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Stopgap California budget unfreezes grant to save Tiburon open space

(Jason Wells photo)

A placeholder budget passed by the California Legislature has unlocked a $5.5 million grant to the Trust for Public Land, giving it all the money it needs, and then some, to buy and preserve 110 acres of open space on the Tiburon ridge.


Though legislators are still mulling cuts to close the state’s $27.6-billion deficit, the stopgap deal June 13 beat both the state’s mandatory budget deadline and the trust’s deadline to show it had the $42.1 million needed to buy the property from owner the Martha Co. When the purchase is complete, the trust will sell the land to Marin County for $29.2 million, its share of the fundraising effort, by Aug. 30.

The trust had long been treating a grant from the California Wildlife Conservation Board as a rubber-stamp pledge since the agency’s staff recommended approval and deemed the property acquisition a “high-priority project.” But by the time the board voted to award the grant on May 23, the funds were frozen as legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom sought trims to address the budget gap.


Lawmakers and Newsom are reportedly still hashing out details that will change the final budget, but Wildlife Conservation Board Executive Director Jennifer Norris says her agency’s projects got the go-ahead from the board’s parent agency, the California Natural Resources Agency, on June 17.


“The spending freeze is no longer in effect, so the projects that were conditionally approved in May are good to go,” she told The Ark later that day.


Norris said the board is now working to get its contribution into the trust’s overall escrow, “just like when you’re buying a house.”


Total funds raised toward the Martha acquisition by the trust and its local grassroots group partner, Tiburon Open Space, currently exceed the purchase price by about $980,000.


“With all funding now in place, we anticipate (the trust’s) purchase of the property and concurrent conveyance to Marin County Open Space District this summer,” trust senior project manager Erica Williams of Tiburon said in a June 18 text message.


Tiburon Open Space is still seeking to raise another $20,000 in private donations, according to a June 19 email, which would be combined with the existing surplus to reduce the town of Tiburon’s pledged contribution. Tiburon granted $1 million in 2022 toward buying the property, and in April it offered up to $1 million more as a last resort.


Most of the purchase price is coming from Belvedere and southern Tiburon taxpayers, who in November 2022 approved the 30-year, $335-per-parcel Measure M parcel tax to fund a bond sale. Some $23 million will come from that bond and two 1990s bonds used to buy what’s now the Old St. Hilary’s Open Space Preserve. Another $6 million will come from the county’s Measure A sales tax that supports parks and open space.


The trust was responsible for raising the remaining funds. In addition to the Wildlife Conservation Board grant and Tiburon’s grants, it received $1.5 million each from the California Natural Resources Agency and the private nonprofit Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Other private donations add up to another $3.2 million, and Belvedere contributed $125,000.

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