East Bay Water District Considering $ 72 Million Cattle Ranch Purchase


The Alameda County Water District plans to shell out $ 72 million for a 50,500-acre fourth-generation ranch – billed as the state’s largest potential land sale – to preserve the quality of the land. water, according to officials.

Much of the property lies in watersheds that supply essential water supply facilities for millions of Bay Area residents, including Lake Del Valle, Calaveras Reservoir and Alameda Creek.

Although no final decision has been made, district officials and experts say the rare opportunity to purchase such a large swath of undeveloped upstream land – and prevent any future development that could degrade the potable water – must be seriously evaluated.

The N3 Cattle Co. ranch is about the size of Fremont. It is located east of Fremont, Milpitas and San Jose, south of Livermore, and extends into parts of Alameda, Santa Clara, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.

The fourth generation breeding family that owns the property brought it to market in July for the first time in 85 years.

“This beautiful and expansive California property spans 50,500 acres across four counties, making it the largest land offering in the state of California,” says the website of California Outdoor Properties, a private brokerage firm. managing the sale of land.

The district – which provides water to about 350,000 people in Fremont, Newark and Union City – has the “financial means” to buy the ranch on its own, possibly by issuing bonds, drawing on reserves, raising water tariffs or a combination of these, General manager Robert Shaver said in an interview on Monday.

But he’s also discussing with other agencies a possible partnership to make the purchase, including the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which owns the Calaveras Reservoir, the Nature Conservancy, the Trust for Public Land and the District. of East Bay Regional Park, Shaver said. .

“On the one hand, when you are a water agency you are always concerned about protecting the water quality and water supply, and from these perspectives this property could potentially ticking some of those boxes, ”Shaver said.

“But on the other hand, they’re asking for $ 72 million, and the district has a number of other goals they’re trying to achieve as well, and there might be O&M costs as well.” , he added.

These goals include paying off approximately $ 120 million in retirement and employee benefit debt, as well as maintaining and improving hundreds of kilometers of water pipes.

To help pay for these growing costs and debt, the district has increased water prices almost every year for the past two decades, including a 25% increase for 2017 and 2018. The district has also increased the fees. of fixed service for residential customers of about 354% between 2010 and 2018, according to an analysis of the district’s financial reports by this news organization.

“So in a perfect world, if it didn’t cost anything, you might say, ‘Yes, there aren’t a lot of downsides’, but there is a cost, and that’s one of the problems. the board is also thinking. ”Shaver said.

The district administration board is due to hold a special public workshop on Thursday at 4 p.m. to discuss the possibility of acquiring the land.

Meanwhile, it has already received a vote of support from the Alameda Creek Alliance, a local watershed conservation group that wants open space preserved.

“If the land was purchased by someone other than an agency with some kind of public policy mission, it could be subdivided and divided into developments,” Jeff Miller, director of the alliance, said on Monday.

While Shaver and other water officials acknowledge that the chances of someone developing the remote property may be slim, Miller said officials shouldn’t take the risk.

“Once he’s gone he’s gone, so I think the opportunity to protect him in perpetuity should be taken,” he said.

“It will also protect many habitats for many native wildlife species. This will protect many streams, and it is possible that some are wondering if it could be open to the public. It could be a pretty incredible regional convenience, ”Miller added.

Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis, said it was too early to say if it was the right move for the district or a coalition of agencies, but to carefully consider the advisability is the thing. cautious “. to do.

“If you have a large plot of land coming to market in your watershed and are worried about what it might do in the future, it might be prudent to find a way to participate in a better one. result, ”he said. noted.

“But if they want all the money to come from the taxpayers, and they want the district to manage it forever in the future,” Lund added, “then it becomes a responsibility and a burden for a district in the city. ‘water, and it is much more difficult to justify. “

“We all have limited budgets,” Steve Ritchie, deputy general manager of the San Francisco Utilities Commission, said on Monday of the possible land purchase.

“Even if we could do it, (ACWD) could do it, is that the best use of your overall money? ” he said.

“But this piece of land is very intriguing for everyone. When you see 50,000 acres like that, it’s like, ‘Wow, that’s interesting.’ “

The Alameda County Water District Board Workshop will be held Thursday, October 17 at 4 p.m. in the District Headquarters Multipurpose Room, located at 43885 S. Grimmer Blvd., in Fremont.

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