Big Open Space Purchase to Preserve 'Cemex Redwoods' From Development

A consortium of non-profits from Los Altos, Palo Alto, Santa Cruz and San Francisco join forces to buy and preserve the 'largest expanse of unprotected redwoods and wildlife habitat in the Santa Cruz Mountains.'

One of the largest pieces of unprotected redwood forest left in the Santa Cruz mountains has been preserved from future development in a $30 million deal put together in three months by a consortium of Bay Area conservation groups.

The massive, 8,532-acre parcel known as the CEMEX Redwoods stretches from Empire Grade Road on the north down to the edge of Davenport, and comes close to the state parks of Big Basin, Coast Dairies and Henry Cowell. The consortium announced the purchase Thursday and expect to close Dec. 16. 

"There's not that many times you can buy a large property, there's not that many times you can buy property connected to public land, and there's not many times you can buy a large forest of redwoods," said Reed Holderman of the Los Altos-based Sempervirens Fund, the oldest land trust in the state, one that provided the first 3,800 acres of what became California's first state park, Big Basin.

"This is huge."

The parcel takes its name from the global building materials company that owns the 106-year-old cement plant that gave birth to the town of Davenport. While the cement plant and a quarry are not part of the sale, all the uplands—essentially the eight-mile stretch of coastal redwood, Douglas Fir and oak forest behind it—are now protected from subdivision or homebuilding in perpetuity, the groups say.

It's part of a larger effort, called the The Living Landscape Initiative, to save the watershed and redwood forests that rise over Silicon Valley and the heavily populated flatlands of the San Francisco Peninsula. The goal of the initiative is to protect 80,000 acres of land in and around Silicon Valley over the next 20 years. This will provide important linkages between parks, provide protected watershed and a rich wildlife corridor. The biggest threat for Cemex Redwoods had been the specter of someone building up to 69 homes that are permitted by zoning, said Paul Ringgold, vice president of stewardship, at the , known as POST.

Funding toward the purchase comes from five groups, including a combined $8 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the , provided through Resources Legacy Fund’s Living Landscape Initiative Challenge Grant Program. The Packard Foundation is also providing a $2.5 million low-interest loan to Sempervirens Fund to help finance the acquisition through the foundation’s Program-Related Investment Program. In addition, The San Francisco Foundation has contributed $150,000 to the project. POST and Sempervirens Fund are acquiring title to the property as of December 16 and helping to cover the $30 million acquisition cost up front. POST is contributing $16 million, and Sempervirens Fund $5 million (including the $2.5 million loan from the Packard Foundation). In addition, The Nature Conservancy is providing a $500,000 grant from its Central Coast Opportunity Fund, created by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation to support conservation along the Central Coast. 

Holderman said it was no small feat to pull together that funding in three short months, but they had incentive: The property appraised at $36 million. Cemex told them they would sell for $30 million if they could close by December.

The cement plant that gave rise to the town of Davenport in 1905, was purchased in 2005 by Cemex, a global Mexican company that is one of the largest cement producers in the world. The plant closed last year and Cemex is searching for a buyer.

Each of the groups is playing a vital role at different phases of the project, they say. 

It is a three-stage process to the acquisition and planned preservation. The first part is the acquisition itself, not a simple thing. The property is larger than anything to date purchased by POST, Sempervirens Fund and the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County.

The second part is taking inventory, developing a management plan, then acquiring and holding a conservation easement. Save the Redwoods League and Land Trust of Santa Cruz County will acquire the easement on the property and make sure rare reserves of old-growth redwoods are identified and properly preserved in the easements. The easements will preclude activities such as subdividing the land, cutting old-growth redwoods, building homes. POST, Sempervirens Fund, Save the Redwoods League and LTSCC will share equally in the costs of protecting the land.

The third stage is to sell the land to a third party for timber harvest—with the conservation easements in the deed. Any buyer would have to adhere to the restrictions, such as prohibitions against harvesting old growth redwoods. The property has already been logged through its history; in the early 1900s it was clear-cut, but since the 1950s, it has been sustainably harvested, taking less than were growing each year, Ringgold, of POST said. Some old-growth trees were spared in the clear-cutting, and those will be inventoried and preserved in the easement, he said.

"The Land Trust wants to see working forests," said Stephen Slade, deputy director of the organization. "It provides jobs, and sustainable timber harvesting is consistent with the goals. It also provides a revenue stream so that groups can continue to buy properties. 

In the past, land trusts have purchased parcels and transferred them to public entities, like the state park system. But with state parks on the verge of closing, that wasn't an option. It forced the consortium to be creative.

"That played a huge role in how we came up with this," said Ringgold, "There's no doubt that the lack of a public buyer led to this solution." 

Inventory will begin a week after the Dec. 16 closing date, Ringgold said.

"This is a huge leap forward," said Holderman of Sempervirens, thinking ahead to linkages between parks and open space. "We don't plan to stop. We can link Butano (State Park), Big Basin, Portola Redwood State park and link on south." 


Cemex Redwoods at a glance:

    •      Comprises the largest expanse of intact unprotected redwoods and wildlife habitat in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

     •      Contains Laguna Creek, a critical supply of drinking water for the city of Santa Cruz, and the headwaters of San Vicente Creek, sole source of drinking water for the town of Davenport.

    •      Includes hundreds of old, large coast redwoods and Douglas-firs that may support populations of federally threatened marbled murrelet.

     •      Has more than 70 miles of unpaved roads with outstanding potential for public recreational access.

    •      Includes 6,720 acres of coast redwood and Douglas-fir forest representing almost 5 percent of this type of forest in Santa Cruz County and almost 12 percent of the county’s productive forest land.

    •      Includes 1,271 acres of live oak forest, including rare Oracle and Shreve oak, large Pacific madrones, and endangered Anderson’s manzanita.

     •      Home to two animal species found nowhere else in the world: the Mount Hermon June beetle and the Zayante band-winged grasshopper.

    •      Critical habitat for known populations of threatened and endangered animal species, including Coho salmon, steelhead trout, California red-legged frog, mountain lion and peregrine falcon.    •      Home to four federally endangered plant species, including Ben Lomond spineflower, Santa Cruz wallflower, Ben Lomond buckwheat and Bonny Doon manzanita.

   •      A potential ecological refuge against the impact of climate change in the Santa Cruz Mountains thanks to high elevation, proximity to the coast, extensive microclimates, ecological niches, perennial water sources and north-facing slopes.


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