Reconsider Open Space Authority

The time has come for the Gilroy City Council to put the issue
of joining the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority before the
voters at the next available opportunity.
The time has come for the Gilroy City Council to put the issue of joining the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority before the voters at the next available opportunity.

Moving Gilroy – the only city in the county that is not a member of the Open Space Authority – in this direction makes sense for practical and quality-of-life reasons. Currently, Gilroy is literally an island on the map ringed by lands that the OSA gathers funds from. Joining would add $32 per year to a homeowner’s tax/assessment bill.

We would accomplish a few things with our investment, such as:

• Gaining a vehicle to comply with the agricultural land mitigation policy adopted in the city’s General Plan.

• Possession of a useful tool through which the city can bargain with LAFCO, the stubborn government agency which has control over annexations to the city for land around Gilroy. If the city can satisfy LAFCO’s land preservation thirst, Gilroy would be able to pursue projects like the sports park with more zeal and confidence that the plan would not be rejected by LAFCO.

• An advocate for land preservation that, as development pressures increase, will become more important for the residents who envision a geographically distinct community that retains a rural environment.

Besides the political, there is the aesthetic. Preserving the rural character of our area is important. It will keep the South Valley communities unique in Santa Clara Valley. Our residents are not interested in having the lines between Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy become indistinguishable as they are in Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Cupertino.

A suggestion for the recently elected chairman of the OSA, Morgan Hill’s Alex Kennett, would be to seek ways to negotiate urban open space as well as participating in purchases of more remote ridgeline and wetland areas. Those kind of deals require more work, but the OSA could become an effective mediator for preservation quests when development proposals come before cities and the county.

There are other possibilities as well, including involving the OSA in Gilroy’s master plan for trails.

Critics will point out that only 20 percent of the assessment is guaranteed to go back to the contributing city. But clearly, an open space advocacy organization is better equipped to do its job when taking a regional approach. And there have been benefits to the Gilroy area already, such as the OSA participating in buying the development rights to the Silacci property in the eastern foothills.

Gilroy voters rejected joining the organization a number of years ago, but the city has changed, and the urban pressures continue to mount.

Joining the OSA would, in some ways, help define what direction the city’s future should take. We believe the attitudes of voters have shifted, and that residents are ready to embrace a group that “speaks” for land preservation – especially at the price tag of $32 annually.

There’s one way to find out. The Council should roll out the proposal for voters and put the question on the ballot. It’s the right time to see if Gilroyans have decided to embrace open space.

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