Tue 11 Sep 2012
With the quality of county parks, open space, ranchlands, and water on the line, Marin voters on Nov. 6 need to approve a quarter-cent increase in the county sales tax. A two-thirds majority is required for passage.
County Open Space and Parks Director Linda Dahl spent months preparing the tax proposal, Measure A, which the Board of Supervisors on Aug. 7 agreed to place on the November ballot. If approved, the tax is expected to bring in $10 million annually over its nine-year lifetime.
Dahl’s department would get 65 percent of the revenue, which would be used for maintenance and repairs at parks, as well as buying land easements and trail connections in natural areas, as my partner Lynn Axelrod reported in The West Marin Citizen. Cities, towns, and special districts that oversee parks and recreation would receive 15 percent, which they could use to maintain and expand parks, as well as reduce the risks of wildfires.
The remaining 20 percent would be allocated to a Farmlands Protection program for — among other things — buying conservation easements on farms and ranches. Here is how revenue from the tax measure would be allocated, according to the measure.
Additional maintenance at White House Pool, a county park along Papermill Creek, would be eligible for funding under Measure A.
Parks and Open Space Program: Eighty percent of this program’s annual amount will be used to protect and restore wetlands along the coastline and bay shoreline to protect wildlife habitat; to protect water quality and fish habitat by reducing erosion and sedimentation; to reduce the risk of wildfire, enhance biodiversity, and control invasive, non-native weeds; to repair, maintain, and/or replace deteriorating facilities in open-space preserves and parks; to prevent slope instability and flooding; to build new or modify existing trails, entering into arrangements with private landowners for trail connections; to augment visitor services.
Preserving natural lands would include purchasing land or conservation easements from willing sellers. To the extent possible, tax revenues would be used to leverage matching funds from public and private ‘partners.’
These might be considered “sacred cows” because ranching is what keeps much of West Marin in open space. If ranching gets too tough here, subdividing might replace much of it; Measure A, however, would help buy from ranchers easements that lock their land into agricultural uses in perpetuity.
Farmland Preservation Program: The purpose of this program is to protect county farmland at risk of subdivision and development and to preserve working farms and ranches. Money could be used to buy perpetual agricultural-conservation easements and to buy additional real-property interests on lands now covered by such easements.
Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) already buys and holds such easements, and the program’s 20 percent of tax revenues could be used to provide matching grants to ‘qualified organizations’ (e.g. MALT) to buy and support purchase of more easements. Up to 5 percent of the Farmland Preservation Program’s allocation would be used for monitoring and enforcing easements. And up to 5 percent of the allocation would be shared with the Marin Resource Conservation District to assist ranchers on easement-protected properties.
City, Town, and Applicable Special-district Program: This program would provide local governments with funds to maintain and restore existing parks and recreational facilities; to acquire new parks; to carry out vegetation management. This program is expected to be allocated more than $13.5 million over the life of the measure.
The county Parks and Open Space Commission will conduct an annual meeting to gather public opinions as to what projects should be funded. No more than 5 percent of the Parks and Open Space allocation can be used for administrative expenses by the county. The same is true for the Farmland Preservation Program.
MALT, which helped Parks and Open Space director Dahl prepare the ballot measure, is expected to be put in charge of acquiring agricultural easements. Bolinas resident Cela O’Conner, who bitterly opposed Supervisor Steve Kinsey’s reelection, criticized the board’s allocating money through MALT since it is a private nonprofit; however, the organization’s executive director Bob Berner told county supervisors, none of the tax money would “stick” to MALT or be used for salaries.
It would all go to acquiring and maintaining easements. Berner said MALT has already spent $54 million acquiring easements that protect 44,000 acres. Half of the money has come from public funds, he noted, but money from those sources — especially the California Coastal Conservancy — is “about exhausted.”
Affordable-housing advocate Dave Coury told the supervisors the ballot measure is “a pig in a poke” because the county has not yet decided what additional land might be purchased for open space.
The Marin County League of Women Voters, while not taking a stand on Measure A, pointedly asked Supervisor Kinsey in writing: “Is it wise to put the proposal on this November’s ballot when the governor’s tax plan will also appear? We’re concerned that Marin’s competing proposal may serve to generate stronger opposition to that plan in Marin.”
Kinsey responded, “We understand the dire needs in our community that the state measure would address. We support the state measure, and would not be proposing our local measure unless we were confident that it would not affect the statewide one.”
The league also asked, “What are the thoughts of the supervisors on other potential revenue sources that may be less regressive and fairer? In particular, have fees or parcel taxes been considered? These more closely tie those paying for the services to the benefits.”
Kinsey’s response: “Sales tax is a broad-based tax, so it doesn’t create a burden for one segment of our community. Our parks are used by all residents of our community, not just property owners, so there is a nexus between who pays and who uses our parks and open space. Sales tax may actually be fairer since it includes all residents (park and open space users) not just homeowners, and especially since visitors from out of the county who use our regional, state and national parks also pay a portion of the sales tax collected in this county.”
Speaking in favor of the tax proposal during the supervisors’ hearings were ranchers Dominic Grossi, Rick and Scott Lafranchi, Sam Dolcini, and Loren Poncia. Another supporter, rancher Ralph Grossi, former head of the American Farmland Trust headquartered in Washington, DC, told the supervisors he expects federal matching grants will be available from the current Farm Bill.
Also testifying in favor of Measure A, The West Marin Citizen reported, were the Marin Conservation League, Marin Audubon Society, the Marin Bicycle Coalition, Access 4 Bikes, and Conservation Corps North Bay.
Measure A’s benefits for Marin County are substantial, and I urge readers to wholeheartedly support it.