News - May 14, 2008

Measure O: Second try to pass 1/8-cent sales tax for parks

by Marion Softky

The only countywide measure on the June ballot would put extra money into San Mateo County and city parks and recreation programs squeezed for years by hard economic times and tight budgets.

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.


Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jun 1, 2008 at 9:00 pm

If passed, Measure O is expected to provide approximately $634,000 a year for 25 years to the Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD).
MROSD already sucks more than $7,000,000/yr from San Mateo County South in property taxes.

I have suggested that this alien agency be detached from San Mateo County.

Jack Hickey

Posted by Ben Gentel, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 2, 2008 at 1:29 pm

I've got a better idea, Jack.

Why don't you put down the poison pen, take a little break from railing against publicly-funded EVERYTHING, and take a nature walk in one of the county's fabulous open space preserves. It might clear your head and improve your disposition.

Open space enriches us all.

Posted by Rick Moen, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jun 8, 2008 at 3:29 am

Sales taxes are the classic example of a "regressive" tax, one that tends to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. When I was young -- pre-Ronald Reagan -- all of California, state-wide, kept the sales tax down to a tolerable 5%. Reagan was the first to crank that up, followed by the Bay Area's own vampiric transit agency, BART, and every little county with a funding problem.

8.25% out of almost every dollar we spend to (e.g.) feed ourselves was and is already outrageous. 8.375% would have made a bad situation just that much worse. I'm glad the voters agreed.

Rick Moen

Posted by Amelie, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 9, 2008 at 10:43 am

Speaking as a poor person, I'm a frequent user of the (free) park facilities in San Mateo County. I can't afford to buy much, but I'd be willing to pay an extra 1/8 cent sales tax to help with the upkeep of these wonderful community resources.

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