Measure K makes an offer to Napa County voters – pay an extra quarter-cent sales tax and see more parks, hiking trails and open space protection.
Voters will decide during the March 3 election. They’ll consider a tax to be overseen by the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District, which has an elected board of directors.
Supporters hope the necessary two-thirds of voters will pass a tax to provide an estimated $9 million annually for local parks and open space. The tax would last until June 30, 2035, when it would end unless voters pass another tax.
“The measure is focused on protecting our natural areas, scenic vistas, the watersheds and also reducing the fuel loads for fires,” Measure K spokesperson Doug Parker said. “Most of the money goes to protecting land permanently.”
Of course, some residents don’t hike, bike and ride horses on local trails. Parker said they too should consider a “yes” vote.
“Some of it we can all appreciate, I think, just going up and down the valley,” Parker said. “The scenic value everybody can appreciate on a daily basis.”
The Napa County Taxpayers Association urges a “no” vote.
“It’s a boondoggle,” said Jack Gray of the group. “They (the Open Space District) have been doing a good job, don’t get me wrong. They have been massively increasing the protected open space on a limited budget.”
But the Open Space District doesn’t need a 900-percent budget boost to buy unspecified properties, Gray said. He expressed concerns about oversight, increased bureaucracy and how a sales tax affects the poor.
Napa County voters will decide at the ballot box.
The Open Space District
County voters in 2006 approved forming the Open Space District with its own elected board of directors. The district has no tax funding source of its own.
The county Board of Supervisors gives the district a share of the county’s lodging tax money, in recent years providing more than $900,000 annually. That is the backbone of the district’s budget, with grants providing additional money. The district runs local state parks with income from the parks.
Over its 13 years of existence, the district has preserved more than 5,000 acres of open space and worked on 53 miles of trails.
As a sampling, the Open Space District manages Moore Creek Park near Lake Hennessey and Bothe-Napa Valley and Bale Grist Mill state parks near St. Helena, owns The Cove on Mount Veeder and manages the Oat Hill Mine Trail near Calistoga. It plans to open Suscol Headwaters Preserve near Napa.
“I think the operative question here is, we are hitting the limits of what we can accomplish with our current structure, our current funding,” Open Space District General Manager John Woodbury said last year.
But the Open Space District has bigger plans. It passed an updated master plan last year that, among other things, shows what it wants to do – if it can pass Measure K.
The Master Plan
A quarter-cent sales tax would generate enough money over 15 years to protect 20,000 acres, according to Measure K. That’s an amount of land just short of every Napa County city combined.
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The tax would provide money to manage invasive weeds and fuel and maintain open space. It would provide an estimated $1.8 million annually for parks and recreation in cities. No more than 3 percent—about $270,000 annually—could go to administration.
What open space lands are purchased depends on when willing sellers emerge, given the district has no power of eminent domain, the master plan said. It mentions such areas as the watersheds for reservoirs serving Calistoga, Yountville, St. Helena and Napa as priorities.
“Critical open space lands only rarely come to market; when they do, the district needs to do everything it can to acquire them,” the master plan states.
The measure mentions using money to buy 850-acre Skyline Wilderness Park near the city of Napa. The county since 1980 has leased the land from the state for $100 annually, with the lease expiring in 2030.
Napa County for more than a decade has sought to buy the park. State Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, last year successfully sponsored a bill allowing the state to negotiate with the county for a possible sale.
Gray said Napa County should buy Skyline Park if it so desires, not the Open Space District using Measure K acquisition funds. But he doesn’t see a need to buy it.
“There’s ample time to negotiate with the state to extend the lease,” Gray said.
Parker said the lease extension approach would make sense if the county knew for certain the property had long-term protection. He doesn’t see that guarantee as being there.
The sales tax
Napa County’s sales tax is 7.75 percent, except for in St. Helena, where it is 8.25 percent due to a half-cent city tax. Measure K would raise the tax to 8 percent for most of the county and 8.5 percent in St. Helena.
If Measure K passes, tax on a $5 item in areas excluding St. Helena would rise from 39 cents to 40 cents. Tax on a $20,000 item, such as a car, would rise from $1,555 to $1,600.
Sales tax in California varies from county to county. In some cases, it varies from city to city within counties. It all depends on how many local taxes voters have passed.
For example, the tax is 7.375 percent to 8.375 percent in Solano County, depending on the city; 8.5 percent in San Francisco; 8.25 percent to 9.25 percent in Sonoma County and 8.25 percent to 9.75 percent in Contra Costa County, according to the state Department of Finance.
Gray said a sales tax increase is regressive and hurts lower-income residents. Parker said that such necessities as food, rent, mortgages, electricity and prescription medicines are exempt from the sales tax.
For clarification, the Open Space District is not to be confused with the Land Trust of Napa County. The Land Trust is a nonprofit group with Parker as CEO. It has protected more than 73,000 acres of open space, much of it through conservation easements that strip development rights while keeping land in private ownership.
Gray said that, with the Land Trust, local zoning laws and other factors, Napa County has a lot of protected lands. The county doesn’t need Measure K to make the Open Space District an independent bureaucracy, he said.
Parker said the Land Trust alone has 25 projects that it is working on. If Measure K passed, the Land Trust and other organizations could ask the Open Space District for matching funds to land federal and state grants.
“There are more projects than there is funding today,” Parker said. “This would be a tremendous help.”
Measure K supporters plan to run a campaign with such things as signs. The Measure K endorsement list includes Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, Dodd, Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, every county supervisor, every mayor in the county and Napa Valley Vintners.
Gray said the Measure K opponents will fight a “guerrilla” campaign, using such methods as letters to the editor in the Napa Valley Register to get their message out.
The Open Space District in 2016 proposed a similar open space tax, Measure Z. It fell just short of the two-thirds necessary to win.
You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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