$3.7 Billion for Parks, Climate Resiliency, and Public Lands Approved by Voters
Even in the face significant pandemic-fueled uncertainty and challenges, voters across the country showed at the ballot box that they are not red or blue, but green.
According to a Trust for Public Land analysis, on Election Day, voters approved nearly $3.7 billion in new funding for parks, climate resiliency, and public lands. Following on the heels of unprecedented increases in visitation to public lands — from neighborhood parks to national parks — during the COVID-19 crisis, the 2020 election gave voters in 48 jurisdictions throughout the country an opportunity to weigh in on the value of outdoors spaces to their quality of life.
The Trust for Public Land, through its Conservation Finance program and affiliated Trust for Public Land Action Fund, actively helped design and sought voter support for park, climate, and land conservation measures on the 2020 ballot in 25 communities. Altogether, The Trust for Public Land worked with local residents on 52 percent of all of the parks and conservation measures on the ballot this year.
“During the current pandemic we have seen that our parks and public lands are more important than ever for people to safely get outside for their physical and mental health,” said Will Abberger, Director of Conservation Finance at The Trust for Public Land. “The ballot measures approved by voters will provide more equitable access to parks, protect air and water quality, help address climate change, and protect critical wildlife habitat in communities across the country.”
Since 1996, The Trust for Public Land and The Trust for Public Land Action Fund have helped state and local communities across the country generate more than $80 billion in voter-approved public funds for land protection for parks, and acquisition of land to protect wildlife habitat, farmland, drinking water supplies, and natural areas. This year voters of all political persuasion approved 100 percent of the 26 ballot measures supported by The Trust for Public Land and The Trust for Public Land Action Fund.
Parks and public lands continue to be an essential component of coping and recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they are recognized for reducing anxiety, stress, and depression and improving physical health. Over 100 million people in the U.S., including 28 million children, do not have a quality park or green space within a 10-minute walk of home. And not all parks are created equal: a recent analysis by The Trust for Public Land shows parks serving primarily nonwhite populations are half the size of parks that serve majority white populations and serve five times more people per acre. In addition to supporting Election Day ballot measures, The Trust for Public Land is leading a coalition of 100 community and environmental organizations to call on Congress to include a one-time investment of $500 million for close-to-home parks in any future coronavirus stimulus bill.
The following measures were approved by voters and are supported by The Trust for Public Land:
Oakland – voters approved Measure Y, a $735 million school bond placed on the ballot by the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). The Trust for Public Land has long worked with the District on green–or “living”–schoolyards in Oakland. OUSD has identified green schoolyards as one of the projects that could be funded by the 2020 school bond.
San Francisco – Proposition A passed to generate a $487.5 million bond that includes $239 million dedicated to neighborhood parks projects and a variety of programs that support recreation and open spaces throughout the city. The bond, a response to the economic difficulty caused by the pandemic, will also be used to support efforts to combat homelessness and mental health issues as well as upgrading city infrastructure.
Adams County – Issue 1A was renewed, which dedicates a quarter-cent sales tax for parks, trails, and open space in one of the most populous and rapidly developing counties in Colorado. The tax yields around $400 million over 20 years.
Denver City and County – Denverites approved a “climate sales tax” in Measure 2A, a quarter-cent sales tax increase that will generate an estimated $800 million over the next 20 years for a wide variety of climate-related programs – an unprecedented move for a major city in the U.S. The Denver measure also directly addresses equity issues, mandating that the “funding should maximize investments in communities of color, under resourced communities, and communities most vulnerable to climate change and endeavor to invest 50% of the dedicated funds directly in community with a strong lens toward equity and race and social justice.”
Colorado River Water Conservation District – voters in the 15 counties that comprise this special district voted yes on Issue 7A to increase their property taxes to protect water security in Western Colorado and improve water use and healthy streams and rivers. The District’s counties are west of the Continental Divide in which a majority of the Colorado River Basin exists. The measure is projected to generate nearly $100 million over the next 20 years.
Volusia County – two conservation-related measures passed: Volusia County Forever conservation program was renewed as was the County’s Environmental, Cultural, Historic, and Outdoor Recreation (ECHO) program. These two measures will each dedicate a 0.2 mill property tax increase, projected to raise $294 million total and provide $100 million in new bonding authority. Volusia Forever is Florida’s first and oldest county land conservation program originally approved by voters in 1986.
Collier County – voters continued the highly successful Conservation Collier program, a 10-year, 0.25 mill property tax for acquisition and management of environmentally sensitive lands to generate $287 million over the next decade.
Manatee County – voters in Manatee County decided on a 0.15 mill property tax increase and $50 million bond for the acquisition, improvement, and management of land to protect water quality, preserve fish and wildlife habitat, and provide parks. The measure will generate $108 million and for the first time ever provide dedicated county funding for land conservation and parks. This victory moves Manatee County into the win column, after the narrow defeat of a similar measure in 2004.
Community Preservation Act – nine communities in Massachusetts said yes to the Community Preservation Act (CPA) this election: the cities of Framingham, Franklin and Greenfield, as well as the towns of Hopedale, Lancaster, Lee, Milton, Shrewsbury and Whitman. CPA is a state program that allows communities to establish a local fund dedicated to open space, outdoor recreation, historic preservation, and affordable housing. Collectively, these measures will generate almost $33 million over the next 20 years for CPA open space and recreation projects, as well as making these communities eligible for additional state matching funds.
Statewide – Amendment 20-1, a statewide Constitutional Amendment lifts the cap on how much the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund can take in. Created in 1976, the fund uses royalties from the oil, gas, and mining industries to create and protect state parks and other natural resources.
Traverse City and Garfield Township – voters renewed the Traverse City and Garfield Township Recreation Authority Levy, a 20-year property tax placed on the ballot by the Recreational Authority of Traverse City and Garfield Township, which originally passed in 2004 with support from the Trust for Public Land. The fund will assist with the purchase of 80 acres of forest and woodland, expanding public natural areas for passive recreational use.
City of Rochester – City Question #1 was passed by Rochester voters to approve a $2 million per year property tax levy to improve park access for those with disabilities, improve park safety and quality, conserve trees, and protect water quality and natural areas throughout Rochester.
Statewide – Montanans said yes to two statewide measures to legalize and tax recreational marijuana this November. I-190 allocates 50 percent of the tax proceeds to land conservation and CI-118 is a constitutional amendment to ensure that only adults aged 21 years and older can purchase. These initiatives are projected to generate $360 million over twenty years for land conservation in Montana.
New Paltz – when voters said yes to Local Law No. 1, the Town of New Paltz became the first municipality in Ulster County to approve a real estate transfer tax to support a local Community Preservation Fund. The fund will be used to protect the town’s river and streams, drinking water source, working farms, and wildlife habitat. The measure is estimated to generate more than $3.5 million over 20 years. The New York State Association of realtors spent $143,000 to defeat this real estate transfer tax, outspending our vote “Yes” campaign three-to-one.
Ottawa County – through Issue 14, voters in the County, located on Lake Erie, established their park district’s first dedicated funding source through a 10-year, 0.6 mill property tax increase. The fund will be used to create hiking and biking trails, protect the water quality of Lake Erie, and fund other capital improvements, operations, and maintenance. $11 million could be created over the coming decade.
Portland – voters in Portland approved Measure 26-213, the Recreation and Parks Levy, a five-year parks and recreation local property tax levy. The levy will generate $293 million to restore investments in parks, natural areas, and services and will increase access to recreation opportunities for communities of color, refugees and immigrants, and families experiencing poverty.
Hays County – located in the Texas Hill Country, Hays County voters approved Proposition A, a $75 million open space bond on the November ballot. The measure will fund land protection for recreational or open-space use, protect wildlife habitat and water quality of creeks, rivers, and springs; and protect natural resources by minimizing flood risks and improving flood safety. This win renews Hays County conservation funding from a successful 2001 bond referendum also supported by The Trust for Public Land.
About The Trust for Public Land
The Trust for Public Land creates parks and protects land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. Millions of people live within a 10-minute walk of a Trust for Public Land park, garden or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year. To support The Trust for Public Land and share why nature matters to you, visit www.tpl.org.