The Town Crier’s April 24 editorial recommends voting yes on Measure AA. But should you?
The editorial states that a $2 million home would pay $20 a year to finance the $300 million bond measure. But that is only the beginning. The amount can be, and is likely to be, increased up to $64, the authorized limit. This amount is in addition to $340 that the homeowner is presently paying to fund the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.
Now, $64 may seem like a small amount, but the various bond measures we currently pay for add nearly 12 percent to the basic 1 percent tax rate. And that does not include the many special assessment fees. The vast majority of the 700,000 people who live within the district boundary are not rich, and they are being nickel-and-dimed to death.
And what about fairness? Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District preserves are used by just a tiny fraction of the people paying the taxes. My wife and I are avid outdoors people and have hiked all of the preserves many times. It is our observation that, except for the urban Rancho San Antonio and Fremont Older, most preserves have very light use. Even though we personally would benefit from the passage of the measure, it seems patently unfair to rob many to benefit a few. A more equitable way would be for the actual users to bear the operating-costs burden in the form of an entry fee. Alas, that can’t work, as there are so few users.
The editorial mentions that the district manages its funds responsibly. If that were the case, there would be no need for the bond measure. For the year ending March 31, 2013, the district received $30.3 million in property taxes and spent $27.4 million in salaries, benefits, interest, etc. Over the years, the district’s operating costs have increased to the point where very little is left for land acquisition, the district’s primary mission. If memory serves me right, Craig Britton, the immediate past general manager, proudly announced at his retirement in 2007 that during his 30 years at the district, the staff increased from five to 100. Government agencies tend to be wasteful, and the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District is no exception. While strapped for cash, it has chosen to replace its perfectly good – actually, excellent – free black-and-white maps with a color version, which is not as clear as the older ones, and surely costs more.
I also take issue with the statement that the district involves the general public at every step. Have you forgotten that the historic radar tower atop Mount Umunhum is still standing, only because of public outcry against the district’s decision to demolish it? The district has asked supporters to raise $1.2 million or watch the tower come down. Even if Measure AA passes, the district does not plan to spend any money to preserve the tower.
That’s why I will be voting no on Measure AA – and so should you.
Dinesh Desai is a Los Altos resident.