Huge San Jose ranch habitat and preservation effort makes big progress

SAN JOSE — Government agencies have cleared a big hurdle for an ambitious plan to preserve a huge ranch in southeast San Jose as thousands of acres of pristine land for a nature habitat and public trails for hikers.

An intricate plan to preserve the approximately 3,654 acres of the Richmond Ranch went into full motion on Jan. 22, when The Conservation Fund paid $16 million to buy the ranch’s hills, vales and fields from affiliates of Z&L Properties, a China-based real estate firm. This works out to roughly $4,400 an acre.

Richmond Ranch in the southeast San Jose area, shown within the outline. Boundaries are approximate. 

The Conservation Fund is acting as an intermediary to purchase the ranch and intends to sell the lands that it bought from Z&L Properties to the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Agency and the Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Department. Kidder Mathews commercial real estate brokers Scott Vix, David Wientjes, and Skip Whitney helped arrange the sale from Z&L Properties.

“It’s a spectacular property,” said Dan Medeiros, a project manager with The Conservation Fund.

Hillsides and open spaces within Richmond Ranch in southeast San Jose. 

The Santa Clara Valley Habitat Agency has officially bought 944.2 acres in the vicinity of San Felipe Road and Metcalf Road in San Jose, purchasing it from The Conservation Fund, documents filed on Jan. 26 with the County Recorder’s office. This represents the most recent move in the endeavor to preserve the lands.

The Habitat Agency paid about $4.5 million for the 944 acres, Edmund Sullivan, the agency’s executive director, stated in an email he sent to this news organization. About $4 million came from a grant program and $500,000 from the Habitat Agency, Sullivan said.

The next major step to preserve the ranch: The county supervisors are scheduled to vote on Feb. 27 to authorize the county parks agency to buy another 1,487 acres from The Conservation Fund.

In 2017, Z&L paid $25 million for the ranch. Current appraisals suggest the ranch’s value is in the vicinity of $35 million, according to a Habitat Agency memo prepared by Robin Kohn, the organization’s senior real estate agent. This suggests that the public agencies are buying the ranchlands at favorable prices.

“This is a classic California ranchland but in full view of San Jose subdivisions and neighborhoods,” Medeiros said. “Preservation of this ranch will create trails and wildlife connectivity between the Diablo Range and the Santa Cruz Mountains.”

Connected open habitats that stretch for hundreds of miles are deemed to be crucial for wildlife, according to groups such as Wildlife Conservation Network, a nonprofit that has crafted a funding structure to connect donors with high-profile projects such as Richmond Ranch.

Wildlife Conservation Network, acting through its California Wildlife Program, said it provided financial support to The Conservation Fund for its purchase of Richmond Ranch from Z&L Properties.

“The acquisition of Richmond Ranch is a vital addition to the region’s network of protected areas, supporting resident and wide-raging wildlife while also providing landscape-scale habitat connectivity that is essential for long-term adaptation in a changing environment,” said Neal Sharma, manager of the California Wildlife Program.

The land is expected to have trails and be open to hikers, according to county documents. Richmond Ranch is also expected to be part of a network of trails that would snake along the ridges of the Bay Area, county officials say.

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For decades, the ranch was owned by members of the Richmond family. The ranch parcels were bought in the 1920s and 1930s by Edmund Richmond, one of the principal owners of San Jose-based Richmond-Chase Co., which became one of the nation’s largest canning and dried fruit companies.

One of the ranch houses on the property dates back to 1878, according to a brochure circulated in 2017 by The Chickering Co. Inc., a real estate brokerage specializing in ranch and recreational properties.

The county parks agency could complete its portion of the purchase this year if the county supervisors authorize the transaction. On Jan. 23, the Board of Supervisors took a preliminary step in its approval process by issuing a notice of the county’s intent to buy the site and setting the late February date for the next decision-making hearing.

“I’m thrilled that each of our systems has worked in close collaboration to permanently preserve this vital open space,” said County Supervisor Sylvia Arena. The ranch is located in her supervisorial district.

The Valley Habitat Agency anticipates it could purchase the remaining acreage sometime in 2025.

“Together, we are protecting and ensuring the conservation of our natural landscape,” said San Jose City Councilmember Domingo Candelas, whose district includes the ranch.

 

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