Beall's Bill Clears Path for Public Access to 6,500 Acres in Santa Cruz Mountains

September 28, 2017

SACRAMENTO – Governor Brown signed today Senator Jim Beall’s legislation enabling the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District to acquire nearly 6,500 acres owned by the San Jose Water Company in the Upper Guadalupe, Los Gatos Creek, and Saratoga watersheds.
Senate Bill 492’s ratification culminates a series of complex negotiations spanning 10 years with the water company and local stakeholders.

“I’ve always believed in this project because of the tremendous benefit it has for the public and the environment,’’ Beall said. “This bill protects over 1,000 acres of redwood forest and allows several hiking trails to be linked, providing the public with access to spectacular scenery.’’
“My thanks go to the San Jose Water Company and the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District for working with me to get this complex acquisition accomplished.’’

The legislation allows the water company to retain possession of its water rights, a treatment plant, and Lake Elsman, which is replenished by the watersheds. The bill recognizes that the water company and open space district will maintain an on-going partnership to ensure the high quality of the water provided by these lands.

The watershed’s ecological value led the Association of Bay Area Governments to designate the area as a “Priority Conservation Area.”  It is home to several species deemed threatened or endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, including the Bay Checkerspot butterfly and the California Red-legged frog. The watershed serves as a natural corridor for many species, including mountain lions. The area also contains large amounts of serpentine soils that support native plants.

The approval of the bill essentially enables the open space district to use its traditional purchasing process via its land acquisition authority to shorten the transaction timeline, making it easier for the district to quickly leverage public and private funding sources. Normally, the purchase would undergo a long review by the California Public Utilities Commission.

Funding for the open space district’s purchase is comprised of local and state funding, including general obligation bonds issued under Measure AA, which was approved by a two-thirds majority of voters. Measure AA’s vision plan ranked access through the water company’s property in the Santa Cruz Mountains as its highest priority.
Among the main benefits of SB 492’s are:

•    Bringing the Bay Area Ridge Trail one step closer to completion.

•    Strengthening fire safety in a coastal fire district that has been prone to wildfires. The bill is supported by CALFIRE Local 2881, California Professional Firefighters, the San Jose Firefighters IAFF Local 230, Santa Clara Firefighters, and IAFF Local 1165.

•    Requiring the sale proceeds to be invested in capital projects; typically, ratepayers would bear these costs. The bill also mandates that any remaining sale proceeds, including its accrued interest, that is not spent within eight years must be allocated to ratepayers.

Senate Bill 492 was co-authored by the a contingent of Bay Area legislators: Senators Jerry Hill and Bill Monning; and Assemblymembers Marc Berman, Kansen Chu, Ash Kalra, Evan Low, Kevin Mullin, and Mark Stone.

The bill was sponsored by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. It also drew the support of many groups, including the Bay Area Council, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, the Nature Conservancy, the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, the town of Los Gatos, and the cities of Saratoga, San Jose, and Campbell.