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State Coastal Conservancy OKs $10 million for Preservation Ranch buy

  • The Wheatfield Fork of the Gualala River reflects a portion of the newly acquired open space of Preservation Ranch in 2013. (PD FILE, 2013)

OAKLAND — Clearing the way for a landmark Sonoma County conservation deal, the state Coastal Conservancy board Thursday approved a $10 million contribution toward the purchase of Preservation Ranch, a 19,652-acre property that sprawls across the county’s northwest corner.

The state agency’s board voted 6-0 after hearing its staff and county officials, including Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo, describe the advantages of preserving the property that had been eyed for a controversial forest-to-vineyards project covering nearly 1,800 acres.

Securing the conservancy’s $10million contribution was “the most significant financial hurdle” to completing a $24.5 million purchase of the property, Carrillo said after the meeting. “The sun is bright on the horizon for finalizing the deal by the end of May.”

The next major step is confirming a $4 million contribution from the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District at its May 7 meeting.

Carrillo and Bill Keene, the Open Space District general manager, said they foresee no obstacles to completing purchase of the land from CalPERS, the giant state workers pension fund.

The negotiated purchase includes $10.5 million in private funds. The purchase would “put to rest the most contentious land use debate in Sonoma County,” a Coastal Conservancy staff report said. It also would be the largest conservation purchase by acreage in Sonoma County history and the largest along the North Coast in years.

Once home to the Kashia Pomo, the rugged, hilly ranch was heavily logged in the 1950s and ’60s. It includes 20 miles of streams inhabited by steelhead trout, while mountain lions, bobcats and deer roam the land.

CalPERS, the $257.5 billion state workers pension fund, has controlled Preservation Ranch for nearly a decade. For most of that time, the ownership was through a Napa-based vineyard development firm that bought the property in 2004 for $28.5 million. Since late 2011, the pension fund has had direct control of the land and the Preservation Ranch project.

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