Approved Minutes, January 12, 2015
COACHELLA VALLEY MOUNTAINS CONSERVANCY
Regular Meeting – January 12, 2015, 3:00 PM
73-710 Fred Waring Drive,
Conference Room 115 Palm Desert, CA 92260
Tele-conference location: State of California, Resources Agency
1416 Ninth St., Suite 1311 Sacramento, CA 95814
Susan Marie Weber, City of Palm Desert
Buford Crites, State Assembly Appointee – (Chairman) John Donnelly, Wildlife Conservation Board
Jim Foote, U.S. Forest Service (Non-voting Member) Kristy Franklin, City of La Quinta
John Kalish, Bureau of Land Management
Patrick Kemp, Natural Resources Agency
Eddy Konno, California Department of Fish and Wildlife Karin Messaros, National Park Service
Chris Mills, City of Palm Springs
Allan Muth, University of California
Larry Olinger, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Eraina Ortega, California State Department of Finance Ted Mertens, City of Indian Wells
Joan Taylor, Governor’s Appointee
Ellen L. Trover, Senate Rules Committee Appointee Ted Weill, City of Rancho Mirage – (Vice-Chairman)
John J. Benoit, Riverside County
Greg Pettis, City of Cathedral City Kathy Dice, California State Parks Scott Matas, City of Desert Hot Springs
Jim Karpiak, Executive Director
Kerrie Godfrey, Associate Director/AGPA
John Purcell, Friends of the Desert Mountains Jennifer Prado, Friends of the Desert Mountains Britt Wilson, City of Rancho Mirage
STAFF PRESENT: OTHERS PRESENT:
COACHELLA VALLEY MOUNTAINS CONSERVANCY REGULAR MEETING
73-710 Fred Waring Drive, Suite 115
Palm Desert, California
January 12, 2015 – 3:00 p.m.
1.0 Call to Order & Introductions
Chairman Crites declared a quorum with 14 voting members present at 3:00 p.m. 2 additional Board members arrived after the vote on the Minutes and the election of Chairman and Vice-Chairman.
2.0 Approval of Minutes of November 10, 2014 meeting
Chairman Crites asked if there were any comments, additions or corrections to the November 2014 minutes. Jim Karpiak noted that staff has proposed corrections to the November minutes after they were distributed with the January agenda, which have been distributed as a written addendum. He requested the Board consider these changes when voting for approval. A motion was made and seconded (Weill/Konno) to approve the minutes; Chairman Crites clarified that the motion is to approve the minutes as revised by the addendum. The motion was approved with 9 ayes and 5 abstentions.
3.0 Public Comments on Items Not on the Agenda There were no other comments or questions.
4.0 Closed Session
No matters were scheduled.
5.0 Action Items – Public Hearing
5.1 Election of Chair and Vice-Chair.
Chairman Crites turned the meeting over to the Executive Director to open the nominations for the election of Chairman and Vice Chairman.
A motion was made by Joan Taylor and seconded by Al Muth to re-elect the incumbents, Chair Buford Crites and Vice-Chair Ted Weill, to serve for an additional year. The motion was approved by a roll call vote of 12-0, with two abstentions.
Jim Karpiak turned the meeting back over to the newly re-elected Chairman, Buford Crites.
5.2 Resolution 2015-01 – Consenting to and Approving the Sale by the Friends of the Desert Mountains of up to 1159.34 Acres in Various Conservation Areas to the Bureau of Land Management as Part of the Hester Land Exchange, BLM No. CACA-54435 and Establishing Conditions for the Termination and Release of Recorded Restrictions in Favor of the Conservancy on Some of Those Parcels Relating to its Grant Assistance.
Jim Karpiak reported that the Friends of the Desert Mountains has requested the Conservancy’s consent to sell and transfer up to 1159.34 acres in numerous parcels obtained with Conservancy grants to the Bureau of Land Management as part of a BLM land exchange. He also noted that the Conservancy would need to release its recorded deed restrictions on the parcels that have restrictions, and the Conservancy would be repaid all or a portion of the grants it made to acquire the land. The parcels are within or adjacent to the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto National Monument, the Whitewater Area of Critical Environmental Concern or the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve ACEC, and thus mostly would be subject to
the land use restrictions and plans under those designations. He noted that a small portion of the land is not yet within any of those areas, but is proposed to be added to the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve ACEC. He mentioned that the Conservancy has historically agreed to these types of transfers, subject to certain conditions, in order to facilitate more efficient management and enhance habitat conservation of larger land areas since BLM has more management resources than the Conservancy or the Friends do. So a transfer would relieve the grantee, the Friends in this case, of the obligation of managing the property, as well as provide additional resources to the Conservancy to purchase more property or to complete other projects. Transfers to Federal agencies have been a part of the Conservancy’s regular practice at several points in the past. BLM, and most of other federal agencies, however will not accept property subject to deed restrictions; therefore the Conservancy’s recorded restrictions must be removed. We have released the Notices of Unrecorded Grant Agreements or NUGA’s (or the equivalents) in at least 7 other situations, usually because the land was within the National Monument, an Area of Critical Environmental Concern or a wilderness area. Land under those federal designations is subject to management plans that limit use and require that the property be managed consistent with the conservation values. The Conservancy has always accepted those as reasonable assurances for continued conservation. To be sure, the designations are not guarantees, but in order to change those management plans there is a lengthy, public application process to go through. In one situation, the Lazar property, the site was not inside a conservation area but pending legislation which contemplated adding it to the National Monument. BLM agreed to a deed restriction to manage the property as if it already were in the National Monument and based on that the Conservancy approved the transfer and released the NUGA.
Here, the Stearns Bank parcels are only partially within the ACEC. So removing the NUGA with no other agreement in place would leave the portions outside the ACEC unprotected for conservation purposes. BLM staff intends to add the parcels to the ACEC and has agreed to include a deed restriction on the deeds from the Friends to BLM that would be similar to the Lazar property in that BLM agrees to manage the Stearns Bank properties as if they were already in the ACEC.
Critically, Jim pointed out that state law provides that where land subject to a NUGA would not be protected upon transfer, state law permits the Conservancy to terminate its interest, but only if he board votes to do so by a 4/5ths vote. To staff’s knowledge this has never occurred.
As a result of the transfer, it is estimated that $1.1M in grant funds will be returned to the Conservancy. Jim recommended that the Board consent to transfer of these properties to BLM and asked if there were any comments or questions from the Board.
Chris Mills asked if the actual process of adding the Stearns Bank parcels into the ACEC procedurally would be a land use plan amendment. John Kalish responded by saying the process requires an environmental assessment and redrawing the ACEC boundary around the Stearns Bank parcels. BLM has been working on lands in that area which is why they chose the Stearns Bank parcels because it furthers the efforts of protecting lands with wildlife and cultural values.
Jennifer Prado asked for clarification on the deed restrictions to be required. Jim Karpiak responded that technically, the Friends would first sell the properties to the third party in the exchange which would immediately transfer to BLM. The deed restrictions would be required on both deeds.
Joan Taylor noted that she may have a conflict of interest so she recused herself from the conversation and left the conference room.
John Donnelly asked for confirmation that the Wildlife Conservation Board was not a contributor to the acquisition of any of these parcels. Jim Karpiak and John Kalish stated that was their understanding.
John Donnelly also asked who was completing the appraisals for the transfer and who would be reviewing the appraisals. Jennifer Prado responded that the appraisal of the land is being completed by an independent contractor who has been approved by BLM per the BLM standards pursuant to a statement of work provided by BLM to Hester. Jim Karpiak added that staff would review the appraisals however there is no obligation to have them reviewed by any other State entity.
Patrick Kemp asked for clarification on the 4/5th vote requirement that Jim mentioned above. Buford responded that would be necessary only if we wish to transfer lands and not have an appropriate guarantee of ongoing conservation. Jim added that it is public resource code 33702 but staff is not proposing this recommendation because there of the condition requiring deed restrictions in place to conserve the property.
A motion was made and seconded (Muth/Weill) to approve Resolution 2015-01. The motion passed with thirteen votes in favor, one opposed, one abstention and one recusal.
5.3 Consideration of Proposition 1 Grant Program and Schedule.
Jim Karpiak reported that the new water bond, Proposition 1, gives us a new source of funds as well as new obligations to oversee a grant program. One of the State’s objectives is to have the program up and running by July 1, 2015. Hence, staff has been working diligently on proposed guidelines that will hopefully be reviewed at the March Board meeting after the publication requirement which will need to occur in February. Exhibit A in the agenda packet
outlines the Grant Program with eligible applicant information, types of grants, project solicitation and award process as well as the evaluation criteria. The three types of grants consist of: Acquisition of conservation lands that implement the key objectives of the California Water Action Plan; Restoration of watershed- related natural features, such as washes, channels, streams or riverbeds; and Water-related infrastructure, or its enhancement or support. Staff contemplates $2.5 million will be granted in the first year and $2 million in the subsequent years until the $10 million is spent. Furthermore, staff requests comments and direction on the grant program outline so that the draft guidelines can be prepared for release for public comment in February.
Joan Taylor asked if the Conservancy would be involved in the construction of structures. Jim responded that the Conservancy would not itself be involved in the construction of structures but could rather grant funds to entities that would be involved. Chairman Crites noted that this water bond is significantly different and much broader than any of the other bonds for which the Conservancy has been a monetary recipient. Therefore there are a lot of projects that could fit into this bond that would never be funded under other bonds. Jim added that the law requires the Conservancy to do a lot of outreach and solicitation so that new partners may be involved.
Jim asked for further questions or directions from the Board, and receiving none, stated that staff would draft the Guidelines based on the outline for publication and consideration at the next board meeting.
5.4 Consideration of a Request for Conservancy Support of the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act.
Jim Karpiak reported that Senator Feinstein’s office contacted the Conservancy for an organizational endorsement of the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act. Locally the legislation would establish the new Sand to Snow National Monument with 135,000 acres connecting Joshua Tree National Park with the San Bernardino National Forest; it would expand Joshua Tree National Park; and establish the Mojave Trails National Monument to the north. Although the Conservancy does not typically endorse legislation, this is an opportunity to seek additional federal protection for land as well as more federal funds for our area, while also aligning the Conservancy with other conservation groups that advocate for more federal protections and resources for California. Jim reported that the Deputy Secretary at the Resources Agency who handles federal relations stated that the Agency has no objection to the Conservancy supporting this legislation.
Allan Muth asked if the proposed conservation is under the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Program or DRECP. Joan Taylor responded that her understanding was that the conservation lands proposed in the DRECP is the plan amendment and subject to change.
A motion was made and seconded (Taylor/Trover) for the Board to endorse the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act. The motion passed with thirteen votes in favor and three abstentions.
5.5 Consideration of a request to support 2015 Appropriations for the Endangered Species Act Section 6-Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund.
Jim Karpiak reported that the California Habitat Conservation Planning Coalition has requested that the Conservancy formally sign onto a letter to California’s two U.S. Senators in support of the 2015 Appropriations for the Endangered Species Act Section 6 program. Each year the Conservancy partners with the Coachella Valley Conservation Commission and the Friends of the Desert Mountains to apply for federal Section 6 funds to implement the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan. The most recent major acquisition was Shadow Rock where federal Section 6 funds provided over $2 million to fund the project. In 2014, the Coachella Valley received $893,000 and an application was recently submitted for 2015 funds. This is another opportunity to advocate for future federal funding as well as to establish better working relationships with other California conservation agencies.
Larry Olinger asked for clarification on the motion. Jim requested that the Board authorize the Executive Director to sign a letter on behalf of the Conservancy in support of the Section 6 allocations.
A motion was made and seconded (Trover/Taylor) to authorize the Executive Director to sign a letter on behalf of the Conservancy in support of the Section 6 budget proposal. The motion passed with twelve votes in favor and four abstentions.
6.1 Written Reports from Staff.
Kerrie Godfrey reminded the Board members of the requirements for the State Ethics Training which a Certificate of Completion was due on December 31, 2014. She also reminded them of the annual Conflict of Interest (Form 700) which is due April 1, 2015.
6.2 Executive Director Report.
Update on Northern Coachella Valley Trails Plan Implementation – Jim Karpiak reported that a bid will be awarded to an Environmental Consultant this week. We have had site visits at Corkhill Trail and Golf Center Drive Trail and found that there is less work with fewer habitat impacts that will be needed.
Status of Acquisitions Efforts – Jim Karpiak reported on the ongoing discussions with the Living Desert on the possible purchase of the Shumway Ranch. The purchase would include two parcels, one consisting only of open space that the Friends of the Desert Mountains would acquire, and the other smaller parcel containing historic buildings would be acquired by a nonprofit organization with preservation expertise. Staff is currently working to identify such a partner.
The Palm Hills draft appraisal reflects much lower values than what the seller is expecting, but the appraisal has not yet been finalized and the seller has not yet seen it.
Staff is reaching out to new potential partners to take title to lands as our existing partners are at or near full capacity.
Kristy Franklin asked if cities took title to conservation lands would they be required to maintain the lands and Jim responded that the cities would be required to maintain the lands or there would have to be a provision such as a reserve for ongoing costs. Chairman Crites added that one of the issues of bond fund purchases is that they do not provide any management or monitoring money which is an ongoing concern since the Conservancy was created. Jim added that it is a challenge that staff is discussing with the Conservancy’s partners.
Chairman Crites asked for status on the legislation for the inclusion of the cities of Indio and Coachella. Jim reported that it is on track to pass by June 2015.
6.3 Board Member comments and reports from Conservancy member agencies.
Jim Foote noted that at the end of December BLM released the draft environmental impact statement for proposed land exchange between the Bureau of Land Management and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. The comment period closes in March, 2015. Hard copies are available and it is also available on the BLM Palm Springs website. Jim also reminded everyone about the Wildflower Festival scheduled for March 7, 2015.
Chairman Crites thanked BLM and the County of Riverside for handling an issue with a local farmer who had concerns regarding Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) and shooting issues near his lands.
7.0 Adjourn to the March 9, 2015 meeting.
The meeting was adjourned without objection at 3:59 p.m.