," said Ms. Talbert. She said the measure will "protect and preserve the vital land around our water sources," as well as increase public access "so that more trails, waterways and redwood forests can be enjoyed by all members of our community."
Ms. Talbert said she believes "this is money well-spent and essential to preserving our precious natural resources and quality of life."
There appears to be no organized opposition to the bond measure, but local Libertarian Jack Hickey, a resident of unincorporated Emerald Hills, argues that the district would be better off funding the projects it has proposed by opening some of its land to recreational uses, such as golf courses, that would earn income for the district.
"That is what I call stewardship of the land," he said. "It would take less than 1 percent of their land to do this."
Other uses could also produce revenue for the district, he said. "They could have a rifle range."
As part of the proposed bond measure, the district has issued a list of 25 priority projects across the district, 10 of which are in or near the Almanac circulation area. They include:
● Re-open Alpine Road at Coal Creek for trail use.
● Help to complete gaps in the Bay Trail and build city-to-Bay trails. Support wetland restoration and science education exhibits.
● Develop new trails and improve existing trails at Windy Hill. Open Hawthorn historic area, connecting it to Palo Alto trails. Restore Los Trancos Creek.
● Open the Driscoll Ranch area at La Honda Creek to more public access. Restore La Honda Creek and remove fish barriers.
● Preserve Upper San Gregorio Creek Watershed and protect streams. Create new public use facilities and complete Ridge Trail gaps at La Honda Creek and Russian Ridge.
● Open new trails at Russian Ridge. Introduce grazing and enhance wildlife protection.
● Build walking, hiking and biking trails at El Corte de Madera Creek. Complete gaps in Ridge Trail. Improve water quality via land preservation and restoration.
● Open upper La Honda Creek Preserve for public recreation. Restore habitat and reintroduce grazing.
● Open Miramontes Ridge to the public. Create new trails and neighborhood access points. Restore streams in Madonna Creek watershed upstream of Half Moon Bay and enhance local farms.
● Complete the Purisima-to-the-Sea Trail and connect Ridge Trail to Coastal Trail. Protect and restore the Lobitos Creek watershed.
Other projects on the list include protecting more redwood forests, conserving salmon fisheries, building a welcome center at Rancho San Antonio, opening new trails in the redwoods connecting large parks, adding campgrounds, connecting the Ridge Trail to the Bay Trail, protecting wildlife corridors, and opening more district lands to public access.
Mr. Abbors said the district came up with the bond measure after looking toward the future of the district.
"After 40 years â€¦ we started looking at what are we going to do for the next 40 years," he said. The district decided it needed to work on land already owned as well as acquiring new properties.
"It required a change in thinking and even in how we apply our budget," he said. Only about half of the district land is now open to the public, Mr. Abbors said.
After looking at what might be needed in the district, a list of 57 possible projects was created and brought to the public for discussion. The district held a series of public meetings, created a community advisory committee, and used social media to come up with a list of the top 25 projects.