Details Matter

I was recently asked about my endorsement of Measure AA, the Mid Peninsula Regional Open Space District’s June, 2014 ballot initiative. The measure, if approved, would raise about $300 million to fund high-priority projects, supplement current revenue to expand public access and create, improve and maintain preserves, trails and natural areas. It would also provide funds for future land acquisitions.

The question posed to me was:

Is your position on the open space known as “North Crestview Park” consistent with your position on Measure AA?

Do you support existing open space in San Carlos?

The short answer to both questions is “yes”. But the longer answer is more interesting. If you’d like to learn more, read on.

As an elected official I try to understand as much as I can about issues that come before me. So I used to find myself boring people when they’d ask me to explain my views. Because most public policy situations are heavily connected to other public issues, requiring any thoughtful perspective to balance many competing factors. I’ve learned to try and keep things short, and only provide deeper context if someone really wants it.

A similar situation arises when a political candidate or campaign asks me for an endorsement. In reality none of us ever agrees completely with every perspective, philosophy or value of another person or organization. That’s not what “I endorse this person or goal” means; instead, it’s a statement that, on balance, the person or goal strikes me as worthy of consideration by others.

But that “on balance” element is critical. It’s another way of saying “this endorsement depends on a bunch of factors that I don’t have room to disclose here”.

Currently, our community is considering a land swap where the City would trade an undeveloped park — open space — on Crestview Drive for a developed park owned by the San Carlos School District. The exchange would let the District build a new school on Crestview instead of on an existing school site. That would better balance traffic flow and avoid overcrowding our school campuses. The broader community would get a better option for expanding desperately needed athletic field space. I’m in favor of the swap (you can read more about my reasons here, and learn more at a website that I contribute to and help manage). But the swap would trade undeveloped land — open space — for a developed park. So how can I support the swap while also endorsing Measure AA?

Because not all open space is created equal. Consider:

  • The Crestview property is small, and unconnected to any other open space (although it does border undeveloped land owned by the San Francisco Water Company). It’s kind of an island. MPROSD’s lands are gigantic in comparison, and heavily interconnected. Scale/size counts when considering how “open space” a property is.
  • The Crestview property’s “open spaceness” — the views and experience it provides the public — is pretty limited compared to what you’ll find on MPROSD land. If you don’t live next door you’d probably barely notice it’s there (I know I didn’t pay attention to it, and I used to drive Crestview quite frequently). The MPROSD’s properties provide sweeping, panoramic views and large-scale opportunities to experience the beauty of undeveloped land.
  • The Crestview property is a neighborhood asset. It doesn’t serve the general public in the same way the MPROSD’s property does. Public decisions shouldn’t be decided solely on the “greatest good for the greatest number” principle. But it’s a very important factor.

There are other differences I see, but those are enough to make my point. The Crestview property isn’t the same kind of “open” as the land managed by the MPROSD. Supporting MPROSD’s efforts doesn’t conflict with supporting the trade of an undeveloped lot/park for developed park land when the swap will provide large and broad-based benefits to our community.

Because the details matter, particularly in public policy decisions.

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