Coastal open space gets a boost

  Score one point for endangered steelhead and the threatened California red-legged frog: The 82,000-acre Hearst Ranch, on the Pacific Coast just south of Big Sur, may be forever protected from development.

Famous for Hearst Castle, the elaborate mansion built for media tycoon William Randolph Hearst early in the 20th century, the sprawling, hilly ranch includes habitat for steelhead and red-legged frogs, and over 18 miles of undeveloped coastline. Now, after 50 years of flirting with massive development ideas, the Hearst Corporation plans to sell a conservation easement to a San Francisco-based land trust, the American Land Conservancy.

The land trust signed an option to buy the easement on Feb. 19. If the deal goes through, the land will remain privately managed rangeland, but the coastline will be open to the public and incorporated into the California Coastal Trail. The deal comes in the wake of public outcry over Hearst’s most recent development proposal — a resort that would have included a 27-hole golf course, an equestrian complex and 650 hotel rooms. State regulators downsized the plan in 1998, but local and national groups continued to protest.

“We love the property, we believe in good conservation, and the recent development ideas were not well received by the local community,” says Steve Hearst, the primary negotiator for Hearst Corporation.

The American Land Conservancy has a year to raise at least $100 million. A major source may be Proposition 50, a conservation bond measure approved by California voters last November.
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