Michael Ellis

I was taking a group of children to one of my favorite places in Sonoma County and as I turned into the driveway I saw a “For Sale” sign. I was dumbfounded, this must be a mistake. Surely they wouldn’t, they couldn’t, sell this piece of property, no way.

Way. The California Academy of Science has decided to sell one on the most remarkable pieces of land in the Bay area, Pepperwood Ranch, to raise some money.

I love the Cal Academy, I have been a member for years. It is one of the premier attractions in the Bay area. The organization needs money, so what’s new? All organizations always need money. But sell Pepperwood???? As a columnist for the Examiner recently said “that is like selling the Mona Lisa to fix up the Louvre!”

Seventeen years ago Insurance Executive Kenneth Bechtel donated 3100 acres of wild, beautiful land to his charitable foundation, the Belvedere Scientific Fund. They in turn turned it over to the Academy. Kenneth Bechtel’s wish was, most importantly, was to preserve the land in its wild and natural state. He also wanted it to be used for educational and research purposes. It says exactly this in the recorded deed to the property. Those were his desires and it is what his wife and son have told me that they desire. With this sale, his wishes and theirs are being ignored.

Pepperwood has 9 distinct plant communities and more plants species that the entire British Isles! Thousands of people have participated in high quality educational programs run by the Academy. And this gem is within a one hour drive of San Francisco.

Now legally the Cal Academy has the right to sell. In an understandable oversight given the recipient of the property, the Belvedere Scientfic Fund only entrusted the Academy to protect the property for ten years.

Since the announced sale of Pepperwood the Academy has been besieged with negative publicity. They have now launched a public relations campaign to try to control the damage. In a letter to the Examiner the chairman of the Board wrote that the Academy was not putting Pepperwood on the market for development.

Well I’m not sure what their definition of development is but selling 300 prime acres to erect 3 multimillion dollar homes sounds a whole lot like development to me. Kenneth Bechtell wanted this property to be protected forever. It has become a very short forever.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.



Posted on

December 1, 2010