Victories on Measures T and N: Why it Matters and What it Means

Measure T: A Victory Funding Environmental Protection

Peninsula Open Space Trust

With over 81% voting yes, the massive public approval of Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority’s Measure T demonstrated how environmental advocacy can achieve positive change and a win on behalf of the environment.

We actively played an instrumental role in Measure T’s passage. As Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority (OSA) General Manager Andrea Mackenzie states: “Now more than ever, the public understands that protecting nature in and near our urban communities is vital for public health and building resilience to climate change. The Authority is grateful to Green Foothills for its tireless efforts to educate and mobilize the electorate for Measure T, which passed with a resounding 81% of the vote.”

Indeed, we coordinated with a broad coalition of groups and individuals in fighting for passage of Measure T, organized and participated in phone-banking, wrote letters and articles on Measure T, and alerted our supporters about the need to support the measure. The results speak for themselves. The 81% support by voters for a tax measure was a record for Santa Clara County and a major increase over the 68% supporting the prior measure in 2014. 

Without Measure T, two-thirds of OSA’s annual $8 million funding would have expired in 2028 under the status quo. Measure T makes the current funding permanent, so its passage means more money to buy land, restore the environment, and open areas for public access within its jurisdiction that includes unincorporated Santa Clara County and the cities of San Jose, Campbell, Santa Clara, Milpitas and Morgan Hill. 

Measure Q, the OSA’s prior funding measure that passed in 2014, provided $2.8 million to protect land and recreation within urban areas, $5 million in environmental education events throughout the county, and over $10 million for new acquisitions. In the last year alone, large acquisitions in Coyote Valley by OSA (and by Peninsula Open Space Trust, a nonprofit partner organization) have been part of the fundamental triumphs we have had there. OSA’s Five Year Report details how the voters’ money has been spent from 2015 through 2019, and gives an indication then of how much more can be done with future funding guaranteed by Measure T.

Measure N: A Shield Holds in San Benito County 

The strong No on Measure N vote provides an example of successfully protecting the status quo against a destructive change in the environment. In this case, it was an initiative placed on the ballot by powerful developers in San Benito County that would have enabled the 2700 acre “Strada Verde” sprawl project on the border with Santa Clara County, nearly as close to Gilroy as it is to Hollister.

While Green Foothills does not normally work on San Benito County issues, this proposal was a direct threat to the Pajaro River landscape and one of the two wildlife linkages connecting the Diablo Range to the Santa Cruz Mountains (the other one being Coyote Valley). It also could have harmed Juristac, the sacred landscape of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, which is currently threatened by a sand and gravel mining proposal.

Given that we have opposed prior development proposals in the same location, it was fitting that we join forces with a strong group of local activists in Hollister and San Juan Bautista to oppose this initiative. We provided our technical expertise to them on the measure’s 140 pages of legalese, helped identify loopholes that significantly weakened environmental protections claimed in the initiative, and developed a Spanish translation of their materials, all while they led the local response.

Despite the developers’ claim that Strada Verde was a high-tech jobs proposal for autonomous vehicle testing and development, the truth is that it primarily created massive warehouses and associated traffic. The passage of Measure N would have threatened open space, wildlife, and human life. And, it would have turned a vote into a loophole, evading the public control and oversight that happens in the normal planning process including environmental review that typically discourages bad proposals. In short, it would have set a negative precedent of circumventing proper planning processes to push through a sprawl project. Requiring a vote of the people prior to a massive sprawl project after it has undergone the full planning process is good – it’s one more safeguard against the system breaking down. Measure N was the opposite.

Developers Must Heed Voters: Stop abusing the initiative process

With a 60% rejection rate, San Benito voters shielded the environment from this attack by developers. It is especially heartening that the people rejected the measure without having previously encountered this type of attempt to undermine the democratic process and use the vote of the people as a way to escape a full environmental analysis. 

We have seen it before, just two years ago in San Jose, when the same law firm supporting Measure N tried to do the same thing. Developers proposed Measure B in San Jose in 2018, imposing sprawl development on ranchland east of the city and changing rules for development elsewhere.

Just like in Measure N, the Measure B developers exempted themselves from the environmental analysis that any regular project would have, vaguely promising reviews would happen later. By rejecting this trick twice, once in San Jose and again in San Benito County, voters have sent a signal that developers should stop abusing the initiative process, and we are glad to have been part of that success in both cases.

Balancing the Sword and Shield Strategies

In many ways it is better to be on offense, trying to improve the status quo rather than simply defend it from efforts to harm it. A hallmark of our successful use of this strategy has been our work in San Jose, especially Coyote Valley. We have moved from the defensive position of fending off bad sprawl proposals to an offensive position of proposing new policies, which were recently heavily supported by San Jose’s General Plan Task Force to put Coyote Valley off limits to development. This change from a defensive shield to an offensive sword can occur in San Benito County as well, and we welcome the San Benito resident leadership in making that happen.

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