MALT returns Measure A funds for purchase of Hicks Valley easement

06/03/2020

The Marin Agricultural Land Trust has returned $833,250 it was awarded three years ago from the county’s Measure A funds to purchase an agricultural conservation easement for a Hicks Valley ranch, following the discovery that the group might have asked for too much money. MALT commissioned two appraisals, but only included in its funding application the one that valued the property at a higher cost. According to Marin County Parks director Max Korten, MALT recently volunteered that information, and the county decided that a return of the funds was the best resolution. “I appreciate MALT’s cooperation and commitment to transparency,” he said. “We also plan to update our farmland program guidelines to make sure that we require all appraisals within a two-year window prior to the application date to be included in the application.” In 2017, MALT sought to purchase a conservation easement on the Dolcini-Beltrametti Ranch, where the Dolcini family operates a dairy. MALT had obtained a first appraisal for the property in 2016, and subsequently commissioned another. The latter appraisal was submitted to the county, valued at $1,666,500; MALT ultimately received $833,250 of that total in Measure A funds, which are dedicated to protecting parks, open space and farmland in Marin. Yet, “Had MALT moved forward with the initial draft appraisal for the easement, we would have instead applied for $567,500 in Measure A funding,” Isabel French, the group’s communications director, explained to the Light in an email. In a press statement released by the group this week, MALT’s executive director Jamison Watts said the group realized that the first appraisal hadn’t been included in the application as part of a recent internal review process. “While MALT followed the letter of the county’s requirements for Measure A applications in this transaction, the recent follow-up with the county was to ensure that all parties agreed MALT also adhered to the spirit of those requirements,” he said. “While many staff and the board of directors are involved in every transaction, as MALT’s executive director, I take full responsibility for this Measure A application.” The release also justified the need for MALT’s two appraisals, and its choice to include just one in the application. “Because the initial draft valuation for the easement was well below comparable values for MALT projects, MALT obtained a second appraisal and ultimately used the higher appraisal to value the easement,” it stated. Ms. French said the easement —which created 22,800 acres of contiguous protected agricultural lands by linking two other protected properties—is unaffected by the return of funds. Since 2012, the nonprofit has received more than $13 million for 11 separate easements from Measure A’s Farmland Preservation fund, which is fed by a quarter-cent sales tax.