City has wisely spent Measure O monies
By Marc Hoshovsky
Last Sunday’s column about Davis’ open-space tax (“Let’s Take a Look at Davis’ Open-Space Tax”) was useful to remind residents about open-space issues in Davis and our unique, voter-approved funding to conserve local open space.
Your readers may appreciate the following information about the city’s open-space activities, progress and plans, which clarifies some of the points discussed in the column.
The city has an ongoing monthly public forum on open-space issues in the form of its long-standing Open Space and Habitat Commission. This commission meets monthly to discuss issues and recommend council actions related to open-space topics. These meetings are publicly noticed opportunities for citizens to attend and to provide input on a wide variety of open-space topics.
As part of its charge, the commission has engaged citizens in identifying funding priorities for council decisions. Following the November 2000 passage of the open-space protection special tax fund (Measure O), the commission and city staff conducted a yearlong public engagement and planning process to help guide use of this funding.
The resulting 2002 Davis Open Space Acquisition and Management Plan, along with several other council-adopted documents (2001 General Plan update, 2004 acquisition priorities map and 2007 affirmation of the Davis Greenway Plan) guide city expenditures of Measure O funds.
The commission is organizing a citywide public forum on open-space topics, including a discussion on priorities, this fall (if funding can be secured). The purpose of this forum, and associated outreach activities, is two-fold. It will provide interested residents with information about the city’s open-space program (including history and progress). It is also being designed to solicit recommendations for improving the program and future plans for conservation actions.
The city has made excellent use of Measure O funding. It provides a stable funding source and an attractive base for leveraging funds from other sources. The city has spent $4.4 million of Measure O funds — matched with $2.3 million of other city funds and leveraged with an incredible $14.2 million from non-city sources — to protect 2,833 acres of open space.
More information about the city’s efforts and activities is available in a commission-authored report that was presented to the City Council in December 2013. This report will be available on the city’s website when the significant overhaul of that website is completed. (In the meantime, it is available at https://www.dropbox.com/s/ yrgr2m8z13qpvff/ Measure%20O%20Report-2013_Dec %20Final.docx?dl=0)
Granted, no open-space properties with public access have been purchased with Measure O funding. Measure O can be used only if the landowner is willing to sell land (including public access rights) to the city at fair market value. Unfortunately, that opportunity hasn’t come up much since 2000. Land values, particularly close to the city’s edge, are subject to speculation by developers that often exceed fair market value.
Most sellers interested in open-space conservation near Davis sell easements, while retaining fee-title ownership of their land. Although such purchases don’t provide public access, easements are a valuable, widely used tool that protects land from development. They are also cost-effective because they do not require additional long-term management costs that come with full ownership.
Measure O funding is currently being used to cover these management costs (and maintain public access) on open-space lands purchased before 2000.
A clarification is needed regarding the upcoming council decision on the agreement with the Yolo Habitat Conservancy, formerly the Yolo County HCP/NCCP Joint Powers Agency, of which the city is a key partner and member. The agreement does not provide city funds to the conservancy, as in a grant or loan. It authorizes the city to reserve up to $200,000 per year of Measure O funds for land acquisitions, within the Davis planning area, to be spent by the city on lands consistent with both the city’s priorities and the conservancy’s priorities.
The conservancy’s priorities for the Davis planning area incorporate the city’s priority areas. The city may, at any time, decline to invest in acquisition projects proposed by the conservancy.
This reserved amount is roughly one-third of the total annual revenue generated by Measure O. The remaining two-thirds is available for other acquisitions and for the operations and maintenance of city open space.
In short, the city retains control over the money, as it always has, and the conservancy gains credit for those purchases with state and federal wildlife agencies, who have approval authority for the countywide Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural Community Conservation Plan.
The commission and city staff carefully evaluated this proposal. It does not constrain the city’s use of Measure O funds, it is consistent with the city’s open-space goals, it supports the city’s long running efforts to help implement a countywide conservation program for habitat, and it could provide additional match funding opportunities for the city (e.g., state and federal grants for wildlife conservation).
— Marc Hoshovsky of Davis is a member of the city of Davis Open Space and Habitat Commission, but is writing as an individual and not as a representative of the commission.
Premature Death for Measure O: an Open Space Protection tax?
By Jean Jackman, Elizabeth Lasensky, Pam Nieberg, Lynne Nittler, Alan Pryor
Fellow Davis residents,
In November 2000, more than 70 percent of Davis residents voted for Measure O, the open-space protection tax, to tax themselves for 30 years to permanently protect and enhance open space around their community.
The Measure O promise was that these tax funds “would be combined with development fees and grant funding from state and federal agencies, as they become available, to implement the open space protection goals of the City’s General plan.”
On Tuesday night the City Council will make a decision that will alter the future of Measure O. The Council will be deciding whether the promise of Measure O will continue for 15 more years, or whether it will be diverted to a worthy but different purpose.
We are at the midway point of the 30-year tax. Over the first 15 years of the tax, the citizens have not received an accounting for how the open-space tax money has been spent or is going to be spent.
In response to a citizen request, staff provided the Open Space and Habitat Commission with a peek at previous budgets. According to numbers from the last council meeting, staff and consultant costs for the fiscal year 2014-15 budget were $436,000, which was over budget
The total tax revenues are $652,700 per year. Subtract $200,000 for the Yolo County Habitat Joint Powers Authority, and staff and consultant costs this year, and it would leave only $16,700 for actual open-space purchases.
This year, they budgeted $380,000 for staff and consultant expenses. Will they go over budget again? That would be a maximum of $72,700 for new open-space acquisitions.
Astonishingly, no open space has actually been purchased to date under Measure O.
Instead, easements on private land have been the only protections funded to date. That is important for two reasons. First, easements have no annual operations or maintenance costs for the City. All those costs are borne by the landowner. Second, because the ownership of the land remains in private hands, none of those easements provide for citizen access.
How is it that we are spending between $380,000 and $436,000 a year on staff for land with no actual operations/maintenance costs and no citizen access?
Regarding the proposed $200,000 per year JPA funding, the question is whether to spend one third of our open space tax money ($200,000 per year out of $652,700 per year) each year for the remainder of Measure O and many years beyond on the Yolo Habitat Conservancy, which is a collaboration of Yolo County and the cities of Davis, West Sacramento, Winters and Woodland. The mission of this collaboration is the conservation of 12 endangered and threatened species and 15 natural communities in Yolo County.
This JPA is a very worthy endeavor … but with a focus and goal that differs from the focus and goal of the voter-approved Measure O. When it makes its decision on Tuesday, the City Council needs to be sure that in pursuing the valuable goal of conservation of endangered species, that it isn’t at the same time producing the premature death of the protection of open space the citizen’s voted for with Measure O.
To spend over 90% of our tax money on a combination of the JPA and salaries and consultants is not satisfactory to many Davis residents. We need transparency for Measure O funds to see if the voters’ mandate is being realized.
With the recent reports of improved City revenues (increases in both sales taxes and property taxes), it is more appropriate to fund conservation of endangered species from dedicated General Fund revenues rather than from open-space fund revenues. We urge the City Council to honor the Measure O promise to provide open space as intended.
Given all the above, we ask that:
For further information, read the At the Pond Column from June 28, 2015, “Let’s take a look at Davis’ open-space tax. ” http://www.davisenterprise.com/?p=573454
Also available online, at http://www.davisenterprise.com/?p=575445, is a copy of the Measure O campaign brochure sent to all residents by the City of Davis.
Will we get what we bargained for? Will any land be purchased that is accessible to citizens or even visible from Davis?
As our city grows, our nearby open space with vistas and habitat and walking paths will become even dearer to us. Speak up for habitat for citizens on Tuesday at the Council meeting. The item is scheduled for discussion at 8:15 p.m.
— The authors are all Davis residents.