Come November, Marin voters will be able to decide if they want to contribute their money to open space, parks and farmland protection.
In their Tuesday meeting, the Board of Supervisors approved a resolution to place a quarter-cent sales tax that would raise approximately $10 million on the Nov. 6 ballot. The funds would supplement the park’s budget and go to support and restore existing county parks and open space as well as protect and preserve Marin’s farms and ranches.
“The state cannot take this money away from us,” Supervisor Susan Adams said at the meeting. “This gives us the opportunity to have control over our special [parks, farms and open spaces].”
A back log of deferred maintenance for parks and open spaces has piled up due to budget cuts. State funds that have helped support Marin’s farmland with easement purchases have also been decreasing.
The county currently owns between 16,000 to 20,000 acres of open space according to the staff report and Marin County Parks Director Linda Dahl.
“When you own 20,000 of acres and it’s held in the public trust, you can’t walk away from that,” Dahl said. “We really don’t have enough in our reserves to manage what we have now.”
If approved by a two-thirds majority vote, $2 million would go toward preserving farmland, $1.5 million would go to cities and special districts and $6.5 million would be for preserving and restoring existing parks, according to Dahl.
All but one resident who attended the meeting were in support of the tax measure. Dave Coury of San Rafael thought the tax was premature without the specific projects and land acquisition targets mentioned.
“The voters need to know what the priorities are...We need analysis of who’s paying and who’s benefitting,” he said. “It’s a lot of money and we need to know specifically what it’s going to be used for.”
The program allows for 13 percent of the tax revenues to go toward open space acquisitions or easement purchases and 20 percent toward easement purchases for farmland, according to Dahl.
In addition to conservationists who attended the meeting, several local farmers and ranchers showed up to demonstrate their support.
“There’s come a point in time where 150 years of hard work and sacrifice just don’t generate the income needed to keep our family tradition and family farms alive,” said Sam Dolcini, the owner of a cattle ranch in West Marin.
Most of the tax’s advocates believe that the popularity of the county’s parks and open spaces, which Dahl said saw 6 million visits last year, will boost community support in the November election.
For Supervisor Katie Rice, it is important that the tax be a community-owned decision. “We’ll find out if the community is willing to step up and take ownership of preserving important pieces of land... and step up and recognize that we all do benefit,” she said.