Approved Minutes, May 11, 2015


Approved Minutes – May 11, 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) Tom Davis, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Kathy Dice, California State Parks
John Donnelly, Wildlife Conservation Board
Jim Foote, Bureau of Land Management
Kristy Franklin, City of La Quinta
Shelley Kaplan, City of Cathedral City
Patrick Kemp, Natural Resources Agency
Eddy Konno, California Department of Fish and Wildlife Joe McKee, City of Desert Hot Springs
Ted Mertens, City of Indian Wells
Karin Messaros, National Park Service
Allan Muth, University of California
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
Chris Mills, City of Palm Springs
Eraina Ortega, California State Department of Finance Joan Taylor, Governor’s Appointee
Jim Karpiak, Executive Director
Kerrie Godfrey, Associate Director/AGPA
Ruth Watling, Friends of the Desert Mountains Sabby Jonathon, City of Palm Desert Alternate
1.0 Call to Order & Introductions
Chairman Crites declared a quorum with 16 voting members present at 3:00 p.m. He noted that new attendees were present and asked Executive Director Jim Karpiak to introduce them to the Board. Jim introduced Sabby Jonathon,
alternate member for the City of Palm Desert and Ruth Watling, Friends of the Desert Mountains board member.

2.0 Approval of Minutes of March 9, 2015 Meeting
Chairman Crites asked if there were any comments, additions or corrections to the March 2015 minutes. There being no comments, additions or corrections by the board members, the minutes were approved as distributed. Kristy Franklin joined the meeting after the vote to approve the minutes, thus changing the quorum to 17 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 Approval of Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy Proposition 1 Grant Program Guidelines.
Executive Director Jim Karpiak reported that at the last Board meeting, the Conservancy held its first public hearing on its grant Guidelines required by Prop 1. Since then, the Conservancy held four other public meetings on the Guidelines in Indio, Palm Springs, Auburn and Fresno. The latter two hearings were held jointly with other conservancies to comply with statutory requirements. After the hearings, staff received additional written comments through April 15th and thereafter revised the Guidelines based on the comments received. The substantive changes are summarized in page 11 of the agenda packet. The revised Guidelines were sent to the Secretary of Natural Resources Agency and were approved by that office and now they are ready for approval by the Board.

Board members then discussed the Guidelines. Jim Foote commented that if a project is outside of conservation area under the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Plan (CVMSHCP), it could lose points for not being “consistent with” the CVMSHCP. Jim Karpiak responded that the word consistent was meant not to require that projects be within CVMSHCP territory, but rather that they did not interfere with the CVMSHCP. Jim Foote suggested clarification language be added, and Jim Karpiak asked Jim Foote to draft language for Board review.

Allan Muth asked who would certify the compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Jim Karpiak responded that the Board would certify when the award is made.
Jim Foote asked if under Section III – Eligible Applicants, the “public agency” definition was meant to exclude federal agencies. Jim Karpiak said yes, as the definition comes from Prop 1.
Chairman Crites commented that the deed restriction required by Section VI (e) could prevent transferring lands to federal agencies. Jim Karpiak responded that it is the Conservancy’s practice to have a Notice of Unrecorded Grant Agreement (NUGA) on all property acquired with Conservancy funds to protect the public investment, but that the Conservancy can release the NUGA through a process set by state law (as it recently followed for the Stearns Bank parcels). Ellen Trover asked if the Conservancy had authority to release a deed restriction if the property was acquired with Prop 1 funds. Jim responded that the Prop 1 legislation does not require a deed restriction, so if one is recorded pursuant to the Conservancy’s Guidelines, it could be removed provided the applicable law governing transfers of Conservancy interests is followed.
John Donnelly, Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB), said WCB does not release grant restrictions when transferring property from a non-profit or local agency to a Federal agency and will not do so for Prop 1 grant projects because Prop 1 does not allow grant funds to the federal government as it is not included with the “public agency” definition. He added that he did not believe that the Conservancy Board had the authority to release deed restrictions on property going to Federal agencies because the property was acquired with State funds, thus the State requirements apply. Furthermore, federal plans for properties need to be consistent with State grant requirements so WCB’s practice is to enter into a new grant agreement or a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

Jim Karpiak noted that the Conservancy’s historic practice was otherwise, namely, to consider termination of restrictions where the land was subject to other legal projections (e.g., within a National Monument, federal wilderness area or ACEC). He suggested that the deed restriction requirement should remain part of the Prop 1 Guidelines, and then in the future, if grantees request releases for a federal transfer, the board could consider them on a case by case basis but would not be required to grant releases. If no deed restrictions are required, there would be the ongoing risk of transfers of property or new encumbrances appearing on title. John Donnelly agreed that the deed restriction provision should remain in the guidelines.
Chairman Crites asked about page 33, Exhibit D, Application Checklist, if there should be a reference that the Conservancy intends to provide staff assistance to applicants preparing applications. Jim responded that there is a reference to staff assistance elsewhere in the guidelines and that staff will reiterate that in the Notices of Funding Availability.
Chairman Crites also noted that the Desert Sun Newspaper recently reported that Assemblyman Garcia’s legislation to add the cities of Coachella and Indio to the Conservancy Board was needed to make the cities eligible for Prop 1 funding. Jim responded that he understands that Mr. Garcia believes current law is unclear: the cities are eligible for CVMC funds where they are implementing the CVMSHCP; however, because the Cities technically are not in Conservancy territory, it is possible they may be ineligible for funds for other types of projects, such as Prop 1 projects that do not implement the CVMSHCP.
Jim Foote provided the following additional language to be added to the end of section V. (a): “Points will not be deducted for projects located outside the CVMSHCP area or outside conservation areas established under the CVMSHCP”. That would allow projects in the interior valley floor (i.e., which are not within conservation areas) eligible. There were no objections to the additional sentence being added.

A motion was made and seconded (Kaplan/Trover) to approve the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy Proposition 1 Grant Program Guidelines as amended. The motion passed with 16 votes in favor and one abstention.

5.2 Approval of a Board Policy on Capital Improvement Grants to enhance maintenance and monitoring programs on existing conservation land.
Jim Karpiak reported that at its last meeting, the Board reviewed and commented on a draft policy on Capital Improvement Grants and then directed staff to make some changes and bring the policy back for adoption. Jim briefly reiterated that the goal of such a policy is to assist grantees in keeping their management costs down so that they will be able to continue to acquire conservation land. Under bond laws that apply to use of our capital funds, “capital improvement” has a very technical definition (i.e., improvements that have a useful life of 15 years or more, or non-routine maintenance measures that are required no more frequently than every five years), so these grants could be used only for a limited range of purposes, such as fencing, grading, hazardous material cleanup, removal of invasive species, demolition of improvements and restoration of land, etc.
Jim then summarized the changes and additions made to the policy since the last meeting: paragraph 1 clarifies that property already in conservation ownership means that it has a deed restriction and already is owned by a conservation entity; paragraph 3 includes a carve out for small grants of under $5,000, which may be approved by staff to reflect the existing procurement policy and help respond to emergencies, like floods or wind damage; paragraph 4 now includes an exception to the 30% matching funds requirement where there is an urgent need and the grantee demonstrates that it had sought matching funds but was unsuccessful; paragraph 5 expands the description of the required application letter; paragraph 7 states that CEQA compliance is required; paragraph 8 requires that grants be for purposes that are not inconsistent with the land’s habitat values for endangered/threatened species, and the grant may not be used to bar public access where that already exists; paragraph 9 contains language about procurement requirements for grantees that meet the “fair and reasonable” standard; paragraph 10 notes that additional conditions can be added for any grant; and paragraph 11 requires that a grant agreement be executed before any funds are disbursed. Jim closed by noting that the revised policy was intended as a guideline for potential applicants but was not meant to be so prescriptive that it limits the board’s discretion.
John Benoit asked if the title could be changed to “Capital Improvement Grants Guidelines” rather than policy, and there was no objection. Susan Marie Weber asked for clarification on the definitions of maintenance and capital improvements; Jim described the general requirements of the bond laws and noted that we would consult with the attorney general when projects that are not clearly capital improvements arise.
A motion was made and seconded (Benoit/Trover) to approve the Capital Improvement Grants Guidelines as amended. The motion passed unanimously.

5.3 Adoption of Resolution 2015-02 approving a local assistance grant to the Friends of the Desert Mountains for acquisition of approximately 58.88 acres in the Dos Palmas Conservation Area.
Jim Karpiak reported that for the first time in 8 months the board has a land acquisition grant to consider: an award to the Friends of the Desert Mountains (FODM) not to exceed $30,000 plus closing costs for the purchase of approximately 60 acres located in the Dos Palmas Conservation area. The site is near or adjacent to other parcels owned by FODM, CVCC and BLM, making a future transfer to BLM possible. Jim noted that current law requires that the minutes reflect that two board members (Buford Crites and Joan Taylor) also serve on the FODM board; however, state law specifically provides that a non- paid board membership for a non-profit organization like FODM is not a conflict of interest, and therefore no recusal is required.
Allan Muth commented that the area is heavily trafficked by OHV users, so a post and cable fence is advisable in this area. Jim noted that the FODM is aware of that and has been considering options for fencing.
A motion was made and seconded (Kaplan/Weill) to approve Resolution 2015-12 approving a local assistance grant to the Friends of the Desert Mountains for acquisition of approximately 58.88 acres in the Dos Palmas Conservation Area. The motion passed unanimously.

6.0 Reports

6.1 Written Reports from Staff.
Kristy Franklin asked how much remains in Section 6 PBS Grant Funds. Jim responded that about $400,000 is remaining. Kristy asked if we had until October to spend the funds. Jim responded yes, but noted that the funds are awarded to the Coachella Valley not just the Conservancy so staff needs to work with CVCC and the Wildlife Conservation Board to use the funds. Kristy asked how much is left in Section 6 HCP Grant Funds. Kerrie responded that about $1.6 million is remaining but those funds don’t expire in October.

6.2 Executive Director Report.
Jim Karpiak provided updates on the following:
Staffing Update – Diana is still on medical leave, probably until the end of the year, although she does usually work one day per week. The Department of Parks and Recreation (Parks), which handles our Human Resources has to date rejected our requests to hire a part time temporary employee or retired annuitant in the interim, although we continue to pursue solutions. Thus we are short on staff by a third, at a time when we are getting busier with CVCC acquisitions and planning for Prop 1 implementation. The new budget includes a Prop 1 staff person, although we must rely on Parks to handle recruitment, so we are not sure when that person will be available. As a result, some of our projects may need to be delayed over the coming months. Kathy Dice made some suggestions about working with Park on Human Resources issues.
Shumway Ranch Acquisition – staff has been negotiating with California State University — San Bernardino (CSUSB), which is considering taking title to the part of the property that contains historic structures. CSUSB must go through an extensive internal approval process, but we are hopeful about this potential partnership. Staff will also be talking to the Shumway owner, the Living Desert, to possibly acquiring the property in two phases.
Northern Coachella Valley Trails Project – Environmental review is moving apace; field survey work is complete and we have been meeting with BLM staff. We are on schedule to submit applications by fall. Sabby Jonathon noted that he was formerly on the Living Desert board, but upon election to the City Council, he withdrew from that board, so no potential conflict arises.
AB1089 Legislation – The Legislation passed the Assembly unanimously last week and is now in the Senate; if it passes and is signed by the Governor the two cities representatives will join the Board in January.

6.3 Board Member comments and reports from Conservancy member agencies. Chairman Crites noted that the City of Indio was one of the founding members of the Conservancy and then Mayor Jim Fitzhenry was the first Vice Chair of the Conservancy. Later Indio asked to be removed from the Conservancy board, so if AB 1089 passes, Indio actually would be returning to the Conservancy.

7.0 Adjourn to the July 13, 2015 meeting.
The meeting was adjourned without objection at 3:46 p.m.