Approved Minutes, March 9, 2015


Approved Minutes – March 9, 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


John J. Benoit, Riverside County
Buford Crites, State Assembly Appointee – (Chairman) Jim Foote, Bureau of Land Management
Kristy Franklin, City of La Quinta
Shelley Kaplan, City of Cathedral City
Eddy Konno, California Department of Fish and Wildlife Joe McKee, City of Desert Hot Springs
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 Joan Taylor, Governor’s Appointee
Ellen L. Trover, Senate Rules Committee Appointee Susan Marie Weber, City of Palm Desert
Ted Weill, City of Rancho Mirage – (Vice-Chairman)
Arturo Delgado, U.S. Forest Service (Non-voting Member) Kathy Dice, California State Parks
John Donnelly, Wildlife Conservation Board
Patrick Kemp, Natural Resources Agency
Ted Mertens, City of Indian Wells
Jim Karpiak, Executive Director
Kerrie Godfrey, Associate Director/AGPA
Shari Bacon, Construction Industry Force Account Council Steve Bigley, Coachella Valley Water District
Kirk Cloyd, City of Coachella
Michael Flores, California Department of Fish and Wildlife John Light, Laborers’ International Union of North America John Purcell, Friends of the Desert Mountains

Jennifer Prado, Friends of the Desert Mountains
Britt Wilson, City of Rancho Mirage

1.0 Call to Order & Introductions

Chairman Crites declared a quorum with 15 voting members present at 3:00 p.m. He then asked Jim Karpiak to introduce the new members of the Board. Jim introduced Shelley Kaplan, City of Cathedral City and Joe McKee, City of Desert Hot Springs. Then all board members and staff introduced themselves to the new board members.

2.0 Approval of Minutes of January meeting

Chairman Crites asked if there were any comments, additions or corrections to the January 2015 minutes. There being no comments, additions or corrections by the board members, the minutes were approved as distributed. Eraina Ortega joined the meeting by tele-conference after the vote to approve the minutes, thus changing the quorum to 16 voting members present.

3.0 Public Comments on Items Not on the Agenda There were no public comments or questions.

4.0 Closed Session
No matters were scheduled.

5.0 Action Items – Public Hearing

5.1 Presentation and Review of Proposition 1 Grant Program Guidelines.
Jim Karpiak reported that this was the first public meeting for the Proposition 1 Grant Program Guidelines. A short presentation was provided with background information on Prop 1 and a summary of the guidelines: Prop 1 was passed in November 2014, with $7.5 billion dollars to implement the objectives of Prop 1 and the California Water Action Plan. Of the $7.5 billion, the Conservancy was awarded $10 million. Use of the funds is guided by the California Water Action Plan, so the Conservancy must adopt funding guidelines that are different than those it used for previous bond funds.

The draft Conservancy Prop 1 Grant Program guidelines were published February 5th on the Conservancy’s website and the Prop 1 website and distributed to local press, public agencies and interested nonprofits. The next public meetings on the guidelines will occur in Indio on March 24th and Palm Springs March 26th, and board members are welcome but not required to attend. Two additional meetings scheduled jointly with other Conservancies will be held at locations in Northern California and the Central Valley for further opportunity to the public to provide comments or questions. Written comments will be accepted through April 15th.
Staff’s goals in drafting the guidelines were to cast a wide net for different types of projects and to open new partnerships as well as continue with the existing partners. Staff will provide technical assistance to potential grantees on the application process. The Conservancy will consider any project that fulfills one or more of the objectives of Prop 1, but staff expects that as the main types of project will be for acquisition of conservation lands, restoration of water-related natural features, and the enhancement of water-related infrastructures. Prop 1 requires a staff committee and panel of technical experts to rate the applications based on the project evaluation criteria in the guidelines; staff will then present the qualifying applications to the Board with documentation of the nexus to the Water Plan’s objectives.

After the Conservancy’s hearings, the guidelines have to be reviewed by the California Natural Resources Agency prior to the final approval by the Board, which is currently expected to occur at the May 2015 meeting. Once the 2015-16 state budget takes effect July 1, the Conservancy will issue the first Notice of Funds Availability (NOFA) later in August 2015. Applications would be due in September or October and funding decisions would occur in November. The draft 2015-16 budget contemplates $2.5 million dollars for grants under the Conservancy program, with $2 million dollars in each of the subsequent years until the $10 million is used up.

Chairman Crites opened the public hearing for public comments.

Shari Bacon with the Construction Industry Force Account Council (CIFAC) summarized a letter sent to the California Natural Resources Agency by CIFAC and its member organizations. The letter requested draft language in the guidelines that additional points and/or consideration will be given to entities seeking grants that commit to the use of a competitive bidding process. Shari provided a copy of the letter for board review and support.

John Light with the Laborers’ International Union of North America spoke in support of the CIFAC’s request by mentioning the Helmets to Hardhats Program; a nonprofit program that supports retired and transitioning active-duty military service members with construction skilled training for assistance with construction jobs in their communities. He stated that competitive bidding supports such programs, hence his support for CIFAC’s request.

No further public comments were made. Chairman Crites asked if there were any board member comments or questions. Chairman Crites commented that staff assistance for applicants will be important especially to smaller agencies wishing to apply for grants due to the complexity of the process. He also stated that he would be attending the public hearing meetings in Indio and Palm Springs and invited members to attend at their convenience.

Eddy Konno asked if there was a geographic limitation to where the projects may be; Jim Karpiak responded that the Conservancy does not have authority to spend funds outside of the Coachella Valley hence the geographic limitation would be the same as with the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.

Joe McKee asked about an appeal process and how the Conservancy plans to deal with agencies who feel they have been unfairly excluded. Chairman Crites stated that the Board is the final decision maker for proposed grants; Jim Karpiak concurred that any comments on grant awards will need to be submitted to the Board.

Shari Bacon asked if the NOFA would be advertised; Jim Karpiak responded that the NOFA is planned to be publicized widely in order to encourage competition. Jim also offered to take organizations’ contact information for inclusion on the NOFA distribution list.

Chris Mills asked if there was a State requirement that the funds be prevailing wage projects; Jim Karpiak stated that is not in Prop 1, but he will ask the Resources Agency and the Conservancy’s lawyer. John Purcell added that the Friends of the Desert Mountains (Friends) has used organizations to pay a stipend for various services so the answer to the question of prevailing wage projects will impact the ability for the Friends to apply successfully to use the type of funds.

Jim mentioned that one of the written comments received since the published guidelines came from the California Conservation Corps (CCC), which requests a formal consultation for applicants to determine whether CCC assistance is feasible.

No action was required so Chairman Crites closed the public hearing and moved on to the next agenda item.

5.2 Consideration of Capital Improvement Grants to enhance maintenance and monitoring program on existing conservation land.

Jim Karpiak reported that staff suggests establishing a small program of capital improvement grants for conservation lands that are already under ownership of Conservancy partners or other public agencies to assist Conservancy partners in keeping their management costs down. In the last year, the conservation acquisitions and applications have dwindled mainly due to the increased concerns about long term management costs: our local partners are hesitating to continue to take title to new properties. As a result, willing sellers have been turned away, and there are significant amounts of unspent Conservancy bond funds and unspent Federal Section 6 allocations.

Although the Conservancy may not use bond funds for general operating support, it may use bond funds for capital improvements such as fencing, signage and certain clean-up projects. In doing so, the habitat quality of the land will be improved, and our partners’ ongoing costs will be reduced, which will serve as an incentive for them to continue acquiring property. Therefore the recommendation by staff is to adopt an informal policy for consideration of capital improvements with suggested policies for grants (outlined in page 32 of the agenda packet). Jim opened the floor for questions or comments.

Kristy Franklin asked about the criteria for eligible projects; Chairman Crites responded that grants would only be eligible on projects that have been purchased with Conservancy bond funds.

Allan Muth clarified that management would be under capital improvements and Chairman Crites added that the capital improvements would be for the purposes for which the property was acquired which was conservation.

Karin Messaros asked about the type of fencing that might be used on capital improvement projects, Jim Karpiak provided information about the materials used in previous projects, i.e., one or two-strand post and cable fencing similar to BLM requirements.

Chris Mills asked about public access when fencing projects are considered. Jim responded that the Conservancy does not directly control that, other than requiring that land be managed in a way that is consistent with the habitat values. Chris added that the City of Palm Springs is willing to assume maintenance responsibilities for the Shadow Rock/Angel Cove lands including fencing for the property, as long as public trail access is allowed.

Allan Muth asked if there was ever a case in which the Conservancy granted funds for property that excluded the public. Kerrie Godfrey responded no and Allan clarified that the main purpose of the fencing is to exclude off highway vehicles and trespassers from dumping. Kerrie Godfrey stated that future trail plans would need to be brought up with federal and state wildlife agencies.

Chairman Crites asked if authorizing capital improvement grants would excuse grantees from existing responsibilities under the purchase agreement. Jim Karpiak responded no, as we typically do not impose capital improvement requirements on grantees.

Allan Muth asked if fencing the land would trigger any liability for the Conservancy or the title owner of the property. Jim Karpiak responded that the Conservancy would require the owner to indemnify the Conservancy and Chairman Crites added that the Conservancy would only be responsible for itself on any liability if any.

Ellen Trover stated that she was in favor of the concept with the development of guidelines for dealing with possible issues.

A motion was made and seconded (Trover/Mills) to approve the concept and ask staff to develop more detailed guidelines as suggested by board members. The motion passed with a unanimous roll call vote.

6.0 Reports

6.1 Written Reports from Staff.

Kristy Franklin asked for clarification on the availability of existing bond funds. Jim Karpiak and Chairman Crites responded that each proposition has different requirements but all funds are available for grants.

Kerrie Godfrey reminded the Board members of the requirements for the Conflict of Interest (Form 700) which is due no later than April 1, 2015.

6.2 Executive Director Report.

Jim Karpiak provided update reports on the following items:

Update on Board Expansion Legislation – Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia introduced legislation AB1089, a committee is expected to be assigned shortly. Once the bill is assigned to a committee the Conservancy plans on requesting letters of support from the Board members. Assemblyman Garcia and Senator Jeff Stone have both been responsive to staff requests and seem very supportive of habitat conservation. Chairman Crites noted that copies of the legislation are available for anyone who wants a copy.

Chuckwalla Trail Improvements Update – Trail maintenance was done at the Chuckwalla Trail near Mirada in Rancho Mirage. Several social trails were also blocked off and directional signs were also installed to help prevent hikers from getting lost. Two trailhead signs were installed as well.

Update on Northern Coachella Valley Trails Plan Implementation – The Conservancy has retained Aspen Environmental under contract to prepare the environmental review documents and to conduct the habitat surveys that are required in order to get the permit for the trails. Work has begun and the habitat surveys are on track so applications should be ready by fall as contemplated. Staff has been working on real estate issues and hopes to move forward with construction by next winter. Chairman Crites added that several members walked the Pushwalla Trail from the National Park down into the valley and noted that directional signage will be especially useful there.

Status of potential Shumway Ranch and Palm Hills projects – Shumway Ranch has been appraised for a total value of $1.6 million and the seller has agreed to accept the fair market value amount. The Friends of the Desert Mountains (FODM) is interested in taking the vacant 480 acre parcel. The 160 acre parcels that contains historic buildings; Staff has been in talks with the local preservation community and the California State University at San Bernardino Foundation, which may be interested in taking title to the property. Chairman Crites added that the property was the last 640 grazing allotment given in California in the 1930’s.

The Palm Hills project consists of 3,300 acres in the National Monument; the seller has reviewed the property appraisal and is consulting his own appraiser to review it. We anticipate a decision in the next couple of months, and should the project go forward, it would use funding from Section 6 and possibly WCB and CVMC local assistance grants.

6.3 Board Member comments and reports from Conservancy member agencies. There were no comments or reports made.

7.0 Adjourn to the May 11, 2015 meeting.

The meeting was adjourned without objection at 3:58 p.m.