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Sonoma County supervisors vote 3-2 to protect 500-acre coastal ranch

The Sonoma County Open Space District is preserving the Bordessa Ranch in Valley Ford. It is 500 acres on Highway 1 between Valley Ford and the town of Bodega. (Jeff Kan Lee / PD)

By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A divided Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday endorsed a deal that would protect 500 acres of coastal grassland west of Valley Ford.

The property spans rolling hillsides from Highway 1 to the Estero Americano, the placid tidal waterway that divides Sonoma and Marin counties.

All five supervisors agreed on the reasons for its protection, viewing the parcel as another link in a chain of county-protected dairy-belt properties and as vital habitat to wildlife, including burrowing owls and badgers. The property has 1.3 miles of shoreline on the Estero Americano.

But concerns about two issues — public access to the property and the financial strain of adding more duties to the county’s strapped parks budget — led to a prolonged discussion and a rare split vote on land conservation.

In the end, Supervisors Shirlee Zane, Valerie Brown and Efren Carrillo voted for the agreement, which would direct $850,000 in county open space funds and $650,000 in state Coastal Conservancy money toward the purchase of a conservation easement over the property.

“Keeping that coastline preserved should be our number one objective,” Brown said.

Supervisors David Rabbitt and Mike McGuire voted against the deal. They sought more financial details about the agreement and its impact on county resources.

“I do have concerns that we’re taking on additional land, when we have trouble with what we have right now,” said McGuire. “This county needs to be hyper-focused on that bottom line.”

The two-hour hearing — unusual for popular open space deals — was fueled by the debate about the risks and benefits of providing public access to private ranchland. Up to five miles of trail and two small parking lots could be built under the deal, which would also restrict the owners, the Bordessa and Lanker families, to developing a total of three acres.

The Sonoma County Farm Bureau and some area ranchers strongly objected to the trail component, saying it could lead to problems with trespass on neighboring properties and harm the Estero Americano by providing unmanaged access.

The waterway has been at the center of a years-long tug-of-war between those in favor of some public access and those voicing concerns about impacts on private property and the fragile wetland ecosystem.

“The bottom line is I just don’t agree with layering an agricultural easement with public access, especially in an area like this,” said Joe Pozzi, the Farm Bureau president.

Carrillo and Rabbitt echoed those concerns throughout the hearing.

Park and trail advocates, however, argued that public access is appropriate on some private ranches, one of several types of land protected by the county’s taxpayer-supported Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. The trail component under consideration Tuesday was tied to the $650,000 in state funds supporting the purchase of development rights on the ranch.

“You do have to do these projects once in a while where you can tell people they’re going to have access to the property,” said Bill Kortum, a Petaluma environmentalist and former county supervisor.

“That taxpayer would like a little more return other than the visual element with conservation easements they get now,” he said.

Brown and Zane supported that assessment, endorsing the deal’s trail plans.

County residents “want to have these lands tangible to them,” Zane said. “They want to have some recreational access.”

Carrillo, whose west county district includes the Bordessa Ranch, waivered between the two sides. County insiders said he was lobbied heavily on the issue by agricultural interests, some of his biggest supporters. But he also faces a re-election fight in which his environmental record has been questioned.

Ultimately, he joined Brown and Zane, repeating his concerns but voting for the project.

“We have to be prudent,” he said. “I do believe we have a unique opportunity here.”

Any trail plans could be years away and could steer users away from the Estero Americano, depending on feedback from an environmental review, county officials suggested.

A $50,000 state Coastal Conservancy grant would help with that planning work, to be overseen by county Regional Parks.

Some financial details requested Tuesday are set to come back to the board March 27, when it is scheduled to finalize its vote.





27 Responses to “Sonoma County supervisors vote 3-2 to protect 500-acre coastal ranch”

  1. Carmen says:

    Open Space & Forever Wild are not what they appear to be…think “land grab” & there are many reasons to be concerned about this…the general public need to open there eyes to this…there is a much bigger picture to this supposed “preserving” of our land.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  2. Cotati Station Neighbor says:

    The OSD exists by the vote of the people (approved twice in the last 20 years!) and it’s funding, 1/4 percent sales tax, was approved by the people as well. The rules of acquiring land or easments, even if still “owned” by the donor, is in the charter establishing the District. The money collected and invested can’t be used for other than approved uses. Operational maintenance related to the day to day affairs of County government is not one of them….

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 5

  3. Jim Bennett says:

    I think the ‘Good Old Boys’ club used to run the show more.
    Now ICLEI runs our show;
    planning/land use, utilities, policy-
    EVERYTHING IMPORTANT.

    It’s an ICLEI DISTRICT.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 5

  4. Money Grubber says:

    Wilson said, “For the good old boy network that runs this county, the OSD is a slush fund for wealthy landowners.”"

    Right you are, Wilson.

    The network is alive and well. Very well hidden but operating behind the scenes.

    This is why we need DISTRICT elections … to dilute their power.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4

  5. Money Grubber says:

    Independent asked “when did this web site become a congregation area for right wing-conservatives” and “It only makes you sound stupid..”

    Notice that his post is caustic and designed to offend rather than discuss? Child like.

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

  6. “People don’t understand that land that is saved is being preserved for future generations even if we can’t use it now”

    I know Progressives often have a tough time grasping new ideas, so let me rephrase the above in a form that is near and dear to you.

    “We’ll just have to buy the land to see what’s on it.”

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  7. Canthisbe says:

    “People don’t understand that land that is saved is being preserved for future generations even if we can’t use it now”.

    And what is it that future generations will be able to do with the land that is being preserved? Hike on it, picnic on it, bike on it, camp on it or just read about it in the paper? If they are limited to the same extent as the current generation that paid for the preservation, i.e., just read about it in the paper, then save all that money and just claim all that forever wild land is out there somewhere even though it’s not and use that money to provide better education, job opportunities and infrastructure for those future generations.

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 4

  8. steve humphrey says:

    @INDEPENDENCE

    You may wish to actually read some history books, then make your comments.

    Roosevelt was one of the largest public landgrabbers, ever.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  9. Tin Foil Hat says:

    Let’s face it, this is all part of “THE PLAN”. They want us all to move out of our cars/homes in the country into concentrated housing near mass transit. They also want land that’s off-limits to humans. Think I’m just being paraniod? Check out the One Bay Area plan online. It’s there for everyone to see. LETS REPEAL SB375!

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 2

  10. Mockingbird: Wherever man goes, chaos reigns?

    I assume you haven’t visited the Louvre, Carnegie Hall, The Library of Congress, an Apple store, or an airport recently.

    Maybe you’re spending too much time in the company of your SEIU pals, which would tend to validate your rather misanthropic worldview.

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  11. Commonsense says:

    @Independant,
    I’m curious why you think that one who may oppose the methodolgoy of how the OSD operates is automatically a “right wing conservative”. I was unaware they were mutually exclusive in some way.
    In fact, frankly many of the posts are focused not a political party, but on the specific issues that were discussed in the article, except maybe the Teddy comment. So while you may link one comment directly to a political party, most are subject oriented.
    As a independent voter and Marin Co. resident, I think questions like these should be asked, especially in these times.
    Local governments are feeling pressure to do all for all, when that isn’t feasible or sustainable (no matter the party in charge and here the overwhelming majority is blue, not red, so I don’t think you have much to worry about), so we do need to start the process of deciding what the priority of govenment should be and focus on those. If in fact, there is already a large percentage of open space in Sonoma County that is difficult to maintain currently, why add to that burden?

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 3

  12. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Independent-you get a thumbs up from me. People don’t understand that land that is saved is being preserved for future generations even if we can’t use it now. The more preserved open space we have the better for the fauna and flora to be preserved as well. I would rather it remain untouched since whereever man goes chaos reigns.

    Welcome to the few of us progressives on this site. Please stay. Bear threatened to quit but I guess, like me, he can’t resist trying to put some reasonable posts on this site.

    What are there, 3 of us who haven’t given up? Fortunately for us, most of Sonoma County residents are progressives too.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 19

  13. Money Grubber says:

    Bear asked, “Or do you just favor mini-mansions dotting the landscape?”

    Bear fails to understand the concept of PRIVATE PROPERTY.

    If someone has worked hard and earned the property or inherited the property and chooses to enjoy it by living there in a “mini-mansion,” thats his business “Bear.”

    But, we all know that “Bear” worked as a public employee and as such figures that not only is your money HIS money through the public pension process but that your property is also his if he chooses to prevent you from building your “mini mansion.”

    People who work in government develop very warped thinking.

    Thumb up 20 Thumb down 5

  14. Independent says:

    “Steve Humphrey”, please don’t bring Teddy Roosevelt into this. It only makes you sound stupid when you are compared with someone of actual worth like Teddy. As for the rest of you, when did this web site become a congregation area for right wing-conservatives? Should be renamed the Press Republican. “Bear”, thanks for having common sense. Its quite refreshing.

    Let the “thumbs down” begin!

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 19

  15. Canthisbe says:

    “Any trail plans could be years away and could steer users away from the Estero Americano, depending on feedback from an environmental review, county officials suggested.

    A $50,000 state Coastal Conservancy grant would help with that planning work, to be overseen by county Regional Parks.”

    We spend public money to preserve land in an undeveloped condition. Then we spend more public money on environmental reviews and planning work to make sure the public is not allowed to ever go there to see it. So why bother?

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 3

  16. Not from the heart says:

    And the only reason it sadly passed 3-2 was due to this:

    Carrillo, whose west county district includes the Bordessa Ranch, waivered between the two sides. County insiders said he was lobbied heavily on the issue by agricultural interests, some of his biggest supporters. But he also faces a re-election fight in which his environmental record has been questioned.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  17. Wilson says:

    The Sonoma County Open Space District is funded by 1/4% of our sales tax dollars. It was first created about 20 years ago and was re-approved a few years ago. Unfortunately we’re stuck with it for a while more. It was created with the purpose of protecting sensitive and important land in danger of development. It has done very little of that. For the good old boy network that runs this county, the OSD is a slush fund for wealthy landowners.

    The OSD shells out insane amounts of money for conservation easements (the owner can still live there but has limitations on building on their property) on land in absolutely no danger of development. Most of this land is in the west county where there is no drinking water available for property development. Trail easement are a rarity on properties with a conservation easement.

    In other cases, they have shelled out even more insane amounts of money for worthless land and shoved them off onto the county to spend even more money turning them into parks. See Tolay Creek south of Petaluma an old quarry site along the Russian River for examples.

    But when the acquisitions are most beneficial to the people, like the Paula Lane site in Petaluma, they make the neighboring cities or somebody else pay half. Actually, in most cases with pure benefit to the people, the OSD ignores them completely.

    Marin County’s Open Space District ONLY exists to purchase land for parks with full public access, unlike the shafting we get. Marin has the most amount of public park land per person in the Bay Area. Sonoma County is next to last, only in front of San Francisco. If you really want to be shocked and P.O.’d, look up how much money and on what the OSD has wasted over the last 20 years.

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 4

  18. Steveguy says:

    I have worked for and know a few others that have received the ‘ Open Space’ funds. My son even lived across the freeway from the Wells Fargo Center.

    He was in a vineyard that is now ‘protected forever’. Bunch of money for nothing, as it is a very profitable vineyard.

    The others that I know were mostly millionaires getting millions, when the restrictions or in-feasibility wouldn’t allow them to build a new ‘ Rohnert Park’ anyway. Or even just a few houses on hundreds of acres.

    They laugh all the way to the bank, and politicians get a thrill out of rubbing elbows with the wealthy.( and they ALWAYS try to pump them for ‘campaign contributions’ as a ‘return favor’. Plain and simple. Very disgusting.

    They claim of ‘saving’ is just a cover for disgusting political behavior, that WE pay for. Hey PD, maybe you can get candid remarks like I have from the beneficiaries of the public’s largess. Try anyway.

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 4

  19. Bear:

    I understand those funds are locked up, and that the aforementioned lockbox was created by popular vote.

    I am also bright enough to know that a dysfunctional law can be repealed, if the facts for its repeal are presented clearly enough. which is exactly what I am proposing.

    Thumb up 24 Thumb down 8

  20. Jim Bennett says:

    Since when is local government in the real estate holding/acquisition business?

    Protection?

    They won’t let those people build a home on their property anyway.

    What if it’s persuant to control/restriction of open space as the Wildlands Project dictates AND possibly collateralizing our Country for debt to China?

    The whole thing seems askew to me, ESPECIALLY given the current financial ‘landscape’.

    More ‘crashing’.

    Thumb up 29 Thumb down 6

  21. bear says:

    Open space acquisitions are the result of a sales tax approved by the voters.

    Democracy, anyone?

    The funds can’t be used for other purposes. If you didn’t know this, you’re not too bright.

    Who thinks Sonoma County is not unique? If you don’t save the land now, at the bottom of the real estate market, when will it be saved?

    Or do you just favor mini-mansions dotting the landscape? Or another Rohnert Park or Windsor? Development does NOT pay in taxes what it costs to provide services that profit landowners,

    But maybe you already know that?

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 27

  22. steve humphrey says:

    Teddy Roosevelt would be proud of the Supes who voted for this quagmire. Not since his time has our governing bodies been so enthralled with “protecting” private land with the public coffers.

    Someone tell me how the “public” defends these types of properties pristine value more than the private landowner? Short answer is they don’t, and we will all spends thousands upon thousands of dollars to correct the publics trashing of this environment.

    Kirstin you are spot on with questioning the Supervisors priority in this this matter. Totally irresponsible on their part.

    Thumb up 26 Thumb down 8

  23. Follower says:

    Once again I’m torn on this one.

    Kristen makes some very good points and I agree completely with the sentiment.
    I’m a “smaller Government” conservative 100% but I’m also VERY familiar with this tract of land and it IS very unique, amazing coastal land.

    It’s worth protecting but NOT “at any cost” and in these times CERTAINLY NOT worthy of “#1 priority” status.

    That’s just ridiculous political hyperbole!

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 7

  24. GAJ says:

    Was this property ever in ANY danger of being a WalMart???

    What the heck are they doing using County resources to protect land that needs no protection and to which the public will likely have zero access?

    Someone explain this to me as I’m at a loss.

    Thumb up 31 Thumb down 9

  25. What an obscenity. Roads are deteriorating. Fire districts are facing large shortfalls. California is already 92% open space, and is not exactly threatened with turning into Levittown in the near future.

    But my tax money and yours is being squandered on feelgood projects like this. $16 million of sales tax revenue goes to Open Space, along with the $35 million they already have, and this 1/4 cent sales tax will continue to be collected through 2031.

    Hats off to Supervisors McGuire and Rabbit for having second thoughts about this lunacy. If either of them or anyone else would like to start an initiative to meet their current obligations, but freeze further Open Space acquisitions, and redirect all leftover revenue to road maintenance and/or fire protection, they can count on my support.

    Thumb up 26 Thumb down 12

  26. Skippy says:

    “You do have to do these projects once in a while where you can tell people they’re going to have access to the property,” said Bill Kortum

    That exposes the entire “open Space” scam for what it is: a land grab for the elites to view while we foot the bill.
    The overall plan is for the taxpayers to buy the lands and then keep the rightful owners(us)from using them.

    County residents “want to have these lands tangible to them,” Zane said.

    Ms. Zane is right, but they never will be.

    Any trail plans could be years away.

    Make that centuries…or never.

    The Sonoma County Farm Bureau and some area ranchers strongly objected to the trail component, saying it could lead to problems with trespass on neighboring properties and harm the Estero Americano by providing unmanaged access.

    And that is why. Imagine the catastrophe if people were allowed to hike along the coast.

    It makes one wonder what the hoopla about State Parks being closed to public access for lack of funding.

    Here we are spending million$ to guarantee no public access. That’s some expensive irony!

    Big Govt at its finest.

    Thumb up 28 Thumb down 9

  27. Kirstin says:

    Supervisors McGuire and Rabbitt are on the right track. The rest have their priorities wrong. What is Sup. Brown thinking to say that preserving the coastline should be the county’s #1 priority? Right now, the county should be addressing its failure to provide basic services such as decent roads. That should be its top priority.

    In addition, the county already has a great deal of land that it is “preserving” and as noted by Sup. McGuire, there is already difficulty in maintaining those. On no account should the BOS be adding to those properties now.

    We voters should also question why the county has so many hundreds of thousands of dollars “available” for preservation projects. Where is this money coming from? And shouldn’t it be funneled into other projects at this critical time?

    Thumb up 37 Thumb down 13

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