Wednesday, August 20, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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Refusal of grant funding may jeopardize future conservation efforts

By
From page A1 | November 17, 2013 |

Before the Davis City Council decides Tuesday whether to stick to the plan of placing a permanent conservation easement on the 391-acre Mace Curve/Leland Ranch property, it must weigh the potential impacts to the Yolo Land Trust.

And as the city learned last week, if the council walks away from the grant funding for the easement so that it can explore opportunities for a business park on the farmland, the impacts to the trust, which helped secure those dollars, could be substantial.

In a letter addressed to the city, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the state agency responsible for allocating such conservation money in California, says turning down the grant would hurt the land trust’s ability to secure funding in the future.

“Of greatest consequence to the city and Yolo Land Trust is how the return of grant funding affects each entity’s ‘closing efficiency,’ ” wrote Carlos Suarez, state conservationist for the NRCS, in a letter received by the city Tuesday.

“(Closing efficiency is) important for our conservation partners to remain competitive on future easement applications.”

Learn more

What: Davis City Council meeting

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Community Chambers at City Hall, 23 Russell Blvd.

Watch it: Comcast Channel 16, AT&T U-Verse Channel 99 and the city’s website at www.cityofdavis.org/media

Regular agenda items of note:

* Final decision by the council on The Cannery project, a 547-unit housing development proposed for 100 acres of vacant industrial land in North Davis

Labor negotiations update: City staff recommends imposing last, best and final offer on Davis City Employees Association

* Decision on Mace curve conservation easement grant

Grant funding applicants, Suarez says, are ranked based on a criteria set forth by the NRCS, and closing efficiency sits high on that list.

Naturally, the Yolo Land Trust, which has helped landowners preserve more than 10,000 acres of land in the area, is concerned.

One representative of the trust said last week that a decision by the council to change course wouldn’t necessarily put their operation out of business, but there’s no question that future efforts to reel in conservation grants would be made more difficult.

“I don’t think it’s going to kill the land trust, but it’s going to hurt the land trust,” said Chris Scheuring, a board member.

This local decision also could carry statewide ramifications, as Suarez further writes in his letter that the failure to close this project — which received more than a third of the state’s total grant funding for conservation in 2011 — could reflect poorly on the NRCS, potentially “resulting in fewer dollars to the state.”

Further, if the grant is rejected, the funding would be returned to the U.S. Treasury, not to the state for future conservation projects.

News of the potential harm to the Yolo Land Trust, meanwhile, seems to have convinced city staff to pull back from its original recommendation in June to turn down the grant and explore business park opportunities for the land.

Instead, Rob White, the city’s chief innovation officer, will recommend to the council Tuesday to continue forward with the easement process.

“Based on the letter,” White said in his report to the council, ” … to ensure that the Yolo Land Trust was not harmed by rejecting the grant, staff recommends reaffirming acceptance of the NRCS grant and continue work toward a resell of the property with a conservation easement.”

The City Council first decided to reconsider accepting the grant after local business interests began approaching the city late last year with ideas of reshaping the farmland into a tech-business park.

With close proximity to Interstate 80 and its sheer 391-acre size, it was thought that this site would be the most lucrative location for the development.

David Morris, president of a seed-venture capital company called Capitol Corridor Ventures, had offered the city a deal to swap land north of Davis on which he had an option, for the city-owned property near the Mace curve with the intentions of developing it into a tech-business park.

If the council approves the grant, Morris’ idea for a business park on the farmland would be off the table.

Morris is the acting director of techDAVIS, the local tech-business association that helped the city hire White earlier this year.

While staff now is recommending against looking into a business park for this site, council members still could walk away from the grant Tuesday.

Per the council’s request during its Oct. 22 meeting — weeks before the letter from the NRCS surfaced — council members asked staff to return with different options for the land, including developing a business park there.

White will return with five possibilities for the site, including continuing on with the conservation easement process; turning down the grant, but not doing anything with the land yet; reselling the land without the easement; developing a portion of the farmland into a business park; or developing almost all of the acreage into a business park.

Only the first option would not require the city to turn down the grant funding.

The $3.8 million Mace curve property, now called Leland Ranch, was acquired by the city in 2010, in large part with Measure O funds, which are generated by a $50 parcel tax that voters in Davis approved in 2000 specifically for land preservation.

The rest of the land was paid for through an internal loan from a city roadway impact fee account of about $2.5 million.

Yolo Land Trust was awarded the $1.125 million grant in 2011 to pay for preservation of the farmland for the city.

— Reach Tom Sakash at tsakash@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash

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Tom Sakash

Tom Sakash covers the city beat for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at tsakash@davisenterprise.net, (530) 747-8057 or @TomSakash.
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