Honoring Silicon Valley's open space districts

December 20, 2013
Op-Ed

By Reps. Anna G. Eshoo, Zoe Lofgren and Mike Honda

No one who lives on the Peninsula and in the Santa Clara Valley can question the importance of open spaces and gorgeous landscapes to our quality of life, the water we drink, the air we breathe and our very identity. Preserving these treasured areas is synonymous with life itself.

Over the last several decades, our region has enjoyed astonishing economic growth and has welcomed millions of new residents. Acreage that may have once been used for dairy farming is now home to advanced manufacturers, innovative software companies and clean energy startups. This growth has been immensely valuable to our economy and job creation, but it has not come without challenges for maintaining open spaces.

Thankfully, 40 years ago this year a group of visionary citizen activists recognized the potential of our region’s unprecedented growth and development — for better and worse. They understood that action had to be taken if our region’s unspoiled lands were to be preserved for future generations. With voter approval, they established the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District and began the work of preserving open spaces for the benefit of our communities. Twenty years later, the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority embraced a similar mission to protect the valley and has been promoting open space, environmental preservation and public recreation ever since.

Through the explosion of growth in the 1970s and ’80s, a tech revolution that transformed the local economy and our community identity in the ’90s, and the Great Recession of the last decade, Midpen and the authority have worked tirelessly to protect open spaces. Both districts have leveraged modest funding to bring in millions more in private, state and federal dollars, allowing them to purchase open space and preserve it. Together, they now protect more than 78,000 acres in two counties, and they keep working to add more as opportunities arise. Their work has also helped farmers and ranchers carry on a proud local heritage of agriculture.

But Midpen and the authority continually face new challenges that require a recommitment to their cause. Pollution continues to threaten our air, water and land, and the ever-present danger of major wildfires has been exacerbated by years of budget cuts to fire prevention services. Both must confront these challenges and plan for the coming decades. Success requires a clear vision, a specific plan, adequate funding and, most important, the support and involvement of the public. Everyone is impacted.

It’s important to celebrate the remarkable successes of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District and the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority and what their work has contributed to our region’s health, environment and quality of life. But we must also use this occasion as a call to action. We fully support both districts as they continue to protect open spaces and serve our residents for another 40 years. And we urge all residents to visit our region’s wonderful open spaces, breathe in the clean air and take in the awesome beauty they offer.

 Join us in celebrating the foresight of those citizen activists from 40 years ago and the organizations that have carried out their vision which distinguishes our region as one of the most naturally beautiful metropolitan regions in the world, as well as a place that embraces the values of preserving and protecting lands for generations to come.

Anna Eshoo represents District 18 in the U.S. House of Representatives, Mike Honda represents District 17 and Zoe Lofgren represents District 19. Published in the December 17, 2013 edition of the San Mateo Daily Journal.