Senate Omnibus Bill Extends Habitat Funding

Funding for the fourth and final section of Triangle Ranch Park at the base of Ladyface Mountain in Agoura Hills may be in reach. 

Senate Bill 85, The Public Resources: Omnibus Trailer Bill, is one of those massive pieces of legislation meant to cover everything that might otherwise slip through the cracks. It ranges from funds for CalFire Infrastructure, to a grant program to fund refrigeration at low income area convenience stores, to encourage shopkeepers to sell fresh fruits and vegetables.

This bill, just signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, also extends expiring habitat conservation funding that was first approved in 1990.

 The funding, $30 million a year in total, is allocated for use by a number of conservation and park agencies, including the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. The SMMC will receive $5 million annually for the next 10 fiscal years, and can use its share of funding to improve and acquire wildlife habitat, wildlife corridors, and related open-space projects, within the Santa Monica Mountains Zone, the Rim of the Valley Corridor, and the Santa Clarita Woodlands. 

The SMMC has confirmed that it plans to use some of this funding for the Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing project, but the Triangle Ranch acquisition is also at the top of the priority acquisitions list. 

Triangle Ranch consists of 320 acres divided into four parcels that spread in a triangular shape down the slope of mountain to Triunfo Creek. The entire property is listed as a Significant Ecological Area (SEA). It includes rare plant habitat on the slope of the long-extinct Ladyface volcano and equally rare creek habitat on the other side of Kanan Dume Road.  

 At one time, the property was slated for a luxury housing development with more than 80 houses. It’s in the process of being acquired by the SMMC’s sister agency, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA), in a complicated four-stage plan. 

The MRCA was able to cobble together the funding for three of the four parcels—through a mix of bond money, conservation funds, a donation of half a million dollars from the Hilton Foundation, $800,000 from the city of Agoura Hills and a county grant-—but the funding for the fourth and final piece of the property was anticipated to come from a bond measure that did not pass last November.

The fourth phase includes a wildflower-rich 84-acre parcel sandwiched between two of the earlier Triangle Ranch acquisitions, and a 66-acre creekside parcel on the far side of Cornell Road, adjacent to an extensive network of contiguous parkland owned by various agencies. This final acquisition has been in a state of limbo for nearly a year. Advocates for the project hope the SB 85 funds will fill the gap.

The Acorn newspaper reported in July that the SMMC may also be considering using SB 85 funding to acquire the controversial 8.2-acre Cornerstone development property on the corner of Agoura and Cornell roads, near Triangle Ranch. 

The property, rich with ecological and cultural resources, is back on the market after a judge ruled in 2018 that the 217,00-square-foot, mixed-use development project proposed for the site required full environmental review. A willing seller would be necessary for the acquisition to take place, but observers say selling the property to the Conservancy could solve a host of problems for the developer.

The news that SB 85 had passed arrived at nearly the same time the SMMC closed escrow on a 40-acre property off Skyline in Topanga. That acquisition was funded by bond money and private donations. 

There was little doubt that the California legislature would approve SB 85, but knowing the funds will continue to be available for another 10 years is an aid to conservationists, because open space acquisition is often time sensitive—if the funds aren’t there when a property goes on the market or a seller indicates a willingness to negotiate, the opportunity can be lost forever. 

 

Suzanne Guldimann
Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at suzanne@messengermountainnews.com

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