Parks improvements hang in the balance

SAN MATEO — Peninsula park lovers appeared to wilt Tuesday evening, as early returns showed a tax that would raise $16 million a year for improvements struggling to win the needed support.

Even with no registered opposition, the one-eighth-cent sales tax, known as Measure A, appeared poised to fall short of the required two-thirds-majority vote need to pass.

“It’s still early, and I’m hopeful,” county Parks and Recreation Director Dave Holland said. This is the first time a countywide parks tax, which has been batted around for years, has made it to voters.

The measure would raise the county’s sales tax by one-eighth cent to 8.375 percent, amounting to about $18 a year per taxpayer, according to Holland. Over its 25-year life, the tax would bring in an estimated $400 million to be spent exclusively onparks and recreation, including new land purchases and maintenance, officials said. Cities and the county would be prevented from reducing their current parks budgets and substituting Measure A funds instead, San Mateo County Parks and Recreation Foundation Executive Director Julia Bott said.

Holland said the early results were discouraging. “[This tax] would have helped us make the improvements that haven’t been made in a couple of decades,” Holland said. The money would go to pay for long-delayed improvements such as upgrading portable toilets, repairing water pipes and restoring creeks and native vegetation, Holland said. The funds could also be used to leverage private and public grants, possibly doubling the total amount, Holland said.

Forty-two percent of the funds generated by the park tax would go to the county, 6 percent to special parks districts — including the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, a major supporter — while the remainder, 52 percent, would be paid to cities. Each city would receive a base payment, estimated at about $200,000, with most cities receiving additional funds based on population, officials said.

An assessment of trails, facilities, campsites, roads and disabled-access improvements last year revealed that more than $90 million worth of improvements are needed in city, county and special district parks up and down the Peninsula, Holland said. There are more than 15,600 acres of parkland in San Mateo County.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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