State's Coastal Conservancy runs low on cash after local deals

  • 03/27/2011: D2:
    PC: LandPaths executive director Craig Anderson points out Willow Creek State Park and their destination, Duncans Mills, while hiking up Red Hill with Jenner and the mouth of the Russian river as a backdrop.

A little-known state agency that has poured $68 million into Sonoma County conservation projects is running low on cash and planning to scale back its mission of protecting and enhancing vast forests and coastal lands.

Down to its last $150 million, the State Coastal Conservancy has spent most of a nearly $1 billion pot of bond funds approved by California voters and is preparing to get by with no new bond measures for the next 10 years.

The conservancy, which has helped purchase about 40,000 acres in Sonoma County, is no longer likely to help swing big deals like the $24.5 million Preservation Ranch purchase it supported with a $10 million grant earlier this month.

Doug Bosco, a Santa Rosa attorney who heads the conservancy's seven-member board, was partly kidding when he told Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo at the April 18 meeting: "We don't expect to see you back too soon."

But in reality, the conservancy -- a partner in more than 150 Sonoma County conservation projects since 1988 -- has no choice but to pull back the pursestrings.

At its current rate of spending, the agency would exhaust its remaining funds in five years, according to an October budget memo to board members.

"Sonoma County just got a big bite of everything we have left," Bosco said in an interview.

Future grants will be no more than $1 million to $2 million at most, he said, noting that only half of the remaining $150 million can be spent at the board's discretion.

Bosco, who was appointed to the conservancy board in 2003, is an investor in Sonoma Media Investments which owns The Press Democrat.

Sonoma County ranks seventh in funding totals among the 20 coastal and San Francisco Bay counties in the conservancy's jurisdiction.

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