By Patric Hedlund
The people of California brought an early Thanksgiving celebration to the Tejon Ranch Conservancy and the Tejon Ranch Company (TRC) on Thursday, Nov. 18. A total of $15.8 million in grants for five conservation easements was approved by the state’s Wildlife Conservation Board. The bond funds will secure 62,003 acres of land in five segments spanning Kern and Los Angeles Counties that are said to serve as wildlife linkages between the 178,000 acres managed by the Tejon Ranch Conservancy. The agreement allows activities such as “hunting and ranching” to continue in the 62,000 acres, but commercial or residential development is not allowed.
The value of the easements was set by a state-defined appraisal process. The payments are integral to implementing the 2008 “ranch-wide agreement” that was blessed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in a series of political and public relations moves on behalf of Tejon Ranch Company, including a helicopter visit and press conference on May 5, 2008 just before TRC and five “big green” groups signed the controversial agreement that pledged the groups to silence regarding the developers’ plans for Tejon Industrial Complex, Tejon Mountain Village (3,450 homes and multiple resort hotels and golf courses in condor habitat), Centennial (a proposed 23,000 homes and several industrial parks in L.A. County near Highway 138) and development of another 12,400 acres at the northern base of the Grapevine, for which no public plans have yet been submitted (according to Lorelei Oviatt, director of Kern County Planning and Community Development).
Tejon Ranch Conservancy Executive Director Tom Maloney said, “we are committed to hold total silence, to be ‘agnostic’ about the developments, and to talk about the value of the Conservation and Land Use Agreement for the whole 270,000 acres of this iconic area….The agreement did not convey any permits for development, it said that the resource groups [Audubon California, the Endangered Habitats League, Natural Resources Defense Council, Planning and Conservation League and Sierra Club] would not participate in any adversarial way in the permitting process that is in place through CEQA and NEPA [The California Environmental Quality Act and the National Environmental Protection Act] or in litigation.”
Maloney said that the easements are “perpetual” and that there are safeguards in the agreement with the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) to prevent the purchased easements from ever reverting to the developer. Though the full documents are being finalized this week, “If something happened and the conservancy ceased to exist, it is specified that the easements would go 1/3 to Audubon, 1/3 to maybe the Wildlands Conservancy and 1/3 to the WCB….” he recalled, saying he didn’t have the document with him.
The conservancy is healthy, Maloney said. It has already received “major gifts to support our [research] science,” and it receives $800,000 annually in interest-free advances until 2014—which extends to mid- 2022 at the time the easements are purchased, according to the agreement—against future transfer fees of .25 of 1 percent on residential sales transactions that result from Tejon Ranch Company’s development.
The conservancy, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, is now a member of the California Council of Land Trusts and a member of the Land Trust Alliance.
Maloney said the schedule for repayment of the advances in the ranch-wide agreement “does not jump right to repayment, it is first our $800,000, then repayment (on the interest- free advance), then into a fund for conservation activities and discretionary expenses, such as a fund for purchase of ranch inholdings.”
Unanswered questions remain about water supplies for TRC’s projected development and the ability of the Interstate-5 corridor to support the levels of traffic that would result if the company is successful in securing permits to build according to its plans.
Maloney says that he believes it would have been impossible to afford to buy the full Tejon Ranch Company holdings to create a national park: “You cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If you recognize that this was private land and you weren’t going to get it all, this is a 90:10 ratio of conservation lands to development.
“They have also clustered all the development (except mining at White Wolf and pistachio agricultural ranching at the old headquarters), along the I-5 and 138 corridors. That is an amazing decision by a corporate developer…that is good for conservation.”
This is part of the November 26, 2010 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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