The Bay Area may gain 1,500 acres of protected open space this year thanks to a pending acquisition by the Solano Land Trust. On March 18, the trust signed a purchase agreement with the current owners of Rockville Trails Estates, near Rockville Hills Park northwest of Fairfield. The former ranch boasts rich biodiversity and impressive vistas that could become a public asset, if the trust raises necessary funds.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” says Nicole Byrd, the trust’s executive director. “The land trust has had its eye on this property for a long time for purchase for a public natural park.”
The land trust plans to open the property to the public for hiking, including six miles of trails that would be part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, a project to create a continuous hiking path overlooking San Francisco Bay. Several protected species like the golden eagle and elderberry beetle call Rockville Trail Estates home, while steelhead trout and coho salmon live in neighboring streams.
In 2008, then-owners White Wing Highlands Associates got county approval to build 370 residential lots on the property. But the Green Valley Landowners Association (GVLA), which represents 750 local households, opposed the plan. Citing concerns about water supply, traffic flow, and sewage treatment, the organization joined the Sierra Club’s Redwood Chapter in a lawsuit against Solano County, citing violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
“The owners of the property have pushed over the decades for a variety of development plans,” says GVLA president Bill Mayben, “and I think at one point they were pushing for 450 homes. There have been probably at least four actions that went to the court, and the GVLA has prevailed in each of those.”
The 2008 CEQA lawsuit succeeded yet again in halting the development. But this time the GVLA sought a permanent end to the cycle of proposals and lawsuits. “We’ve been litigating over this property for over 20 years,” says Mayben. “Even if we win, the property owners are going to come back again and again, so our efforts were really centered on how we can find a resolution to the issues that benefits all the stakeholders.”
Those efforts led to the Solano Land Trust, which GVLA saw as an optimal owner of Rockville Trails Estates. “Solano County doesn’t have a parks and recreation program, so any of the parks or open spaces that are achieved in Solano County have to be done in the private sector or semi-private sector like the land trust,” says Mayben. “And they’ve been pretty successful at this over the years.”
The developer agreed to sell the property for $13.5 million, a fraction of the one-time asking price. At the height of the real estate boom, says Mayben, the land was valued at over $200 million. Since then, the economic downturn created a financial opportunity for the land trust. “All the stars have aligned,” says Byrd.
Still, $13.5 million is a steep sum for a nonprofit. So far, the trust has requested $10.5 million from public and private sources, including the state Coastal Conservancy and Department of Fish and Game. Most of that funding has yet to be confirmed, and it would still leave a $3 million shortfall.
Byrd believes the trust can fill that gap with donations by the deadline of August 31. “I am optimistic,” she says. “Maybe I’m naive, but I think there’s a lot of community support for the project.”
If the money doesn’t come through, the property will likely be developed, though not to the extent proposed in 2007. “If we’re not able to raise the funds, we might lose our opportunity to create this connection with this really amazing natural area,” says Byrd. “This is our one opportunity, so we’re excited about it, but we need help.”
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