Questions and Answers about Measure F

Measure F is an advisory vote for the residents of the San Mateo County coast. The exact wording of the measure is:

ADVISORY VOTE ONLY

"In order to preserve open space resources on the San Mateo County coast, shall the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District extend its boundary west of Skyline to the San Mateo County coast, from the southern boundary of Pacifica to the Santa Cruz County line?"

  1. What is the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District and how does it work?
  2. Why do we need MROSD on the Coastside? Aren't our Park Departments and the private land trusts doing enough? Doesn't the zoning in rural areas protect open space?
  3. How much is it going to cost? Will Measure F increase my taxes?
  4. How soon would the coast join MROSD after the election?
  5. What voice will the Coastside have in MROSD?
  6. Will Measure F stop development on the coast?
  7. What lands would MROSD acquire?
  8. Does the County lose money when open space aquisition takes properties off the tax rolls?
  9. How would MROSD protect coastal agriculture?
  10. What is eminent domain and why does MROSD have this power?
  11. What about public access? Will I be able to walk my dog and ride my bike or horse on MROSD lands?
  12. How does MROSD fit in with other governments and government agencies?
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1. What is the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District and how does it work?

The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) is a special district (like school districts, fire protection districts, etc.) whose sole charter is to acquire, preserve, and manage open space. Created by midpeninsula voters 26 years ago, MROSD has acquired and currently manages more than 42,000 acres of open space, endangered native habitat, and agricultural land in 23 preserves in San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz Counties.

MROSD acquires land through direct purchase, conservation easements (see item 9), private donation, or transfer from private land trusts or other agencies. The District currently has 56 employees, including rangers, open space technicians, equipment operator, planners, map makers, and administrative staff. Over 100 volunteer docents work to teach the public about the preserves.

The MROSD preserve closest and most familiar to Coastsiders is the Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve just south of Half Moon Bay on Higgins-Purisima Road. With more than 2,600 acres of redwood forest, creeks and open hillsides, this preserve offers 21 miles of trails for hikers, bikers and horse riders. The preserve is adjacent to the County's Huddart Park on the east and private land trust property on the southwest. A specially-surfaced wheelchair-accessible path at the Skyline Blvd. entrance winds among the Redwoods. The District created the preserve with the aid of a $2 million gift from Save the Redwood League and a grant from the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST).
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2. Why do we need MROSD on the Coastside? Aren't our Park Departments and the private land trusts doing enough? Doesn't the zoning in rural areas protect open space?

The State and County Park systems are under-financed and over-extended and cannot take on any extra land acquisition or management. Private land trusts, such as POST, are not equipped to manage the lands they acquire. MROSD has a long history of partnering with private land trusts and the park departments to manage lands for the public benefit.

San Mateo County currently has some very protective zoning regulations in the rural areas, but even the best regulations are subject to change under political pressure. The "open space" that many Coastsiders enjoy now may not be "public space," but private lands. And as growth continues throughout San Mateo County, increased pressure will be brought upon the rural lands for development.

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3. How much is it going to cost? Will Measure F increase my taxes?

Measure F is an advisory vote that asks coastal residents if they want MROSD to extend its boundaries to the coast. It carries no tax obligation for coastal residents. Any district tax paid by current residents of MROSD will not and cannot (by law) be extended to coastal residents as part of the expansion process. MROSD cannot tax the Coastside without a separate two-thirds majority vote.

In a recent telephone survey commissioned by the District, support for a funding measure of up to $12-15/yr. was indicated in the coastal areas. Consequently, FOCOS believes that Coastside property-owners would not pay more than $1.25/month in additional taxes, and then only after a two-thirds majority vote.

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4. How soon would the coast join MROSD after the election?

Because MROSD is a "special district," it must gain the approval of both the San Mateo County and Santa Clara County LAFCOs (Local Agency Formation Commission) before expanding its boundaries. This process includes preparation of environmental documents and public hearings and may take from 7 to 13 months after the election.

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5. What voice will the Coastside have in MROSD?

The MROSD Board of Directors has passed a resolution to convene a Coastside Advisory Committee immediately after the approval of Measure F. This committee would work with the District to review policy and operations in light of the coast's special circumstances (more rural land, active agricultural use, etc.) and recommend appropriate coastal-specific changes for the Board's consideration.

After annexation, the coast would join the existing ward configuration of MROSD. By law, MROSD is divided into seven wards of equal population. Each ward elects its own board member. Because of its small population, the San Mateo coast could not form its own ward.

Two possible options for the San Mateo coast are : (1) The San Mateo coast could join Ward 6, which borders the coastal expansion area along the ridgeline and also includes Menlo Park, Woodside, Portola Valley and Atherton, and (2) Several wards could be reconfigured to extend to the coast, giving the Coastside several representatives on the Board. Both options offer opportunities for coastal residents to be elected to the Board.

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6. Will Measure F stop development on the coast?

Protecting coastal open space promotes "smart growth." Measure F will help channel development into the areas best suited for further growth -- the urban areas of the county with the infrastructure to support it. Permanently protected rural open space and agricultural lands establish boundaries for urban growth, restrict sprawl, and preserve the unique character of our coastal communities.

Open space protection is an important part of any community's development plan. It is as essential as good schools, water and sewer connections, and just as important to the "quality of life." This concept is a key component of all our coastal planning documents: The California Coastal Act, the San Mateo County General Plan, the Half Moon Bay General Plan and our Local Coastal Programs. The open space acquisition and management capabilities of MROSD can help fulfill the goals of coastal open space protection.

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7. What lands would MROSD acquire?

Candidate properties for open space acquisition are evaluated initially in terms of :

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  • scenic backdrop to developed areas
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  • trail connections to existing open space
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  • habitat for wildlife, particularly threatened species and fragile ecosystems
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  • adjacency to neighboring open space
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  • preservation of agricultural lands
    Priority is also given to lands with general appeal and high public support, lands under threat of development, and lands offering immediate opportunity (willing seller and funding). Once District expansion has been approved, MROSD can begin to study coastal properties meeting the above acquisition criteria

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    8. Does the County lose money when open space aquisition takes properties off the tax rolls?

    Rural lands supply a certain amount of property tax revenue to the County when they are utilized and developed within their existing zoning. These properties are not candidates for open space acquisition unless the owner specifically wishes to sell them for such.

    Expansion of the tax base is not always beneficial in the long term. Expanded development almost always results in increased public service requirements. In many situtations the cost of providing these services to residential development is much higher than the resulting revenues.

    Development on rural land can have a negative fiscal impact. Increased residential housing outside the established urban areas can increase the County government deficit by up to $1,100/yr. per residence. This is a much higher cost to the County than the loss of the original property tax.

    Protected open space also increases property values in the surrounding area, so the overall effect on County revenues is negligible. Open space preservation is fiscally sound planning for the future.

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    9. How would MROSD protect coastal agriculture?

    The preservation of coastal farms and farmland is important to MROSD. It can work with the local agricultural community to craft policies and programs that will protect and assist endangered family farms and farmlands.

    MROSD can offer a variety of mechanisms to help farmers keep their land in active agricultural use: Conservation easements are a way to give property owners cash and tax benefits in exchange for development rights to the property. Purchased agricultural land can be leased back to allow farmers to keep their land in production. Even the sale or donation of non-agricultural parcels can reduce taxes and overhead for farm and ranch operators.

    Sound land management and conservation practices are essential to keeping agricultural land viable and our farming communities productive and safe. For land that it manages, MROSD works with owners and tenants to establish and maintain programs for conservation and protection of soil, water, and native habitats.

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    10. What is eminent domain and why does MROSD have this power?

    Eminent domain and just compensation: Eminent domain is the power to acquire a piece of private property and commit it to public use for the benefit of the greater community, while providing "just compensation" to the property owner. "Just compensation" is fair market value or the highest price a property would bring on the open market, given a knowledgeable buyer and seller.

    Who has eminent domain powers: All special districts in California have been granted the power of eminent domain by the State Legislature so that they can act in the public interest. Sewer, water, school, and parks and recreation districts have the power of eminent domain, as does a variety of other state agencies such as the California State Department of Transportation (CALTRANS) and the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART).

    When and why eminent domain is used: MROSD's charge is to acquire, preserve, and manage open space lands on behalf of the public. When a critical property is threatened with development or degradation of the natural resources, and when all reasonable attempts at voluntary negotiations fail, the District must have a tool which permits it to protect the land in the interest of the greater good of the community. Eminent domain is that tool.

    MROSD's use of eminent domain: MROSD has very rarely used its power of eminent domain. It does so only under extreme circumstances, when reasonable attempts at negotiation fail, AND only when there is strong documented public interest in the property from within the District. Over the past 26 years, the District has begun the process of eminent domain only 15 times out of some 400 land transactions. This equates to less than 4% of the land transactions. MROSD has never used eminent domain to evict homeowners from their property. District policies (Ordinance 86-01) expressly prohibit the District from using the power of eminent domain on an unsubdividable parcel containing a home, or even a vacant homesite.

    Although all special districts are empowered with eminent domain, they can elect not to use it (e.g. the Marin Open Space District) or strictly limit its use (e.g. MROSD). The Coastal Advisory Committee--to be convened after the approval of Measure F--will examine MROSD's eminent domain policies and make recommendations as to how these policies should be structured to best reflect the needs of the coast.

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    11. What about public access? Will I be able to walk my dog and ride my bike or horse on MROSD lands?

    Yes. The District offers nearly 250 miles of trails, ranging from easy walks to challenging excursions. Bicyclists and equestrians are permitted on most trails. Dogs on leash are allowed in approximately one third of MROSD's existing open space preserves. The MROSD brochure "Escape to Your Open Space" describes all of the District's facilities and preserves, and illustrates the variety of approaches the District has utilized. The brochure may be obtained from FOCOS or directly from MROSD.

    MROSD's general approach to public access is "low-impact recreational use." Areas with fragile habitats, endangered species, or considerations of public safety, or those that have active agricultural operations may be off-limits or have restricted access for the public.

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    12. How does MROSD fit in with other governments and government agencies?

    MROSD, like any landowner in the county, is subject to the regulations and zoning of the County and the State. MROSD cannot write zoning regulations or a new General Plan or Local Coastal Program. Only the local governing body (County or City) can revise or write these regulations. MROSD can contest existing zoning, regulations, and decisions through the proper channels, but they do not have explicit authority to override County, City or State decisions.
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