Giant swath of open space protected in Calabasas

A Stokes Canyon landowner has donated a conservation easement on 298 acres of pristine habitat to the MRCA.

Source of this article: The Thousand Oaks Acorn, February 12, 2015

The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) preserves and manages open space, parkland and wildlife habitat in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and elsewhere in the region. The easement will keep the land as permanent open space.

The MRCA accepted the donation from Brian Boudreau’s Malibu Valley Land company, which had previously wanted to build 53 homes on the site.

“The easement is the largest, by far, ever handled by the MRCA,” said Paul Edelman, chief of natural resources and planning for the agency. “The average easement is only about 5 acres.”

Under the arrangement, Boudreau still owns the property but gives away his right to place any commercial buildings there. The land will remain open space.

“We’re thrilled,” said Boudreau spokesperson Beth Palmer. “We’ve always tried to find a way to make this happen . . . at no cost to the public.”

Clark Stevens, executive director of the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains—an agency that works with public and private landowners to conserve natural resources throughout the Santa Monica Mountains—said the Boudreau property had been the oldest approved subdivision in Los Angeles.

“It’s a big save,” Stevens said.

The 298 acres lie near the intersection of Mulholland Highway and Las Virgenes Road, across the highway from King Gillette Ranch and the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area visitor center. The property is home to more than 500 oak trees and provides habitat for a variety of native birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Conservation easements are voluntary agreements with a public agency or land trust in which the landowner releases some—but not all—rights to the land.

The advantages for a land owner who donates an easement can include tax reductions and credits, cash benefits, and the knowledge that they are protecting valuable environmental resources.

“Most people donate conservation easements for the tax advantage and for protecting land adjacent to their property without having to give up ownership,” said Edelman. “Other benefits include privacy and exclusive equestrian use.”

Boudreau, a Calabasas native and Malibu Valley Land co-owner, will still have access to horse trails and picnic areas on the site, activity that the MRCA believes will have minimal effect on habitat values.

“A properly designed conservation easement plan . . . may ultimately protect nearly as much income as would be produced after the costly, risky, and taxable process required to fully develop land. We hope that more of our mountain landowners take advantage of conservation easements as a land use and estate planning tool, for their benefit as well as for the health of our habitats,” Stevens said.

In 2005, Boudreau wanted the City of Calabasas to annex an adjacent 152-acre property near Stokes Canyon so he could build a 200-room resort, but voters defeated the Malibu Valley Inn proposal at the ballot. That property still has entitlements to build 27 homes, which are currently under construction, Palmer said.

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