SonomaMtn

Dec 092012
 

My Grandson Hikes the Mountain

sonoma mountain petaluma hiking trail

The scene is October 2020 and young Willie and a friend have started on a fifteen-mile hike from downtown Petaluma with the goal of reaching Glen Ellen by crossing Sonoma Mountain. His imagination has been stirred by his reading of Jack London, on horseback, having ascended from his Beauty Ranch to the top of the mountain, shading his eyes to witness the Pacific Ocean to the west.

Willie’s grandfather had told him about a Petaluma tradition: a hike to legendary Whitney Falls on the Sonoma side, lunch in hand, and returning fourteen hours later to Petaluma the same day. No questions asked by property owners in his grandfather’s youth. Willie envied the freedom to roam in the countryside in those days.

Now he knows of a designated trail over the summit. Up Adobe Creek traversing Lafferty Ranch, through the Mitsui property to the top of the mountain on the publicly owned Sonoma Mountain Ranch, the trail will bring him to the borders of Jack London Park, the state part that recently added Whitney Falls at its border.

Unlike his grandfather’s description of a tired hiker, having ascended a 2100-foot climb in seven hours to gain the spectacular sigh of the Falls, only to face a seven hour return to Petaluma, Willie will descend on a trail through Beauty Ranch to Glen Ellen and pick up a bus ride back to Petaluma.

Everyone likes to climb to the top of a mountain, like a bear, “to see what he could see,” particularly a mountain that is every present in your daily life. Willie’s grandfather claimed that Sonoma Mountain was the last Bay Area peak amongst a circle of peaks around the Bay that now provided public access.

Willie wonders whether the lunch his mother packed will be enough.

Dec 012012
 

Coalition Looks at SDC

sonoma mountain sonoma developmental center SDC

It’s no secret that the Sonoma Developmental Center – one of only four such large residential care facilities left in the state – may close down in the not too distant future. SDC’s website shows 523 clients now live there; the state has been shuttering these facilities when the populations drop below 500. Families of residents want the facility to stay open so their relatives don’t have toe leave the bucolic and relatively safe environs. But the state may be forced to hut SDC down and relocate remaining clients to comply with the 1969 Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act.

Local Sonoma residents have expressed concern, not only for the sake of these clients, but also for the welfare of the lands that SDC encompasses. What will the state decide to do with the property when it no longer serves SDC’s needs?

At a recent gathering at the Sonoma Ecology Center, which rents space on the SDC campus, a dozen individuals and representatives of organizations, including the Ecology Center, Sonoma Land Trust, the county Agriculture and Open Space District, SMP, county parks and state parks, talked about this critical property.

Why is it critical? SDC sits on the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, a vital connection identified and described by the Sonoma Ecology Center. Some of the last available open space for endangered and at-risk species to migrate from Sonoma Mountain east to the Mayacamas crosses Sonoma Valley through and adjacent to the state-owned facility. Recently, the Bay Area Critical Linkages project (sponsored by the Bay Area Open Space Council) identified this habitat corridor as a top priority wildlife link in the Bay Area.

When the state decides it can no longer maintain SDC in its current configuration and at its current cost, the land may be declared surplus property and potentially sold or leased for development. Family members of SDC clients have begun to explore options for an alternative development that would meet the requirements of the Lanterman Act, enable clients to remain on the land, and provide revenue to the state by adding a variety of marketable components.

Creating a scenario in which the clients’ needs are served while providing urgent environmental protections – for a wildlife corridor, watershed preservation, traffic mitigation, and public access – would be the optimal outcome as these and potentially other concerned groups begin to grapple with the future of this keystone property.

Nov 012011
 

Development Guidelines Cover More Land

For over a decade the slopes of Sonoma and Taylor mountains have been covered, not only in homes and fields and woods, but by a set of development guidelines that restrict the visual impact of new residences. IN 2011 the county Board of Supervisors unanimously approved revisions to the design guidelines and extended them to include the southern slopes of the Mayacamas.

The guidelines apply to single family dwellings, appurtenant structures such as garages, guest houses, storage buildings, etc. and to related roadways, grading sites and utilities. They do not apply to agricultural structures or uses nor to structures that do not require a building permit.

They are intended to reduce the visual impact of development. Guidelines include site planning, architectural and landscaping elements. Site planning constraints include, for example, locating structures so they are screened by existing vegetation or topographic features when viewed from a public road. Architectural guidelines address exterior color, glazing (non-reflective) and night lighting, while landscaping guidelines cover plant species, re-vegetation scale and density.

SMP had a major role in getting county approval and implementation of the initial guidelines and, this time with the assistance of land planning consultant Nancy Dakin, again pushed for approval of the revised and expanded requirements.

This coming year SMP will produce and distribute the guidelines in an easy-to-understand pamphlet which will be available through real estate offices as well as the PRMD office.

For more information, in the meantime, contact
PRMD
22550 Ventura Ave., Santa Rosa, 95403,
707-565-1900
www.sonoma-county.org/prmd.

sonoma mountain preservation journal
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Nov 012011
 

Farmers Still Struggle; Some Succeed

Consuming and serving local food has become the latest hallmark of good living. Here on Sonoma Mountain many of us take pride in knowing the names of the farmers we buy from. Growing numbers of consumers belong to CSAs (community supported agriculture organizations) and many more buy from farmers’ markets.

How affordable and sustainable is this locavore trend? Is it profitable for the farmers and ranchers? What is the future of locally produced commercial commodities from the mountain in our own backyard?

Many factors contribute to the viability of local food production in our region, especially on the mountain itself, but one tops the list.

Rose Ranch CSA Baylan

“The high value of land is the most restricting factor for people to get started in small scale, diverse ag,” observed Balyn Rose, founder of Wild Rose Ranch, near Jacobs Ranch on the north west slope of the mountain. “There are other land-based challenges,” he added, “but with commitment and perseverance anyone could successfully farm on the mountain.”

Balyn and his partner Elli Hilmer live with his uncle on nine acres. They tend a one-acre garden, keep 59 chickens and two pigs. They plan to expand to mixed orchard, more garden and intensively managed livestock rotations. Balyn said, “We started this business with our passion for farming and a love of this land which has been in my family for three generations. Our goal is to create an economically viable farming business, providing nourishing food for the local community while respecting the health and beauty of the mountain.”

He added that they have been successful in the past four years but prospects for the future look challenging.

Their operation provides a sharp contrast to the majority of large scale farming operations on the mountain, which tend to be monocultures, usually vineyards, operated on an industrial scale, which can take advantage of the mineral-rich volcanic soils of the mountain and the still relatively high value of wine grapes.

rose ranch csa sonoma mountain preservation

According to another small farmer, Nick Rupiper, who raises rabbits, laying hens and pigs to the west of the mountain, regarding the future of his type of operation: “I would like to think that it will grow, but as vineyards get bigger and dairies dry up, it’s hard to imagine that this style of ag production will flourish in Sonoma. There is a demand in the Bay Area for good, clean food but Sonoma is too wine oriented to become the next Yolo or Capay Valley (where there are many small farms, many organic/ sustainable). In general though, I do think that consumers are becoming more concerned where there food comes from, thus creating a demand for smaller farms. If the diseases and pollution of factory farms keep making headlines more and more people will turn to their local farmer.”

The Williamson Act, which provides property tax relief for owners who farm their land, has been placed on moratorium due to the state funding crisis. (The county distributes the tax relief, but depends on reimbursement from the state to manage the program.) The tax break contributes greatly to larger holdings. Grazing for cattle, sheep and goats takes up at least a few thousand acres of the mountain and helps to meet the demand for locally raised, grass-fed meat.

Dr. Gene Harlan, a veterinarian who leases 200 acres on the mountain for grazing, estimates he sells 20 to 30 percent of his annual beef production for local consumption. He too, expressed cautious optimism for the future. “A big concern is the Williamson Act. I’m growing and improving my stock; I have a long term plan.

My children and I do all the work on the herd. But will my children be able to rent this land and continue this tradition? It’s a big concern.”

As it is for all of us who want to see diversified agriculture remain a part of our life on the mountain.

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Nov 012011
 

Permits? What Permits?

We don’t need no stinking permits . . .

Have you recently heard the roar of a tractor or the clanking of a cement mixer in a nearby wooded area where you know no houses exist? Do you suspect that something is going on there without a permit from the county Planning and Resource Management Department (PRMD)?

Here’s how to check it out. You will need either the address of the property or the APN number.
Then go on line to the Sonoma County PRMD, click on Permit History, write in the address or APN number where indicated to find out if the property owner has applied for and received a permit. Some permits may have been issued in the past and are either closed out (project completed) or are timed out and no longer valid.

If you discover that work is going on without a permit, call PRMD (565-1900), choose #5 from the menu for Code Enforcement and leave your name and contact telephone number. If you prefer not to have the owner whom you suspect of doing work without a permit know that you have looked into the project you can explain your concern on the phone to PRMD.

Should you fail to get assistance from PRMD, call your District 1 Supervisor Valerie Brown for the east side of Sonoma Mountain or District 2 Supervisor David Rabbit for the the west side of the mountain and describe the problem. Both can be reached at 565-2241. PRMD has less funding now than in the past and even then enforcement did not get the attention some of us would like.

In meetings with PRMD management, SMP has brought violations to their attention, and attempted to support the agency in any way appropriate for a volunteer group.

You can help, too, by staying vigilant and observing development that seems inappropriate, for example over scale, or being done without a permit visible on the property. Preserving a mountain takes all of us.

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Nov 012011
 

Careful How You Build That Fence, Podner

sonoma mountain horse fence

Home owners, farmers and wild life cohabitate on our mountain, but not always congenially.
Old barbed wire fences, new deer fences, wooden fences built for privacy: all of these can have negative and often lethal effects on wild animals. Animals need to travel, to find food, water, and mates, and to escape predators, diseases, and fire.

All of these factors shift their location over time, and the animals must shift in response.
Many, if not most, parcels on Sonoma Mountain have fences that block wildlife unnecessarily. You don’t need an eight-foot fence to delineate property boundaries; a privacy fence can be built to let small animals pass under it.

Before you build, study your property and identify the plants, wetlands, meadows, and waterways. Learn which creatures pass through. Search the web for “wildlife friendly fencing.”

Allen Buckman, an upland biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game, provided these suggestions for wildlife-friendly fencing:

  • Try to keep most of your property as a natural habitat. Use deer-proof fences only around gardens, vineyards, or other deer-sensitive areas.
  • Native habitats, and particularly streams, should only be fenced with open fencing that allows animal passage.
  • Graduated or field fencing should only be used around cow-calf operations, dog runs, and other areas where the young cannot escape through the fence. Such enclosures should be located away from streams and not encompass large areas of native habitat.
  • When deer try to jump fences, they frequently pick up the top wire with their hind foot, becoming hamstrung. To alleviate this, place any two fencing wires a minimum of 10 inches apart. Use smooth top and bottom wires. Allow 12 to 18 inches above the ground so fawns and other small mammals can pass.
  • Place gates in corners so animals can be driven out. Deer will run past an open gate in the middle of a wall!
  • Work with your neighbors to provide corridors of 100 feet minimum for wildlife.
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Nov 012011
 

Pioneers Struggled Here, Too

When Jose Altimira traveled through Sonoma Valley in 1823, looking for a place to found a mission, he described Sonoma Mountain as “well-covered with trees fit for building a pueblo.” There were plenty of flat places on the valley floor to grow crops; the idea of farming the mountain probably never crossed his mind. Sixteen years later, General Vallejo established one of the first water-powered sawmills in California on what is now Asbury Creek in Glen Ellen, and the cutting of redwoods and Douglas fir began. It was common on the frontier for settlers to be close on the heels of the loggers, moving onto the freshly-cleared land. While the big trees were being harvested from the mountain, Charity and Coleman Asbury and their two year-old daughter Virginia began making their way west from Missouri by wagon. Arriving in Sonoma, they found the best land on the valley floor already claimed.
Looking at their options, they must have considered whether they could make a go of it on more marginal land. In the fall of 1850 they purchased 640 acres on the side of Sonoma Mountain from General Vallejo for $3500. The property encompassed what became the upper part of the original Developmental Center property, running all the way to the top of the ridge.
Over the next two years, their family grew to three children and members of their extended family had migrated west to join them. Coleman’s brother joined them and “worked in redwood” nearby. Charity’s siblings and parents also lived on the mountain.
Coleman and Charity’s farm had four milk cows, three head of cattle, 20 chickens, and ten oxen. Oxen were the heavy machinery of the day; their brute force used for plowing fields, pulling wagons, and hauling sections of big redwoods to the mill.
They likely used them to plow the five acres they had under cultivation, where they grew corn, wheat, potatoes and onions. Their neighbors were also growing hay and raising hogs.
Elsewhere on the mountain, logging continued until about 1856, when the sawmill was converted to a grist mill. After 1852, the Asburys mysteriously disappear from the record. Were they were visited by disease or some other catastrophe? Did they give up farming the mountain because it was just too hard? All that’s left is their name on the creek that drains their old homestead. By 1867, their property appears to have been abandoned, with no legal owner. Eventually, William McPherson Hill took over the land and sold it to the State of California in 1890.

Jack London Pig Palace

Wresting a living from the side of Sonoma Mountain was tough. Farming probably provided a subsistence living in better years and something less in harder times. Milo Shepard, grand nephew and heir to Jack London’s Ranch described these early settlers as mostly Scotch-Irish, similar in heritage to the people who settled the southern Appalachians.
Among them were the Cowans, whose homestead included Cowan Meadow (now in Jack London State Park) in the 1850s. Some locals still remember Hazen Cowan, who was Jack London’s foreman and still around in the early 1970s. His brother Norman was a rodeo rider. During one competition, Norman broke his leg. Unwilling to accept defeat, he spent the night in an ice house with his leg between two blocks of ice and went on to win the finals. But even the Cowans were ultimately unable to make a go of homesteading. Scrambling to feed themselves during the depression of the 1880s, they hunted out the last deer and finally had to
abandon their place on the mountain.

There were exceptions to this pattern. Descendants of ‘Redwood’ Thompson still live on land he homesteaded in the 1850s, along what is now Sonoma Mountain Road. Just to the south, wine merchants Kohler and Frohling started a commercial
vineyard in the 1850s; that land is still in grapes.

But most early settlers were eventually defeated in their attempts to farm the mountain. As Jack London described it: “most of the ranchers were poor and hopeless; no one could make any money there, they told me. They had worked the land out and their only hope was to move on somewhere else. . .” These “farmers of the old school” had “lost their money, broken their hearts, lost their land.”

London pieced together his beauty ranch from a half-dozen bankrupt farms and set to work, “rebuilding worn-out hillside lands that were worked out and destroyed by our wasteful California pioneer farmers.”

During his brief years on the mountain, London experimented with many crops, growing hay, grapes, and eucalyptus, raising pigs, horses and cattle. Recognizing that the volcanic soil was delicate and prone to erosion, he built terraces to keep it from washing away. He knew that finding the right practices and the right crops
were essential to keeping his ranch going in the long run.

Since his death almost a century ago, London’s family has carried forward his vision, carefully working within the limits of the land. Likewise, some of “Redwood” Thompson’s descendants still live on the family’s mountain
homestead. The land where Kohler and Frohling planted their vineyard is still in grapes. Some kinds of success can be measured only over the course of generations. Where others moved on in broken-hearted defeat, a few have managed to make the mountain a true home.

Arthur Dawson:
Arthur Dawson has long had a keen interest in ‘the story of the land. He has served as historical ecologist at the Sonoma Ecology Center for over ten years and is the author of several books, including ‘The Stories Behind Sonoma Valley Place Names, a local bestseller. He can see Sonoma Mountain daily from his home in Glen Ellen, but has never quite been to the top.

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Nov 152010
 

Jack London (the Park) Turns 50…

and Needs a Hand.

During the summer of 2010 Jack London State Historic Park hosted several birthday events. Jack, had he been there, would have enjoyed them all.

jack london park preserve sonoma mountain

Organized and led by park neighbor and volunteer activist Elisa Stancil of the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association, events included a mid-May Plowing Playday which highlighted aspects of Jack and Charmian’s Beauty Ranch; a “Celebrate the Park” festival in June with food, wine tasting, music and other revelry, dampened only by the 100 degree heat that day in the meadow; and finally, a romantic, elegant, full-moon blessed, catered, alfresco dinner for 100 at the London ranch house in July.

Under the umbrella of non-profit VMNHA, Stancil has created the Jack London Lake Alliance, which focuses fundraising efforts on a plan to restore Jack London Lake, a feature of the Beauty Ranch that Jack loved.

Built in 1915, the lake captures water from Sonoma Mountain springs and annual runoff. Over the years the curved dam holding the lake has weakened and the lake has filled with sediment, a threatening combination.

Downstream erosion has increased significantly since 1989 when the State Parks installed a poorly designed side spillway. Sediment harms fish and wildlife populations in Kohler, Asbury and Sonoma Creeks, according to a number of recent studies. For more information on lake restoration and to a make a donate to VMNHA, go to www.jacklondonpark/VMNHS.com

Nov 092010
 

Recreation on the Mountain

jack london sonoma moutain visit

Recreation on the mountain can include wine tasting, visiting Morton’s Warm Springs, attending a retreat at the Westerbeke Ranch, or, as most visitors and residents do, heading to a park, principally Jack London State Historic Park.

To reach Jack London State Historic Park, take London Ranch Road south out of Glen Ellen and follow it to the end. Parking costs $7/day. No dogs are allowed out of the historic section of the park, which is near the entrance. Bikes are restricted to designated fire roads and several trails. Cyclists need to watch for sign at trailheads and observe season restrictions.

First time visitors often start by touring the historic buildings, including the burned-out Wolf House, the summer cottage and museum, and the barn and must-see Pig Palace.

Then on to the hikes.

Major trails inside Jack London State Historic Park include the Mountain Trail, a six-mile round trip, which starts at the parking lot and climbs past London Lake to the top of Sonoma Mountain, via either the Summit Trail or the Hayfields Loop.

Signage along the way makes sense and can easily be followed. The Sonoma Ridge Trail, a 10-mile loop, begins about two miles from the parking lot, leaves the Mountain Trail to the left and rises along a ridge to afford great views of Sonoma Valley, Mt. Diablo, Mt. Tamalpais, Mt. St. Helena and much of the Bay Area.

Shorter trails take off from the Mountain Trail around London Lake, including Fallen Bridge trail (yes, there is a fallen bridge) which follows Asbury Creek canyon into the old London Ranch orchards and some old growth redwoods. For the adventurous, several steep trails lead down to the Sonoma Development Center’s peaceful Fern Lake.

Trails also wander through the old Jack London Beauty Ranch orchard (pear trail, apple trail, etc.) and circle the historical buildings, including the Wolf House ruins.

New Trails

Two lengthy new trails are in the works. The first, called the North Slope Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail, currently under construction, will run 4.25 miles, connecting on the east with the Hayfields Loop in JLSHP and the west with a new public parking/trail staging area at Jacobs Ranch, about three miles up Sonoma Mt. Road, going east from the fire station on Bennett Valley Rd. The trail will end at one of the highest points in JLSHP. Rising along the north slope of the mountain, it will afford view of the Mayacamas Range and Sonoma Valley to the east and Santa Rosa to the west. It will also, eventually, comprise a section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.

Jacobs Ranch, an Open Space District preserve, may be open for short hikes, depending on conditions of access roads. Check with Sonoma County Open Space District before trying to enter.

Another ambitious undertaking, the South Slope Trail, with a planned ground breaking in April 2011, will add about four miles to the Sonoma Ridge Trail (see above). It will provide a 140miles round trip from the JLSHP parking lot. Watch our website for news on this major feature.

To get started exploring the mountain, you can enjoy organized hikes with trained and knowledgeable leaders. Contact the non-profit LandPaths and/or state parks volunteers Bill Meyers or Dave Chalk at (707) 539-8847 or to the website for State or Regional Parks.

Dave and Bill offer monthly hikes at 10 a.m. on Saturdays. Most hikes average about 40 participants and are as much social event as hiking exercise. Hikes are called moderately strenuous, but the do end with a tailgate party in the parking log.

Horses

You can bring you own horses to Jack London State Historic Park, parking your trailer in the upper parking lot at the far west end. Horses must stay on designated fire roads and trails. Guided trail rides can arranged by calling Triple Creek Horse Outfit in Glen Ellen (707) 887-8700 or go the their website.

Retreat to the Mountain

For a romantic, low-key, somewhat rustic getaway, redolent with history and steeped in the culture of the mountain, few places compare with Westerbeke Ranch, off Grove Street, west of Arnold Drive in Sonoma. The property that is now Westerbeke Ranch was purchased by long time residents Richard and Muriel Van Hoosear as a vacation retreat for themselves and their three daughters. The buildings and grounds developed as their family grew. Richard and Muriel loved to travel and on each trip to Mexico or Spain they returned with new architectural ideas and decorations.

In the late 1960’s the ranch was transformed into the conference center it is today. The Westerbeke family invites visitors to enjoy their home and workplace. To make an appointment for a tour, for more information about weddings or other events at the ranch, or for additional information, go to their web site www.westranch.com.

Stop and View the Flowers

Another Van Hoosear family contribution to the region consists of the 163-acre preserve at the foot of Sonoma Mountain off Carriger Road known and treasured for its abundance and variety of wildflowers. Over 250 species of common and rare wildflowers and native grasses thrive throughout the property. Carriger Creek, a tributary of Sonoma Creek, runs through the preserve. The property is managed by the Sonoma Ecology Center, with dual goals of protecting the preserve’s botanical, aquatic and wildlife values and providing public access for educational purposes. Now protected by an Open Space District conservation easement, the preserve welcomes visitors by guided tour each year during the spring when the flowers are at their peak. Reservations are required and space is limited; for reservations, contact Elly Seelye at (707) 996-0712 ext. 124, or email elly@sonomaecologycenter.org. A donation of $20 per adult and $10 per child is requested, though no one will be turned away.

Go Organic Wine-tasting and Take a Vineyard Tour

On your way to or from Jack London State Park, pull of London Ranch Road into the Benziger Family Winery. The entire portfolio of Benziger wine is certified sustainable, organic or biodynamic.

The Benziger family has been growing grapes on Sonoma Mountain for almost 30 years. According to the co-owner Chris Benziger, his brother Mike and sister in-law Mary discovered the vineyard in the late 70’s and purchased it with help form their parents. Three other brothers and a sister joined the business.

“In the beginning we farmed the same way as everyone else around here. You spray to keep the weeds in check, to keep the bugs away, and to increase yields,” observed Chris. But, he added, after a few years Mike pushed the family to consider something different.

To discover the results of their transition to a more sustainable yet still commercially viable model, go to their website www.benziger.com for information on tours and tastings.

Meditate at a Zen Center

The Sonoma Mountain Zen Center (or, Genjoji) is an 80-acre Soto Zen practice center located on Sonoma Mountain Rd.

Founded by Jakusho Kwong and his wife Laura Kwong in 1973, Kwong-roshi is the current guiding teacher of the Zen center. The center offers residential training and a practice regimen for local members and visitors from all over.

The Zen Center supports itself through members’ donations, proceeds from its Zen Dust bookstore, and by offering rooms for rent.

Author Sarah Ban Breathnach described the center in her book A Man’s Journey to Simple Abundance:

“Near the top of the mountain, the road dips, bends, then snakes through a small grove of redwoods. The dense canopy blocks all ambient light, so that when you emerge on the other side of the grove, you feel as though you’ve passed through a portal into another world. It’s a fitting way to approach Sonoma Mountain Zen Center, because people there view reality just a little bit differently from the way most of us do.” For more information on programs and access, go to www.smzc.net.

Soak and Swim in a Warm Spring

Bordering Sonoma Creek just west of Glen Ellen and nestled among a canopy of large oaks, open meadows and rolling hills, Morton’s Warm Springs is perfect for picnics, reunions, family recreation, corporate retreats and meetings, weddings, and class field trips.

The Wappo Indians, early residents of the area, recognized the healing properties of the geothermal mineral springs and considered the waters sacred.

In 1939 Ethel and Harold Morton purchased the property and began operating it as Morton’s Warm Springs Resort. The site not includes natural mineral pool, picnic and BBQ sites, bocce ball and a variety of other courts and fields.

Morton’s is open during summer months; go to their website for directions, dates and times.

Oct 092009
 

How Do You Preserve a Mountain?

SMP’s Latest Tale of Teamwork

sonoma mountain preserve

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.

~Margaret Spaulding