With the approach of the June 7 election, a renewal of Measure A is on the ballot.
I ask readers to consider voting NO on Measure A now, and voting yes in November when the ordinance is rewritten with 100% of Measure A going to our parks and open space.
Parks Director Korten has testified that Marin Parks has prepared a contingency plan should Measure A fail on June 7. Before the Board of Supervisors, Korten stated that Marin Parks has set aside funds to run its programs and pay its staff through December.
Therefore, we can rewrite Measure A for the November ballot, so that 100% of our parks and open space funds actually go to parks and open space. Presently, 20% of the funds are earmarked for private agriculture, including up to 16% or approximately $23 million over 9 years for the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT).
While there has been a good deal of contentious discussion about MALT and Measure A, there seems to be a dearth of information on MALT's actual Measure A easement acquisitions.
In 2019, allegations of corruption were leveled at MALT, and MALT was subsequently forced to return an $833,250 Measure A grant to Marin County. Since then, a significant amount of investigation has been conducted into how MALT uses Measure A money. Below are some facts.
Summary of facts:
- Between 2014 and 2019, MALT purchased five (of twelve) easements - using more than $7.5 million in Measure A money - all from MALT Board members and their families. This equates to over half of all Measure A money for ranching being granted to MALT insiders by MALT insiders.
- On two of these occasions, MALT used Measure A money to facilitate the acquisition of two new ranches (totaling 850 acres) by the family of a single MALT board member. (See discussion below)
- On two occasions, MALT is alleged to have created the very development risk that it purports to alleviate in order to inflate the value of easement, thus needlessly using Measure A funds to enrich Board members and their families. (See discussion below)
- It has been well covered in the press that in 2016, MALT purchased an easement on the Dolcini-Beltrametti Ranch for $1,666,500, including $833,250 from Measure A, while stakeholder Sam Dolcini sat on the MALT Board. This easement acquisition facilitated the acquisition of the property by Dolcini and his family, as Sam Dolcini submitted his application to MALT on November 17, 2015, almost five months before he and his family purchased the ranch on May 6, 2016.
After allegation were made of insider dealing, Marin Parks demanded that MALT return the Measure A grant it received. MALT then sued the County to prevent the release of documents that would have shed further light on this acquisition.
A renewed Public Records Act request was made in January 2022 for those same documents.
- In 2017, MALT negotiated the purchase of an easement on the Evans-Giacomini Nicasio Ranch for $3,285,000, including $1,662,012 from Measure A, while the owner’s daughter Julie Evans Rossotti sat on the MALT Board and while first cousin Ralph Grossi was Chair of the MALT board.
- In 2018, MALT purchased an easement on the Taylor-Bianchini Ranch for $3,594,000, including $1,817,950 from Measure A, while owner John Taylor not only sat on the MALT Board, but was Secretary of the Board and on MALT’s Stewardship Committee when an easement was purchased on his ranch.
- In 2018, MALT purchased an easement on the McIsaac Ranch for $3,427,000, including $1,731,850 from Measure A, while cousin Sam Dolcini and cousin-by-marriage Mike Gale sat on the MALT Board.
Along with the Dolcini-Beltrametti Ranch, this was the second ranch in two years that MALT helped facilitate using Measure A money. Both ranches were acquired by the Dolcini heirs, while they and/or their cousins sat on the MALT board.
Carl Somers, Chief of Planning and Acquisition at Marin County Parks, characterized the acquisition of the McIsaac Ranch as follows at the March 13, 2018 meeting of the Board of Supervisors requesting an approval of Measure A funds:
The [McIsaacs] did not have the capital to buy the property outright. MALT stepped in, had to get a little bit creative, they actually found a conservation buyer to step in and purchase the property, finance it, offer the McIsaacs financing, bridge financing, while they pulled this deal together. And with our grant today, with the Board’s authorization today, we’ll move forward with this grant, MALT has the rest of the funding put together, and we’ll be able to complete the project and the McIsaacs will be able to pay off their bridge loan. [Emphasis added]
- In 2019, MALT purchased an easement on the Ielmorini Ranch for $3,032,000, including $1,516,000 from Measure A, while relatives Sam Dolcini and Bill Barboni sat on the MALT Board.
This is the first ranch upon which MALT seemed to create development risk to inflate the easement value and thus be able to access more funds from Measure A.
Before May 2, 2018, the 758-acre Ielmorini “Back” Ranch was “landlocked”, meaning that it had no deeded access to the parcel. Therefore, without an ability to get to the property, the property was not at high risk for development and therefore had minimal easement value.
On May 2, 2018, MALT Board Secretary, Sam Dolcini, recorded an access easement to his cousin’s Ielmorini Ranch over his own property. By granting access, a MALT Board member created development risk where there was none, thus inflating the value of a future conservation easement over his relative’s property.
On May 22, 2018, just three weeks after the access easement was recorded, the MALT Board ordered an appraisal of the Ielmorini Ranch, and the following day, MALT submitted a Measure A application to the County.
In its application for Measure A funds, MALT did not disclose that an access easement was granted to the Ielmorinis by a MALT Board Director.
Supervisor Rodoni, who sat on the MALT board during this transaction, did not inform fellow supervisors of the access easement granted to the Ielmorinis by cousin Sam Dolcini on the day the supervisors approved the Measure A grant to MALT.
- The creation of development risk in an effort to inflate the easement value was similarly done on the Thacher Ranch. Before September 18, 2014, the 623-acre Thacher Ranch was “landlocked.” Without access, the property was not at risk for development, and the easement value would therefore be minimal
On August 23, 2013, MALT commissioned an appraisal of the Thacher Ranch by Bouyea and Associates. Even though access to the ranch did not exist – and would not exist for over a year – the appraiser valued the easement at $1,807,000, stating:
"Direct access to the subject property from Chileno Valley Road, via access easements over adjacent properties to the east of the subject property, is assumed. This is a value influencing assumption ..." (Emphasis added)
MALT applied for a grant of Measure A funds. In its application, MALT failed to disclose the fact that there was no access to the property, instead claiming that the estimated fair market value of the easement was $1,807,000.
On September 18, 2014, a “Deed of Agricultural Conservation Easement” over the Thacher Ranch was recorded. At the same time, a “Grant of Servitude for Rights of Entry and Agreement Concerning Rights” was recorded over the neighboring ranch.
With these sets of facts, it is shocking that Marin County would ever consider diverting funds from our parks and open space to MALT.
As we approach the June 7 election, an argument has been made that there is ample oversight and transparency of MALT’s use of Measure A funds.
In fact, there is NO functional oversight into MALT activities and uses of Measure A funds. This article details the dearth of transparency: “There Is No Public Oversight of MALT’s Expenditure of Measure A Funds.” Without public oversight, MALT has unregulated control over taxpayer funds, creating the possibility of continued misappropriation of Measure A.
Please vote NO on Measure A.
We can vote on a better ordinance in November.
Documentation for any of the claims made in this post will be provided upon request.