• Deirdre McCrohan

Measure M: Parcel tax would preserve 110 acres on ridge


Measure M on the Nov. 8 ballot would enact a $335 per year parcel tax toward the purchase of the 110-acre Martha Co. property on the southern Tiburon Ridge. (Jason Wells 2018)

Voters in Belvedere and in Tiburon south of Trestle Glen Boulevard will be asked to approve a $335 annual parcel tax toward $23 million in bonds, which will help buy a privately owned 110-acre Tiburon Ridge property that local open-space activists have sought to preserve for nearly 50 years.


Measure M, which requires two-thirds’ approval on the Nov. 8 ballot, seeks to complete a deal made in June when landowner the Martha Co., which has entitlements to build 43 homes there, agreed to sell the property for $42.1 million to the Trust for Public Land. The San Francisco nonprofit will in turn sell it to Marin County for $26.1 million.


The parcel, owned by a consortium of heirs of the John L. Reed family since the early 20th century, shares a 2,000-foot-long boundary with the 122-acre Old St. Hilary Open Space Preserve above downtown Tiburon. Lying at the tip of the Tiburon Peninsula in unincorporated Marin, the property has panoramic views that take in the San Rafael-Richmond Bridge, East Bay, Angel Island, San Francisco skyline, Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito and Mount Tamalpais.


It’s also home to special-status species unique to the Tiburon Peninsula, including Marin dwarf flax, serpentine reed grass, Tiburon paintbrush, the Tiburon jewelflower and the California red-legged frog.


For decades it has been a point of local controversy, with the Reed family repeatedly going to court since 1975 to win and exercise their right to build a luxury subdivision at the site, with countersuits seeking to stop development every step along the way. As recently as this year, Tiburon Open Space, the grassroots group seeking to preserve the land, and the town of Tiburon lost their lawsuit and appeal challenging the certification of the environmental impact report on the proposed development, with the appellate court chastising them for using complaints to delay and frustrate the owners.


The trails on the private property also frequently draw hikers, who ignore no-trespassing signs, cut gate locks and chains and are shooed off by the owners, with a group of residents ultimately suing on a claim that historical use had established a public right of access. That suit failed in court in 2020.


The Martha Co. listed the land for sale for $110 million in 2018, with its real-estate agents saying at the time they were seeking a buyer who’d consider building a single home and preserving the rest. Despite price reductions to $63 million, there were no takers.


The proposed 30-year parcel tax, which would increase 2 percent annually, is expected to raise about $1.07 million in the first year and ultimately generate $18 million toward the purchase of the property. The surplus would be used for vegetation management and to pay off the remaining balance of two 1990s bond measures used to finance the purchase of Old St. Hilary’s preserve, which would remove those two $98-a-year parcel taxes from property owners’ tax bills.


With the $18 million share from the new tax, the county would use $2.1 million in funds from the two Old St. Hilary’s bonds and $6 million in revenue from Measure A, the county’s quarter-cent sales tax to support parks and open-space maintenance, to get to the $26.1 million purchase price from the trust. With that money, the trust will need to raise another $16 million on its own by Aug. 30, 2024, to buy the land from the Martha Co.


If the measure is approved, the space will be managed by Marin County Parks, which already manages the Old St. Hilary, Ring Mountain, Tiburon Uplands and Aramburu Island preserves, as well as Paradise Beach Park, on the greater Tiburon Peninsula.


If it fails — or if the Trust for Public Land doesn’t raise the money it needs by 2024 — the county would have to seek an extension and another vote, or the Martha Co. could proceed to develop the property.


The trust has begun its own campaign, starting with developing and paying for the Yes on M website, at yesonm4openspace.org.


Only one ballot argument in favor of Measure M was submitted; it was signed by Jerry Riessen, president of Tiburon Open Space, which previously saved the Old St. Hilary preserve as the Last Chance Committee; along with Tiburon Town Councilmember Alice Fredericks; former Belvedere Mayor Thomas Cromwell; Tiburon Fire Protection District board member Emmett O’Donnell; and former Reed Union School District board member Dana Linker Steele.


“Nature and parks should be a part of every community,” the ballot argument reads. “As the Bay Area grows, we need to protect and restore creeks, trees and wildlife habitats in urban areas — providing places for children and families to gather, play and experience nature together.”


The signers said Measure M would prevent increased traffic congestion and would be “part of the solution to remove the carbon pollution that causes climate change, improve air quality and provide wildlife habitat while reducing wildfire risk.”


No ballot arguments were filed opposing Measure M.


In an interview, Riessen said he hopes Belvedere voters won’t be deterred from supporting Measure M as they face their own competing tax initiative, Measure D, a simple-majority plan to create a 0.8-percent real-estate transfer tax that city officials pledge to use toward its $20 million roadways phase of a larger utilities-hardening seawall-and-infrastructure project.


Belvedere voters were a critical vote in saving the Harroman and Jay properties that became the Old St. Hilary preserve, Riessen said.


“If we can’t save Martha, Old St. Hilary preserve will turn into a parklet surrounded by big houses, and its biological value will be substantially degraded,” he said.


Fredericks agreed.


“Open space is more than a recreational area,” she said. “It keeps us all literally grounded to the earth and the invisible systems that sustain us. There is no greater gift than to preserve it for everyone forever.”


Riessen said the boundaries for the Measure M tax district — the newly formed Tiburon Open Space District — were deliberately set to align with the same boundaries for the existing Old St. Hilary’s parcel taxes.


“We want the parcel tax to be for the people who are more willing to pay for it,” he said.


Riessen urged Tiburon residents who live outside the district’s boundaries to donate to the Trust for Public Land’s acquisition fund.


Riessen and other Measure M proponents argue that if the tax passes, property owners would pay just $139 more per year than they’re paying now. However, the 1993 bond measure would otherwise sunset in 2023 and the 1997 measure in 2027, meaning residents will pay the full price of the new tax for at least the final 25 years — which will also have grown to about $595 per year by the time it’s to sunset.


Former Belvedere Mayor Corinne Wiley said she’d support the measure, although she winced at that increase in her taxes.


“I think it’s a lovely opportunity to save that land for open space,” she said in an interview.


The cost to residents — and potential loss of tax revenue — were also among the concerns of Tiburon resident Bill Tiedje, who said he’s “in favor of preserving open space for the use and pleasure of everyone,” but, “that being said, we must consider who will have access to the open space and how much will it cost.”


“The total cost per parcel is about $14,000,” he said. “We have been paying two parcel taxes of $98 per year, which were due to expire over the next one to five years, even though there is a $2.1 million surplus.”


Plus, he said, “If there were 43 homes built on this property and valued at an average of $10 million each, there would be potential tax revenues of approximately $4.3 million a year.”


That’s an argument also raised by critics at public meetings of the Marin Board of Supervisors.


If it does pass, Tiedje said he wants to know how those who don’t live nearby will have access — if there will be sufficient street parking near trailheads, as Old St. Hilary’s also has limited parking for access through that preserve.


While proponents argue that preservation will settle questions about traffic and parking from 43 potential new homes, residents who live near trailheads frequently voice their concerns about traffic and parking issues created by those who drive into residential neighborhoods to make use of Tiburon’s open spaces.


Reach Tiburon reporter Deirdre McCrohan at 415-944-4634.

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