Press Democrat Editorial: Preserving a Sonoma Coast treasure

June 12, 2023

Posted in: News Articles

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | June 11, 2023

Sonoma County’s world-class coastal beaches and parks are poised to grow this summer when the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District buys Chanslor Ranch.

The 378-acre ranch, just north of Bodega Bay and on the east side of Highway 1, would join nearby public spaces that include numerous beaches, Sonoma Coast State Park, Bodega Dunes, Doran Regional Park and Estero Americano State Marine Recreational Management Area.

The deal is coming together thanks to the thoughtfulness of the current owner, Jonathan Wang, who reached out to the county and thanks to the foresight of the public. Sonoma County voters created the open space district in 1990 and funded it with a quarter-cent sales tax — believed to be the first time a U.S. county enacted a sales tax to preserve land. When the district and its tax came up for renewal in 2006, voters overwhelmingly extended them to 2031.

The open space district has been a success. It has acquired land and secured conservation easements throughout the county, protecting 122,000 acres for future generations. The district works with willing private property owners who recognize the value of ecological preservation. If the purchase happens as planned, the ranch ultimately will wind up in the Sonoma County Regional Park system.

Chanslor Ranch is one of the district’s most exciting acquisitions in a while. For longtime county residents, there’s nostalgia around the ranch, which is popular with equestrians and was the original home of the Bodega Bay Seafood, Art & Wine Festival.

County parks officials should open the ranch’s existing trails and Salmon Creek for recreation without delay. Doing so could mollify some critics of the open space district who argue that the public doesn’t get to use its acquisitions often enough. Conservation easements on private land and buffer properties for sensitive areas remain off limits even though the public paid for them.

As Chanslor Ranch grows in popularity, public access should expand, particularly into the neighboring Carrington Coast Ranch Regional Park and Open Space Preserve, where access remains limited despite the open space district having acquired it 20 years ago.

Not that access must be universal. Sensitive areas that provide wildlife habitat need protection. For example, wetlands on Chanslor Ranch have been called the “Howard Johnson’s of the Pacific Flyway” because it is an important stopping-off point for migratory birds.

Chanslor Ranch very easily could have wound up in the hands of developers. That might please some locals who note that the county has a housing shortage, especially affordable housing. But anyone who believes that highlands overlooking the Pacific would have become anything other than expensive homes for the wealthy or an exclusive getaway, is sorely mistaken. Developing the land only would have removed valuable open space from the coast forever.

The deal isn’t official yet. The owner and the open space district are still finalizing details, but things look good. The ranch has an assessed value of $3.3 million.

Libertarians often criticize government when it imposes environmental and development restrictions on private property. “If the people want to preserve it, the people should pay for it,” they say. Well, that’s exactly what the people of Sonoma County are doing at Chanslor Ranch, and they’re getting something very special for their dollars.

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