Land trusts join forces to protect open space...Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News
Land trusts join forces to protect open space: Cemex's Davenport land, Pajaro Valley farmland eyed
Hoping to preserve farmland, redwoods forests and coastal bluffs from development before real estate prices rebound, five land trusts today will announce a new $15 million effort to join forces with a goal of protecting 10,000 acres in Santa Cruz County and other San Francisco Bay Area communities over the next three years.
The effort is funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in Palo Alto. It will focus on open space conservation between the Mount Hamilton Range and South San Francisco, an area that includes most or all of Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Mateo and Alameda counties.
The foundation, established by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, will require that its funds are matched on a 3-to-1 basis to extend the reach of the donation.
"We have a really rare calm before the storm," said Steve McCormick, president of the Moore Foundation. "With the significant falloff in the real estate market and falloff in prices there's an opportunity to act with some real strategic commitment rather than in a reactive way. Let's secure these places forever, because things will rebound, and prices will go up. We have a rare opportunity."
Under the project, known as the Living Landscape Initiative, five land trusts are collaborating to build detailed computer maps that highlight wildlife corridors for deer, elk, mountain lions and other species while focusing on areas most at risk for development, from the Pajaro Valley to San Mateo Coast to the East Bay Hills.
The groups plan to purchase land from willing sellers to be added to parks, but also intend to purchase development rights, particularly on farmland, leaving those properties in private ownership.
Last, best chance
The David and Lucile Packard Foundation provided $500,000 to help organize the five land trusts, and fund extensive mapping and research to set priorities in four areas: the coast, the redwoods, the Pajaro River corridor and places that create wildlife corridors between existing parks.
The five land trusts involved are Save the Redwoods League, the Nature Conservancy, the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, the Peninsula Open Space Trust and the Sempervirens Fund.
"It's habitat, it's recreation, it's local food sources, it's protecting our food supply," said Dan Martin, board president of Sempervirens Fund, which buys redwood land in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
"It's a lot of things. The time is now. We aren't competing hand over fist with developers who are offering crazy prices. This may be our last, best chance to do conservation on a significant scale in this area."
Audrey Rust, president of the Peninsula Open Space Trust, pointed out two properties that could be preserved by the effort: the Sargent Ranch, a 6,000-acre expanse near Gilroy that has been in bankruptcy, and 8,000-plus acres owned by Cemex in Davenport where the recently close cement plant operated for decades.
Of particular importance, Rust said, is creating connections between existing parks and open space preserves, not just for wildlife, but to link trails.
"We want these lands to function as a system," she said. "Not as individual parks, but as a system."
Attract new donors
The groups have set a larger goal of preserving 80,000 acres in the same Bay Area location over the next 20 years. That could cost anywhere from $300 million to $600 million. McCormick said one goal is to set audacious targets to help bring new private donors, particularly younger technology executives, to land conservation.
After a robust period from 1988 to 2008, where state voters passed more than $10 billion in bonds for parks, open space and water projects, environmentalists have seen hard times. The California State Parks Department is expected within weeks to release a list closing dozens of parks because of California's historic budget deficit. In November, voters rejected Proposition 21, which would have added an $18 surcharge to driver's license fees to fund parks. Meanwhile local parks and open space districts have seen their funding suffer as property tax revenues, which many of them depend upon, have decreased in the real estate downturn.
McCormick said it's likely the land trust will have to hold onto land longer, waiting for the economy to improve, before they sell or donate it to open space and parks agencies. At least one government open space agency in Silicon Valley said it welcomes the new private initiative.
"Acquisition dollars are harder to get in this economy. To see big foundations and the land trusts taking the leadership is the best possible thing," said Steve Abbors, general manager of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, which was created by voters in 1972 and has preserved 59,000 acres from Los Gatos to San Carlos.