N3 Cattle Co 01-20-20 020

A push to make history by buying the N3 Cattle Company Ranch and turning it into one of the largest parks in the state continues to build momentum.

The Altamont Landfill Open Space Committee recommended that Alameda County and the City of Livermore approve contributing up to $5 million of the $16 million balance in its Livermore area open space fund toward the purchase price of the 50,000-acre N3 Ranch headquartered near Lake Del Valle. Since the ranch went on the market for $72 million last July, a coalition of conservation nonprofits, state and local government agencies have formed to preserve the land.

“This is an exciting opportunity,” said Livermore Vice Mayor Bob Woerner, a voting member of the Committee. “Hopefully, the Open Space Committee can contribute a significant amount that makes the deal go through. But we are not, at the moment, contributing so much of our assets that we deplete them to the point that we can’t execute on any of our other priorities.”

In addition to the recommendation that up to $5 million be contributed to the purchase of the N3 Ranch, the Open Space Committee voted at a special meeting July 24 to delegate authority to Shawn Wilson, the chair of the committee, to join the coalition and negotiate on its behalf. Wilson, chief of staff for District 1 Supervisor Scott Haggerty, would be authorized to spend up to $200,000 in upfront costs related to negotiations and due diligence.

The original allocation request to the committee involved $7 to $12 million. Woerner said trimming the number to $5 million would preserve funding for other open space priorities closer to the Tri-Valley.

The committee also linked its pledge to acquiring part of the 3,100-acre Alameda-Tesla Expansion Area and part of Cedar Mountain in the hills southeast of Livermore. Woerner stated that the sum value of preserving wildlife habitat in all three areas is “greater than the sum of its parts.”

“We wanted this to be a package deal,” said Dick Schneider, the Sierra Club’s representative on the Open Space Committee.

Schneider said the areas are vital for protecting the Diablo Range.

The Altamont Open Space Committee makes recommendations on acquisitions of land and permanent conservation easements in eastern Alameda County. More than $1 million in mitigation fees are collected each year. The open space funding is the result of a 1999 legal settlement related to the expansion of the Altamont Landfill. Later, a condition of the Vasco Road Landfill for renewal of its permit required a contribution of fees as well.

The Open Space Committee’s recommendations for acquisition of land for open space or permanent conservation easements require a vote by the representatives of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, the Livermore City Council and the Sierra Club for land in the east portion of the Tri-Valley. On the west side, the County, Pleasanton and the Sierra Club representatives make the decisions. The Pleasanton representative collaborates with a representative from the City of Dublin when land near Dublin is involved. The Alameda County Board of Supervisors and the city councils are limited to approving whether or not a proposed expenditure recommended by the Altamont Landfill Open Space Committee meets the terms of the official agreement that established its open space fund.

Negotiations for the purchase and sale of the N3 Ranch are now underway between the ranch’s owners and The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with The Trust for Public Land. The conservation groups have reportedly raised $30 million of the purchase price. California has pledged $5 million.

N3 has been privately operated as a cattle ranch for 86 years. It was started in the 1930s by Clara Vickers Naftzger and expanded later by her son, Roy Natfzger Jr. It’s now owned by his daughters who live in Southern California.

At 80 square miles, the ranch spans four counties — Alameda, Santa Clara, San Joaquin and Stanislaus. It is highly valued for conservation because of its pristine watersheds, rich native biological diversity, wildlife habitat and significant potential for recreation. Among the concepts floated for its use would be converting the ranch’s 14 cabin sites into a hut-to-hut experience, which entails hiking from one cabin to the next — similar to destinations in Yosemite’s High Sierra Camps. It’s all within an hour’s drive of more than 7 million people.

The coalition has been guarded about releasing information related to the potential land deal out of concern that the information will harm or derail negotiations. The participants of the coalition and how much each is willing to contribute have not been disclosed.

About 20,000 acres of the ranch are located in Santa Clara County and almost 17,000 in Alameda County.

The land includes watersheds that feed Lake Del Valle, Calaveras Reservoir and Alameda Creek. Alameda County Water District has shown an interest in participating in the purchase. The Calaveras Reservoir, located on the border between Santa Clara and Alameda Counties, is owned and operated by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which has also publicly shown interest in joining the effort to acquire N3.

The effort to preserve N3 as a park drew significant publicity in January after Gov. Gavin Newsom directed $20 million to the California Natural Resources Agency to acquire parkland. The budget did not mention N3. However, the appropriation immediately followed requests by Bay Area legislators to include the $20 million in funding to help purchase the ranch.

The massive land offering was seen as a rare opportunity; the money was urgently needed to compete with other potential buyers from around the world.

After the coronavirus pandemic tore a multibillion dollar hole in California’s budget, the governor’s revised budget in May slashed the previous $20 million commitment to $5 million, but signaled the state will continue to work with conservation groups to secure land and design a vision and operations for the new park.

Meanwhile, the sellers reduced the listed price by just $4 million. At press time, the ranch was still listed on California Outdoor Property’s website with an asking price of $68 million.