Wednesday, May 7, 2008

CGF comment: Significant problems with proposal to use County Parks funding to pay for County Habitat Plan

(We submitted the following comment about Santa Clara County Habitat Plan funding. -Brian)

Dear Members of the Board of Supervisors:

To clarify comments the Committee for Green Foothills submitted at yesterday's Board meeting, we oppose the Habitat Plan recommendation announced yesterday to use County parkland purchased through the Parks Charter funding in order to mitigate habitat loss caused by other Santa Clara County government agencies.

The County voters passed Measure C in 1972 as a tax increase they imposed on themselves to provide an environmental benefit: more and better-maintained County Parks. The voters did not provide the County with this tax increase, and reaffirm it multiple times with the broad support of the environmental community, in order to enable road and airport expansion.

Using the Parks funding in this manner would convert it from an environmental benefit to an environmental mitigation, which is more than a semantic change. Environmental benefits are intended by voters to make us better off than would otherwise be the case, while environmental mitigation only makes up for other environmental harm and provides no net benefit. Because the voters expected a benefit, it would be highly inappropriate to change what the voters asked for.

I noted yesterday that County Counsel opined that using County Parkland for mitigation would be legal, and because we have had no opportunity to study the matter, we offer no opinion of our own at this point on its legality. As a matter of policy, however, it is clearly a bad one.

Similarly, County Parks Director indicated that she did not see this as harming County Parks, but that is not the appropriate test - the real issue is whether voters will get the environmental benefit that they voted for, and this proposal transforms a benefit into a mitigation without a net benefit.

The County Executive himself indicated that problems could result from mixing or apparent mixing of Parks funding and Roads funding, and we could not agree more. We request that this proposal be rejected.

Please contact us with any questions.

Brian Schmidt

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