Back in September 2008, as the economy moved closer to the brink, not much was happening on the local real estate front besides foreclosure sales. But one opportunity quietly emerged that launched a frenzy of activity and a lot of optimism in a generally economic time.
The opportunity also gave leaders in SMP a chance to create a wonderful story with a happy ending, through teamwork, old friends working together, their daughters learning to work together and the cooperation and coordination of public agencies and on-profits.
The opportunity arose when a 287-acre parcel near the summit of Sonoma Mountain known as the Stevenson Ranch came up for sale. Kirsten Lindquist, an agent for Sotheby’s in Sonoma, learned of the offering by accident, but immediately recognized the enormity of the chance to obtain and preserve this property for use by the public.
She informed her mother, Mickey Cooke, long time resident and founding member of SMP. Mickey told Kirsten to call Mickey’s childhood friend and fellow SMP leader, Pat Eliot. Pat, busy packing for a hiking trip in Europe, quickly called her own daughter, Wendy Eliot, conservation director for the Sonoma Land Trust. And so it began.
Ted Eliot, Pat’s husband and campaign manager for the recent ballot initiative that renewed funding for the Sonoma County Agricultural and Open Space District (OSD), got on the phone to Andrea Mackenzie, then general manager of the OSD; Ralph Benson, executive director of the Sonoma Land Trust and Valerie Brown, supervisor for District 1. Everyone recognized how special this opportunity was.
Over the next two months, while the economy crashed and most of us struggled to confront the holidays with reduced resources, Wendy and Andrea worked intensely to put together a deal that would satisfy the seller who demand the sale close by the end of the year. It was an unusually tight time frame for a conservation sale, which, as in this case, usually involves financing from more than one source. And financing options were shrinking.
Through long hours, diligent negotiating, a persuasive case for the public good and the trust and bonding that comes from old friendships and shared passions, they made the sale and the deadline.
Kirsten served as the buyer’s agent (a condition imposed by the seller) and then donated $50,000 back to the Land Trust.
Mickey and Pat cheered their daughters on, added historic information to help make the case for funding and delighted in the new alliances being formed in the process.
Wendy and Andrea developed the strategy and negotiated carefully, coming up with $125,000 from the Land Trust for an initial deposit, and then $8.45 million from the Open Space District and $1.5 million from the California Coastal Conservancy. The final piece from the conservancy was the last check issued by the state before its funding freeze took effect; the deal was a cliffhanger to the end.
Now, the mountaintop where Mickey Cooke and Pat Eliot rode their horses as young women in the 1940s has been saved forever as open space by their daughters in the first decade of the 21st century.
The acquisition engaged senior personal in the agencies and non-profits in a way they hadn’t previously experienced, leading to the possibility of future collaborations.