Sonoma County OKs $1 Million for Coast Wildland Deal

Guy Kovner, Press Democrat
May 20, 2014

Hikers are expected to gain access to a stunning Sonoma County coastal vista point through a $1 million public contribution to a wildland conservation deal approved by county supervisors on Tuesday.

Supervisors gushed over the beauty of the 238-acre Pole Mountain property north of Jenner, which includes oak woodlands, open grassland, wildlife and a 360-degree panorama from the 2,204-foot mountain, the highest peak on the coast.

“It’s exciting. I love this property,” Supervisor Susan Gorin said.

Her colleague, Shirlee Zane, appraised the property as “an absolute jewel” but also sharply questioned officials about the prospect for public access under a “recreation covenant” obtained by the county.

Zane initially balked at voting for the open space deal, saying she did not want public access indefinitely limited to four guided hikes a year described in the covenant.

She called for a “tighter time frame” for full public access via a planned trailhead off Highway 1 north of Jenner.

The complication, officials said, is that the access must come through the 5,630-acre Jenner Headlands, protected by a conservation deal in 2009 and bordering Pole Mountain to the south.

The Wildlands Conservancy, which is managing the Jenner Headlands, is in the process of obtaining permits for the parking area and trailhead from the California Coastal Commission and Caltrans, said Amy Chesnut, acquisitions director for the nonprofit Sonoma Land Trust, which is leading the Pole Mountain deal.

While the conservancy faces a December deadline to obtain the permits, Chesnut said that might have to be extended.

“It’ll come to pass. It just takes time,” she said in an interview after the meeting.

Bill Keene, general manager of the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, expressed confidence that the recreation covenant assured public access to Pole Mountain.

“In my mind, it’s foolproof,” he told the supervisors, who serve as the Open Space District’s board of directors.

The land trust, a Santa Rosa-based organization, is acquiring Pole Mountain for $2.35 million, including $1 million authorized Tuesday from the taxpayer-funded Open Space District.

The state Wildlife Conservation Board is contributing $650,000, and the state Coastal Conservancy and Packard Foundation are each contributing $350,000.

Sonoma Land Trust expects to close the deal by June 30.

Pole Mountain, capped by a historic fire lookout, will serve as a bridge between Jenner Headlands and the 500-acre Little Black Mountain Preserve to the north, also owned by the land trust.

West County Supervisor Efren Carrillo said Pole Mountain fits into a “mosaic of public protection along the coast.”

“The days of guided tours are behind us,” he said.

Chesnut said later that the land trust’s intention has always been to “get the public out there.”

There will be no fee for access to Jenner Headlands and Pole Mountain, she said.