Nearly 700 acres of Sonoma County coast protected under deal with landowners, Kashia Pomo
Sonoma County supervisors have signed off on the final piece of a complex deal that will transfer nearly 700 acres of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians' ancestral lands near Stewarts Point back to the tribe in exchange for permission to build a public bluff-top trail along more than a mile of sweeping coastline.
The $6 million deal, put together by the Trust for Public Lands in partnership with more than a half-dozen private and public agencies, was dependent on the willingness of the sellers — three descendants of the area's Richardson family — to accept a discounted price nearly $1 million below the appraised value, partners in the transaction said.
The agreement is being hailed as a proud, healing occasion — one that restores coastal access to the Kashia people while providing for environmental conservation and public use.
'It's a momentous occasion all around,' Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo said.
As part of the agreement, the tribe will commit to steward and protect the property, which includes more than 350 acres of redwood forest.
Coming approximately 150 years after the Kashia were forced to retreat inland — ultimately settling on a tiny, water- poor reservation of just over 41 acres — the tribe's nearly 1,000 members now will be free to practice their cultural and ceremonial oceanside traditions without having to seek permission, Tribal Chairman Reno Franklin said.
Tribal members have missed their traditional subsistence activities like collecting seaweed, shellfish and other sea life, he said.
The land transfer means his people can reconnect with the coastal origins of their creation story and 're-establish that sense of place' and cultural identity they relished for thousands of years before they were pushed off the land, he said.
'They have aided us in righting a wrong,' Franklin said of those who participated in the sale.
The new Kashia Coastal Preserve abuts Salt Point State Park's northern edge about three miles south of Stewarts Point. It straddles Highway 1, with about 52 acres of coastal prairie on the west side and 636 acres on the inland side long used for cattle grazing and timberland.
Public officials said views from the property reveal a stunning stretch of coastline with 70-foot bluffs and dramatic, craggy rocks below. Two or three seasonal streams that cross the property descend to the ocean, creating spectacular waterfalls, officials said.
Those involved in the sale tout its multiple benefits that include protection of an uninterrupted, 8-mile stretch of coastline that includes Salt Point State Park and Rocky Point, a piece of property on which the Sonoma Land Trust has a conservation easement.
The transaction puts approximately 600 acres of coniferous forest off-limits to most commercial logging, prevents any future development on the site and contributes more than a mile to the planned California Coastal Trail, a 1,200-mile path ultimately intended to connect Mexico to the Oregon border.
Two scenic barns on the coast side of the highway are to be preserved. Harvest of native wildlife and plants also will be limited.
Though funding for the trail is not yet in hand, the hope is to get planning and construction underway quickly in partnership with the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and the Trust for Public Land, officials said. Some work will also be required to connect Salt Point State Park trails to the property.
'The goal is not to let this just sit there, but get something going sooner rather than later,' county park planning manager Steve Ehret said.
The Open Space District has agreed to pay up to $2.9 million for a conservation easement over the entirety of the 688-acre property, which will prohibit future development on the land and requires the tribe to develop a plan for protecting natural resources.
The Kashia will contribute an estimated $650,000 in anticipated proceeds from one or two limited timber cuts necessary over the next few decades to cull smaller trees from the forest so larger ones can grow over the long-term, according to Franklin and to Brendan Moriarty, a project manager with the Trust for Public Lands.
Other funding sources include the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which is donating $1.5 million toward the purchase price, and the California State Coastal Conservancy and the state Department of Natural Resources Environment and Mitigation Program — each contributing $500,000. The New Mexico-based Lannan Foundation, whose mission includes support of indigenous communities, is donating $250,000.
The transaction, expected to become final in mid-November, is part of a burgeoning movement to protect land in partnership with indigenous people and, in some cases, restoring ownership rights to Indian tribes.