Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority

By Sarah Titcomb
(Photo Source: SMacAfee)

Santa Clara County, California has a unique approach to maintaining their open spaces that is finally making other jurisdictions take notice. In 1993 the growing county of just over a 1.5 million residents decided to retain the “ecological integrity” of their region through the creation of the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority (OSA). The state legislature created the OSA as “an independent special district” outside of the county government, and run by an elected board of directors. The expressed purpose of the OSU is to preserve “key portions of the natural environment in order to balance continuing urban growth.” Funded through a $24 a year parcel tax as well as a benefit assessment, grants, and other gifts, the OSA works to:

- Purchase land for conservation;
- Negotiate land conservation easements to allow land to remain in private ownership;
- Coordinate with, and financially contribute to, other groups trying to conserve in the region; and
- Manage land already under ownership.

The first property every purchased by the OSA was a 3,207 acre piece of land just east of the established Harvey Bear Ranch-Coyote Lake County Park. With this purchase in 1999, the OSA began to enhance the open space network in Santa Clara by connecting open spaces, thereby creating wider, more diverse habitats for species and recreation. Also in 1999, the OSA distributed funds to urban areas in the county through the Urban Open Space Program. In doing so, the OSA empowered the local municipalities to select local priority projects for conservation. Their priorities now revolve around trying to:

- “Preserve the home territory of wildlife and native plants
- Safeguard water sources
- Create greenbelts and urban buffers
- Maintain the region's defining landscapes and vistas
- Offer outdoor recreation that respects the natural environment
- Encourage agriculture
- Provide regional trail connections."

The actions and goals of the Santa Clara Valley OSA reflect the priorities of the ROSS. Please see the Santa Clara Valley OSA website for more information.

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