Measure O would enact a one-eighth-cent sales tax that would be divided among the county, its 20 cities, and three special districts. The new tax would raise the sales tax in San Mateo County from 8.25 percent to 8.375 percent for 25 years. It needs approval of two-thirds of the voters to pass.
The estimated $16 million per year it would raise could be used for after-school and summer programs for kids and teens; overdue maintenance and upgrades to trails, recreation areas, and park facilities; repairing and upgrading playgrounds and playing fields; and preserving natural open space.
This is the second try for park supporters. In 2006, they suffered an agonizing defeat when an identical measure garnered approval of 55 percent of the voters on a crowded ballot — a substantial majority, but far short of two-thirds.
The proposed tax would cost the average person $18 per year, or $1.50 per month, supporters say.
The $16 million would be divided so that the county would get 42 percent; the cities, 52 percent; and three special districts, 6 percent.
In the South County, Menlo Park would get more than $300,000 per year for parks, based on 2002 sales tax figures. Atherton, Woodside and Portola Valley would each get close to $200,000 per year; the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District would get some $630,000 a year; and the Ladera Recreation District would get over $90,000. San Mateo County would get some $6.3 million.
"When times get tough, what goes first? Parks," said Supervisor Adrienne Tissier, president of the Board of Supervisors. "We need to get ahead of the curve."
County Parks Director Dave Holland described the problems faced by the county. Eighteen park units totaling 16,000 acres have been under-funded by about 40 percent for at least five years, he said. This results in a maintenance backlog of $112 million, and the ranger staff of 55 is short about 15 rangers. Park needs range from improved restrooms, to safer play equipment, to new trails.
"Measure O will close to double our budget," Mr. Holland said. "We could meet our annual maintenance need, and reduce our backlog. It's significant."
Pros and cons
Supporters of Measure O stress the value of parks to communities and their quality of life; opponents focus on the new tax.
"Our parks really do need help," said Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson. "A small percentage increase in taxes provides tremendous benefits. We need to make sure our parks are not only safe but desirable, and the cities can provide better activities."
Supporters signing the ballot arguments for Measure O include: former state senator, and now congresswoman, Jackie Speier; former sheriff Don Horsley; Lennie Roberts of the Committee for Green Foothills; Linda Asbury, CEO of the San Mateo Area Chamber of Commerce; and Memo Morantes, trustee of the San Mateo County Board of Education.
Opponents of Measure O stress the hardships of the poorest people and the iniquity of increasing any taxes during hard times. They say the county is already wealthy, and county government inflated.
"A tax increase now is insane," the argument says. "Why should we tax the poor to pay wealthy San Mateo County? Vote for those hardest hit in these tough times."
Opponents signing the ballot arguments include: Don Pettengill, treasurer of Coastside Citizens for Good Government; Christopher Schmidt, secretary of the Libertarian Party of San Mateo County; Jack Hickey, member of the Sequoia Healthcare District board; Kennita Watson, retired quality engineer; and Brian Perry, editor.