On Monday night some 65 of us spent three hours participating in a democratic process orchestrated by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD). We expressed our opinion, but will they listen?
Out of the district’s five priorities — healthy nature, enriched experience, viable working lands, outdoor recreation and healthy living (public access), natural cultural and scenic landscapes — increased access topped the list. I’m not surprised, not when only 58 percent of MROSD land is open to the public.
This was the second of five public meetings hosted by the district. District Manager Steve Abbors closed by saying the district is on a mission to redefine itself and our input will be key to future management decisions. He made this point, no doubt, because the score on how much we trust the district to listen to our input left a lot to be desired. It was way less than the charitable 8 I gave it.
How much of this is public distrust of government in general or a problem with MROSD is difficult to say. It’s probably a combination. The district will never satisfy everyone in its effort to preserve open space, that’s for sure.
I attended this session because it addressed the Sierra Azul area, the district’s largest preserve located in the South Bay, including Mt. Umunhum and Loma Prieta peaks.
Ironically, about half of the attendees raised their hands when asked if they were from San Jose, which is not in the MROSD’s purview. The district boundary ends in Sunnyvale. San Jose residents enjoy the preserves but pay no parcel tax for the benefit. The cash-strapped district may one day charge for access to some preserves, but it would be impractical to restrict use to district residents. Palo Alto does that with its Foothills Park.
While I was there for Sierra Azul, the voting exercise included South Bay Foothills — Bear Creek Redwoods, El Sereno Saratoga-to-Sea, Fremont Older, Picchetti Ranch. The questions focused on preferred uses in each preserve (or potential preserve), such as dogs on leashes, preserving historic buildings, family nature opportunities, etc.
Sierra Azul offers the most cycling opportunities for riders, especially those who enjoy remote areas of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I’ll go into this more in my next post.
The district asked us to rank on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 most desirable): Loma Prieta public access, Mt. Umunhum public access and interpretation, Rancho de Guadalupe family recreation, Fire management, Kennedy-Limekiln area, Cathedral Oaks access.
I would be willing to wager most people voting have no clue about Loma Prieta Road, but nevertheless they want public access and that’s what matters.
Thanks to electronics, the district and those voting saw the results in real time. This is Silicon Valley after all. It comes at a price. The district budgeted $851,000 (Vision Plan/Strategic Plan) for outreach efforts.
It boils down to money
How much the district can do to expand access to its lands may come down to money. Taken from its revenue projection report:
- At the end of March 2013, the District will have bonded indebtedness equal to approximately 55% of its statutory debt limit. Projected future cash flows would allow issuance of no more than $20 million of additional debt…
- Operating Expenses are budgeted at $17.2 million, or 57% of projected tax revenue.
- The budget assumes acquiring $7.25 million of land in fiscal 2014. These acquisitions would generate an estimated $1.50 million land donations, leaving cash expenditures of $5.75 million for Land Acquisition.
So there you have it. I enjoyed the opportunity to express my support for expanding access to Sierra Azul preserve, but I’m skeptical that will ever come to pass. More on that next.
The district is supposed to post results on its website.