Preserving ag land a longtime goal |

Preserving ag land a longtime goal

A worker bales hay on Ranch No. 1 for the second cutting of the season. Douglas County residents are being asked to help work out the puzzle to preserve agriculture as part of the master plan update.
Kur Hildebrand

Proponents of a quarter-cent sales tax to preserve open space obtained endorsements from the towns of Gardnerville and Genoa this week.

The effort is being spearheaded by planning commissioners Maureen Casey and Mark Neddenriep with backup from former planning and county commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen.

Money raised by the sales tax would be used to purchase development rights on agricultural land in Carson Valley. The measure will appear on the November ballot.

This is the second time voters have been asked to approve an open space measure. The first one was defeated in 2000. This year’s effort has the endorsement of the Douglas County Farm Bureau.

Preserving agriculture in Carson Valley has long been a goal for residents.

In 2002, voters approved the Sustainable Growth Initiative, which sought a 2-percent cap on new homes. While initially opposed, in 2007 commissioners implemented the cap after losing in court. The arrival of the Great Recession resulted in the housing crash, which brought construction to a standstill for years.

No home has ever been denied because of the growth cap in the 13 years since it was enacted.

One of the most successful means to preserve open space over the past two decades has been the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act. The act generates money by selling land in the Las Vegas Valley to buy conservation easements in Douglas County, among other things.

According to more than 5,000 acres of ranch land has been preserved and another 14,522 acres is in progress.

However, Etchegoyhen pointed out that the federal government isn’t interested in managing any more easements, leaving the task of preserving the rest of the Valley to local interests.

Monday marks 25 years since the collapse of one of the county’s most ambitious bids to preserve agriculture in its history, when it made a bid to purchase the last 9,800 acres of the old Dangberg Ranch.

The $24 million purchase price would have required the county to use every nickel it had and borrow more just to get to the point where it would be making payments.

The original plan was to purchase the property, take what the county needed for right of way, remove the development rights and then sell it for ranching.

On July 6, 1995, Douglas County commissioners voted to pursue the purchase, which required a $4 million down payment, with $2 million when the agreement is finalized and another $2 million on the close of escrow.

Coming up with just that portion of the cost would have required the county to raid the room tax and water fund reserves.

The prospect of losing room tax money prompted the Lake Tahoe Gaming Alliance to oppose the deal.

In the middle of the debate, Katrina Dangberg Glide died in July 1995, opening the door for the county to take over the home ranch, which had long been considered for a park.

Then in August, Carson Valley rancher Bruce Park and Minden industrialist Don Bently said they would be willing to purchase the ranch in a surprise announcement at an Aug. 3 Douglas County commissioners meeting.

Escrow on that purchase was scheduled to close Sept. 11, 1995, while the county’s deal was set for Oct. 5.

But there were serious concerns, including from Etchegoyhen, one of the architects of the deal, who agreed the state might look askance at the county’s ability to purchase the ranch.

At Lake Tahoe, a group filed a recall petitions against the commissioners who supported the purchase.

On the eve of the Sept. 7, 1995, hearing where commissioners needed four votes on the board to consummate the purchase, Etchgoyhen appeared to express buyer’s remorse.

“Circumstances have changed so greatly that it feels like we’ve got our arms around a 1,000-pound gorilla and we are not sure whether we want to wrestle any more or need to,” he was quoted as saying in The R-C on Sept. 6.

On Sept. 7, Etchegoyhen and Commissioner Don Miner voted against the deal, killing it.

County commissioners would never be able to take so bold an action again. A few days before the commission voted to purchase the ranch, the Nevada Legislature redefined the term “action” in the Nevada Open Meeting Law, which took effect on Oct. 1, 1995.

Under the change, a board would have to place a specific item on an agenda saying what action was possible on the topic.

The recall wrapped up in the first week of November 1995 without sufficient valid signatures, but the 1996 election would see three of them off the board. Commissioner Dave Pumphrey decided not to seek a third term, and commissioners Barbara Smallwood and Bob Allgeier were defeated.

There were repercussions from that extended beyond the political careers of the commissioners who supported the purchase.

An independent group formed at Lake Tahoe to examine how much of the county’s budget was generated at Stateline.

The county had for years used room taxes generated at Tahoe to fund parks and other amenities.

That resulted in the formation of the Tahoe Citizens Committee, which proposed the formation of a new county including the Lake portions of Douglas, Carson and Washoe counties. While the Legislature rejected that plan, lawmakers did approve formation of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and ensuring it would be funded by room taxes generated at Lake Tahoe.

About 1,044 acres of the land purchased by Park in 1995 was converted to receiving area in the master plan map update approved last year. That receiving area was transferred from Sleeping Elephant Ranch in Topaz Ranch Estates, where it had been in place since the plan’s original approval 25 years ago.

In a 1996 end-of-the-year interview with The R-C, Commissioner Dave Pumphrey defended the effort to purchase the ranch.

“It was an opportunity to preserve upwards of 10,000 acres of prime agricultural land,” he told R-C reporter Joanna Welch. “We’ll look back in years to come and regret that missed opportunity.”

He had a warning for future generations.

“Unless we make some fundamental change, we’ll be wall-to-wall people,” he said.