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NR 2001-42
April 30, 2001

Contact: Carol Dahmen
Mark Oldfield
Don Drysdale
Ed Wilson
(916) 323-1886

DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION GRANT HELPS PROTECT
QUICKLY DISAPPEARING FARMLAND IN LIVERMORE AREA

South Livermore Valley Agricultural Land Trust Uses Money
To Purchase Agricultural Conservation Easement on Beyer's Ranch

LIVERMORE, Calif. -- Not so long ago, the Livermore Valley was known as a bucolic place where people were practically outnumbered by cattle and vineyards.

Things have changed in the last several years, however. The BART line now reaches Pleasanton. The spillover from nearby Silicon Valley and San Francisco is evident, as high-priced houses and business parks displace agricultural land on both sides of Highway 580.

But one 100-acre parcel less than a mile southeast of the Livermore city limits will remain in agricultural or open-space use forever. Using a $741,000 grant from the California Department of Conservation and a like amount of its own money, the South Livermore Valley Agricultural Land Trust has purchased a permanent agricultural conservation easement on a portion of Beyer's Ranch, owned by the wine-making Wente family. While the development rights are extinguished, control of agricultural-related uses remains in the family's hands.

Phil Wente, executive vice present of Wente Vineyards, said the Beyer's Ranch easement in an example that other landowners and local governments should follow.

"There are tens of thousands of acres in the Bay Area that are ideal for intensive agricultural production," he noted. "This area is a Garden of Eden where a wide range of high-value agricultural products will flourish. Using the economic resources of urban areas to create incentives, such as conservation easements, for land owners to return to active agriculture and solidify the urban limits is simply smart planning."

California's agricultural production totaled nearly $26.7 billion in 1999. But the state's population of more than 33 million is expected to grow to 50 million by 2025, and many acres of farmland are being developed to accommodate that growth. According to DOC's Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program, nearly 43,000 acres of agricultural land -- an area about the size of the city of Modesto -- was urbanized between 1996 and 1998.

"This acquisition preserves one of the largest remaining blocks of cultivated agricultural land in the valley," said John Norwood, executive director of the South Livermore Valley Agricultural Land Trust. "Beyond that, it's extremely important to the tri-valley area because it signals that the state is willing to support agriculture even in some of our highest-growth counties, where agriculture, open space and habitat resources are severely threatened."

The development pressure on Beyer's Ranch is evident. A nearby 150-acre parcel of prime farmland was recently approved for the development of 450 single-family homes. Huge estate homes overlook Beyer's Ranch from adjacent hillsides. According to the land trust, the opportunities to create permanent agricultural conservation easements on parcels of land the size of Beyer's Ranch are rare because of soaring property values in the area.

"We hope that other landowners in Alameda County and around the state will follow the Wentes' example and recognize the tremendous opportunity that our grant program presents," Department of Conservation Director Darryl Young said.

"The needs of a growing population and the needs of agriculture don't always dovetail, but the California Farmland Conservancy Program offers a partnership between landowners, land trusts and government agencies that helps to balance the needs of both sides. We're pleased to have preserved an outstanding piece of agricultural land for future generations."

The CFCP is designed to ensure that the state's most valuable farmland will not be developed. Through the program, local governments and non-profit organizations can receive grants to purchase conservation easements from willing landowners, thus creating permanent conservation. CFCP funds remain for new grant proposals. Landowners and land trusts are encouraged to contact the Department of Conservation/Division of Land Resource Protection for information on the program and potential grant funding. The division's Web address is www.conservation.ca.gov/dlrp.

The Wente family also conveyed a 262-acre easement to the South Livermore Valley Agricultural Land Trust adjacent to the 100-acre parcel. Development on the larger parcel is restricted to current zoning rules under the south Livermore Valley Area Plan, eliminating the potential for a high-density project in the future. The easement also provides a 5,000-foot long trail corridor and scenic vistas along the south side of Tesla Road, which is the eastern gateway to the South Livermore Valley.

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