Proponents for and against Measure T—the $24 parcel tax designed to protect and preserve undeveloped land and natural open spaces in the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority district—view the measure through entirely different lenses even in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.
Measure T is an extension but not an increase of Measure Q, which was overwhelmingly approved by county voters in 2014. If approved—Measure T requires a two-thirds majority vote to pass—the parcel tax would continue until ended by voters.
The Open Space Authority spans the eastern foothills of Santa Clara County, the Coyote Valley and the Highway 101 corridor between San Jose and Morgan Hill.
The parcel tax currently generates approximately $7.9 million per year, accounting for two-thirds of the OSA’s $12-million budget.
All funds are spent locally to preserve open spaces in Campbell, Milpitas, Morgan Hill, San Jose, Santa Clara and unincorporated parts of the county.
Since the tax was approved six years ago, supporters say it has helped double the amount of protected open space to 26,000 acres, provided free access to 26 miles of trails, protected the land around creeks to improve water quality, and responsibly managed the area to reduce wildfires and floods.
The OSA also helped the county complete its agricultural plan to conserve farmland while also benefiting urban areas as well. OSA Board Member Alex Kennett, who represents the South County portion of the authority’s boundaries, said the parcel tax is a necessity as it will soon be responsible for the upkeep of over 30,000 acres of protected space.
The OSA recently purchased Tilton Ranch in conjunction with the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Agency and Peninsula Open Space Trust.
“As we’ve grown, we’ve become more of a maintenance organization,” Kennett said, “and it costs money to do that. In order to build trails, parking, facilities, we need the parcel tax because these things aren’t cheap and it won’t get any cheaper.”
Given the fact that a higher percentage of people are exploring open space preserves since the pandemic’s arrival, supporters say a yes for Measure T also boosts one’s mental health, as research has shown that getting out in nature has many mental health benefits.
The Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association (SVTA) is the most vocal organization that is formally opposed to Measure T. Due to the current downturn of the economy, SVTA President Mark Hinkle believes it’s time to end the extension of this particular parcel tax.
“Everyone has had to tighten their belt, and it seems to me the Open Space Authority needs to tighten its belt just like everybody else,” he said. “When is a good time for this tax to go off into the sunset? I would say now would be an excellent time.”
Hinkle maintains that any tax increase or extension of a tax given the current economic climate is simply a matter of poor judgment.
“When you’re trying to regrow the economy, I feel like the timing of a Measure T is incredibly bad,” he said. “It’s sort of like kicking someone when they’re already down. … “Unfortunately, [sky high] property taxes have literally forced all agriculture out of the county. So this is literally a problem the government created, and now they want to tax us to solve a problem they created.”