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$13.5 million deal preserves scenic farmland near San Gregorio

There is sprawl happening lately on San Mateo County’s rural coast, but it’s not from subdivisions or trophy homes. It’s from a growing landscape of protected farmland and open space.

In the latest major purchase to preserve scenic land on the San Mateo County Coast, a Palo Alto environmental group announced Thursday it has spent $13.5 million to buy 578 acres of farm and ranch land near San Gregorio State Beach near the intersection of Highway 1 and Highway 84.

The Peninsula Open Space Trust, known as POST, said it will keep the development rights to the scenic properties, continuing leasing them to farmers, and ultimately will resell them to farmers with easements preventing development.

“Local farmers are great partners and stewards of the land that are committed to caring for the land and community,” said Ben Wright, director of land transactions for POST.

The deal preserves two properties — a 540-acre ranch that is known for its stunning views from Highway 1 at the top of the ridge just north of the intersection with Highway 84. The other is an adjacent 38-acre farm where row crops are grown. The sellers are two longtime San Mateo County families, the Bishops and the Careys.

The deal is the eighth such transaction that POST has closed in recent years as part of its campaign to keep agriculture viable on the San Mateo County coast by blocking tech moguls and others from developing farmland with trophy homes.

The announcement also comes a week after the Save the Redwoods League announced a $9 million deal nearby to buy an old-growth redwood forest near Highway 1 and Año Nuevo State Park, connecting it to Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

And in 2017, POST bought 58 acres at Tunitas Creek Beach, one mile north of Thursday’s transaction, from singer Chris Isaak for $5 million. San Mateo County officials are in the planning stages of turning that beach into a new county park.

The farm parcel purchased Thursday, which POST is calling Rising Acres, features a half-mile of frontage on San Gregorio Creek, an important corridor for endangered Coho salmon and steelhead trout.

The ranchland, which POST named Gordon Ridge after the ridgeline along its northern boundary, is defined by rolling hills, views of the ocean and extensive wildlife habitat. POST said it will continue to lease the land to a rancher to graze cattle as a way to reduce fire danger and limit invasive grasses.

The group also said it might build trails through the property to connect it with existing parks and open space preserves.

“This is a rare opportunity to preserve many of the things that make our coast so special,” Wright said. “Coastal grasslands and agricultural lands are some of the most threatened landscapes in San Mateo County.”

Farm industry leaders in San Mateo County describe the purchases as a mixed bag.

“It’s fine that they buy it and say they are going to keep it in agriculture. I appreciate that,” said B.J. Burns, president of the San Mateo County Farm Bureau. “We won’t get the development that we get on the other side of the hill and in Half Moon Bay. On the part about continuing farming, though, they don’t always walk the walk.”

Burns said he’d like to see POST offer longer-term leases to farmers on properties it buys, and put them up for sale to farmers more quickly than it has, and take other steps, like clearing brush on properties to create more pasture land for cattle.

Since 1977, POST, funded largely by Silicon Valley donors, has protected more than 78,000 acres of open space, farms and parkland in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.

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