Measure T: Why Connecting to Nature is Good for Public Health
By Cassandra Drumond
Measure T, which will be on the ballot come November 3rd, will renew the annual parcel tax, which was approved by voters in 2014 in Measure Q. Measure T is backed by the Open Space Authority in Santa Clara Valley. Their mission is to protect land as much as possible. The Open Space Authority is an independent public agency that has protected over 26,000 acres of open space land in Santa Clara Valley and operates 3 preserves open to the public, for free, 365 days a year.
Assembly member Ash Kalra, a longtime champion of environmental causes, believes in preserving land for our own personal health. When asked about the importance of protecting land in California, such as Coyote Valley, Karla explains: “We opposed development at Coyote Valley by protecting it via legislation. We worked with the City of San Jose and the Open Space Authority last year to create the Coyote Valley Conservation program. It is now recognized as a natural resource that needs to be protected.” He explains these groups were against development at Coyote Valley, since it is a critical land bridge for wildlife from Santa Cruz. However, Kalra explains legislation is not enough to protect these lands, as new leaders may enter and undo the protection these lands are currently under. Resources are needed to purchase the land by the Open Space Authority, which is obtained through Measure T. Kalra further elaborates: “We need Open Space authority to continue their work and they can only continue if they have the resources to do so. These are some of the things that would not happen without Measure T: thousands of acres of land would not be protected since it is uncertain if the next buyer will protect these green areas that are essential to communities, as we have seen during COVID-19; these are places where people went to out to walk, to get out the house and provided many health benefits to those individuals.”
San Jose City council member, Sergio Jimenez, a supporter of Measure Q and now Measure T, explains how parks and outside green space affected his growing up: “I grew up in a small apartment that did not have a lot of open space. My Family and I did not know about so many outdoor opportunities such as going to Yosemite or to nice parks and outdoor activities, as a lot of minority communities do not. Most Mexican or Mexican-Americans don’t consider themselves environmentalists, but they do care about the land. Making our communities aware of this measure can help bridge that gap between caring and taking action by voting.” Jimenez ends by the funds from Measure Q were used to give access people to these outdoor areas. An example to close to home is the Children’s Discovery Museum; where an area is dedicated for the youth to understand nature and the environment more.
Open Space Authority Board director, Shay Franco-Clausen, is San Jose native. When asked about the additional tasks the Open Space Authority takes on, Clausen explains:
“We protect farmlands that have sustained a local and healthy food source and we also provide environmental education throughout our jurisdiction, which covers Milpitas, San Jose, Santa Clara, Campbell, and Morgan Hill; additionally, we manage preserves, which are a common place people can go walk and be in nature, which is therapeutic during these times.”
Sadiya Muqueeth, Director of Community Health at Trust for Public Land explained why public land is important, from the perspective of health. Muqueeth explains: “The context we live in matters. When it comes to nature, it affects our mental health. Research shows spending as little as 2 hours a week can improve self-reported health and wellbeing. Nature is an essential part of improving health outcomes. People who live close to green spaces are more likely to be physically active. As we know, exercise helps older people with cognitive decline. Parks became more important during and will be after the pandemic. Additionally, perceived social capital is attributed to parks nearby. Parks can change the look and feel of a neighborhood. Green space and parks are also improving air quality and are a way to reduce urban heat island effect since parks are usually 17 degrees cooler and this effect is typically extended half a mile around. We know this is related to climate change, which is a determinant of health, that has ramifications on real life.” Measure T ensures there is enough funding to continue to protect land in California and to maintain current outdoor green spaces.