Calif. Sees Huge Drive to 'Save' Coast - Land Trust to buy
Published: March 24, 2004
PESCADERO, Calif. (AP) -- Mark and Dawn Kemp never thought such coastal quietude was possible on the Pacific shore, just 20 miles from the hustle of Silicon Valley.
``I can't believe that we aren't seeing hotels and commercial growth scooping all this up,'' said Mark Kemp, making just his second trip to the seaside.
The two tourists from Denver, marveling at miles of uncluttered oceanfront, didn't know about a small, powerful network of nonprofit land trusts, government agencies and foundations that have bought thousands of acres of California's coastline since 2000 to stop growth.
In a phenomenon some have dubbed ``Big Green,'' groups including the Arlington, Va.-based Nature Conservancy, the San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land and American Land Conservancy and numerous land trusts have translated 1970s idealism into hard-nosed business to compete with developers.
Collectively, nonprofit trusts raised $27 million in efforts to pass three ballot initiatives in 2000 and 2002 that authorized $11.1 billion in state bonds to buy land for open space preservation, restore wetlands and wildlife habitat and create new urban parks.
As experts predict there will be nearly 50 million Californians within a generation, the state is now in the midst of an unparalleled drive to steer its 1,100-mile coast clear of more development.
California preserved nearly 53,000 acres of coastal-area land last year, reports the California Coastal Conservancy, a state agency that seeded such projects with $168 million and leveraged $133 million more.
Among the buys were some of the state's biggest and most politically charged deals: $140 million for 193 acres of Ballona Wetlands near Los Angeles International Airport; $135 million for the 2,800-acre Ahmanson Ranch on the Los Angeles-Ventura County line; and $100 million for 16,500 acres of Cargill Salt Pond wetlands on San Francisco Bay.
This year land trusts have targeted the 128-square-mile oceanfront Hearst Ranch surrounding Hearst Castle in San Luis Obispo County. There, the San Francisco-based American Land Conservancy has promised the Hearst Corp. $80 million in state bond money for preserving its open space for future generations.
``I want to make sure my daughter has the same opportunity to enjoy the outdoors that I have,'' said Sam Schuchat, director of the state's Oakland-based Coastal Conservancy.
But behind the lofty intentions are complex negotiations, land speculation, use of state bonds to bail out troubled projects of campaign contributors and charges of overpaying for land with public money. All helped hasten the downfall last year of recalled Gov. Gray Davis, who had received campaign funds from owners of the Ahmanson, Ballona and Cargill properties. The buying spree has also irritated coastal farmers who feel they're being pushed off their land.
Indeed, for land trusts, it turns out that buying pieces of some of earth's most expensive and desirable real estate to prevent development typically requires the same fleets of Capitol lobbyists, political savvy and big league money that developers employ.
``The way you do it is buy it,'' said Audrey Rust, the $220,000-a-year chief of Peninsula Open Space Trust, which keeps a Menlo Park office amid California's biggest venture capital firms, and aims to preserve two thirds of San Mateo County's 55-mile coastline. ``That's the way you do it in the United States.''
California's new binge of coastal land buying comes as the nation's 1970s environmental movement has matured into a rich, formidable force to rival developers who have seen their power ebb amid bruising development fights and polls showing widespread support for open space.
In 2000, the Peninsula Trust paid a San Francisco businesswoman $3 million for three acres near the 1872 Pigeon Point lighthouse south of Half Moon Bay. Then it tore down her nearly finished motel, restoring both the oceanfront views and those of 7,000 acres of largely empty Peninsula Trust land.
But the Peninsula Trust's success has stirred resentment from county farmers, said San Mateo County Farm Bureau Director Jack Olsen.
``What we see happening is POST gets grant money and acquires property and then within a short time the property has migrated out of agriculture,'' Olsen said.
There will likely be another round in the quest for land. Land trust officials, buoyed by the ``renaissance'' of state money for land buys, are tentatively discussing a new bond measure, possibly in 2006 or 2008, to acquire still more.
``We haven't anywhere come close to buying all the land we need,'' said Reed Holderman, vice president and regional director of the Trust for Public Land.
On the Net:
Peninsula Open Space Trust: http://www.openspacetrust.org
Trust for Public Land: http://www.tpl.org
American Land Conservancy: http://www.alcnet.org
California Coastal Conservancy: http://www.coastalconservancy.ca.gov
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