The Benefits of Public-Private Collaboration for Land Preservation

The Tri-Valley area in Alameda County is a vibrant Bay Area suburb that encompasses the cities of Dublin, Livermore, and Pleasanton. The region, marked by rolling hills and sprawling residential developments, is experiencing rapid growth. The area’s open spaces and grazing lands support sensitive species and habitats, including federal and state-listed species, but currently lacks adequate mitigation credits for adverse impacts of development.

WRA, Inc. has partnered with the City of Livermore and the Tri-Valley Conservancy to create a public-private collaboration for land preservation — an innovative model that maximizes the conservation value of open spaces and saves project applicants time and money.

Monetizing Conservation Lands

The first step is to identify conservation values on publicly-owned lands that support natural resources. While sensitive habitats may devalue property for development, they can actually increase its conservation value. Public agencies may be able to maximize the value of their property by selling conservation rights to a project proponent who needs to satisfy mitigation requirements while retaining fee title.

Developers working on land with sensitive habitats are typically required to compensate for environmental impacts. Off-site habitat mitigation is often the best solution, but it can be difficult and costly for individual developers to locate land for restoration and long-term preservation. This innovative model provides a solution that benefits both project applicants and public land owners.

How it Works

WRA works as a matchmaker by pairing a project applicant that has habitat mitigation needs with the City, and city-owned land to use as a mitigation. WRA identifies a fair-market value of the property based on the needs of the sensitive resources present and ecosystem services that the land provides. The applicant pays a fee which includes habitat conservation, development of a long-term management plan, and a conservation easement [1] deed that is acceptable to the regulatory agencies with purview over the sensitive habitat.

In addition, the fees provide funds for a non-wasting endowment, an interest-bearing account that generates enough yearly income to fund the annual management of the land. The endowment is used to fund annual monitoring and maintenance activities in perpetuity. In return, the applicant receives rights to the conservation values of the property to use as compensatory mitigation.

The Tri-Valley Conservancy, a local, accredited land trust, holds the conservation easement and manages the endowment. They are responsible for ensuring the easement’s resources are protected and the property is being managed in accordance with the long-term management plan. The City then collaborates with the Conservancy to protect and manage the properties.

This public-private preservation model that WRA has developed with the City provides mitigation opportunities for project applicants in an area with limited options, financial incentive for the owner, and funding for long-term management of the property. This model is in alignment with the City’s Open Space and Conversation policies of the City’s general plan which encourage protection of sensitive natural resources. In addition this model builds on other City policies and programs such as the transfer development program and agricultural mitigation program, and it helps protect the City’s urban growth boundary.

Current Projects

Doolan Canyon Owl Habitat Preservation

The Doolan Canyon property owned by the City of Livermore largely consists of rolling grasslands in the hills adjacent to Collier Creek. As mitigation for a development project, approximately 200 acres of burrowing owl and California tiger salamander (state and federal threatened) habitat were preserved. In addition, additional burrow habitat was created by placing dirt mounds on the landscape to expand suitable ground squirrel habitat.

The project applicant provided a long-term management plan, conveyed a conservation easement over the property, and funded an endowment for long-term management and monitoring of the property. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CFDW) was the regulatory agency that approved the project.

A cattle pond at the Doolan Canyon property serves as breeding habitat for California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense; state and federal threatened).

Springtown Wetland Mitigation Project

Springtown is an alkali sink wetland complex located in north Livermore that contains a matrix of uplands and sensitive habitats including vernal pools and swales, seasonal wetlands, and locally rare vegetation communities. This property provides habitat for a variety of rare and listed species, including Palmate-bracted bird’s beak (state and federal endangered) Livermore tarplant (state endangered), vernal pool fairy shrimp (federal endangered), California tiger salamander (state and federal threatened), and burrowing owl.

The City-owned portion of Springtown is approximately 300 acres, of which this project is preserving 40 acres. Recently, the property has been subject to trespass and vandalism, including frequent use by motorized dirt bikes, and remote controlled vehicles. The project applicant has provided funding for a long-term management plan, approximately 0.45 acres of wetland enhancement and restoration of impacted wetlands, and preservation of 6.08 acres of wetlands. The applicant will also fund an endowment for management of the property in perpetuity, including replacement of fencing to prevent future trespass. The US Army Corps of Engineers and San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board are the regulatory agencies that approved this project with input from CFDW.  

Alkali scald ringed with Ferris’ goldfields (Lasthenia ferrisiae; CNPS rank 4.2) and iodine bush scrub at the Springtown property.

More Information

For more information on how this model may be applied to your municipality to help meet your mitigation needs or if you are a land trust looking for innovative partnership opportunities, please contact Geoff Smick or Kari Dupler.