The ballot this Election Day is long. Beyond the race for President, Senate, Congress, there’s 17 state propositions, state and local offices, and local measures, like Measure E that hope not to get lost in mix. It’s a renewal of a tax to support public parks in the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District. And while parks are generally popular in this region, this tax is facing opposition.
The Frog Pond Wetlands Preserve sits along busy Canyon Del Rey Boulevard in Del Rey Oaks. It’s easy to pass the park without ever knowing it is there.
But just a few steps down some stairs and into the brush, and lush forest and the sounds of traffic fade into the sounds of nature.
Kelly Sorenson is President of the Board of the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District. He says, “it’s a little gem of an urban park.”
The Frog Pond is just one of the District’s parks.
“Twenty seven parks, 13 thousand acres, ranging from Marina to Big Sur, accessible and no charge at the gate," says Sorenson
All the maintenance on that land and all operations in those parks are -- in part -- supported by a property tax. A roughly $25 annual fee raises more than a million dollars a year for the District.
Sorenson says, “a lot of people love our parks and they want us to maintain them the way we have been.”
To do that indefinitely, Measure E aims to remove the sunset clause from that property tax. So instead of having an expiration date it will become permanent.
Sorenson says, “in terms of having no sunset, that was what the voters suggested when we polled them. So I think there is just so much support for parks and open space and protecting the land and water around them in this area that that this community would rather see it go on until voters decide otherwise.”
That sunset clause is something the Monterey Peninsula Taxpayer’s Association would like to keep. The Association is the only organized opposition to Measure E. Kevin Dayton is on the association’s board.
Dayton says, “one thing about sunset is it sets up some kind of accountability to the public that otherwise isn’t there.”
He says that accountability is important because of past mistakes like seven years ago the district was heavily criticized for paying its General Manager over $300 thousand a year. Dayton says some of the association members find that hard to let go.
Dayton says, “they look at that and say, Can we ever trust our park district again? It was a mistake of judgment for them to do that and it’s probably going to taint their reputation for some time to come. ”
So Dayton sees voting No on Measure E is a way to hold the parks district accountable.
“One of the ways you can you can push a government to do something is to put pressure on their tax measures and point out to people if you are going to be putting your money onto this there needs to be more of an assessment of how it is going to be spent,” says Dayton
Back at the Frog Pond, Kelly Sorenson acknowledges the district has made mistakes in the past. But Sorenson says the district has changed. The board has new members. And there’s now a citizen’s oversight committee that helps make the board more transparent and fiscally responsive to the community.
Sorenson says, “so I say judge us on our most recent track record not from a decade ago.”
That judgment will come next Tuesday. Measure E needs a 2/3 majority to pass.