The East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) will be doubling the size of Vasco Caves Regional Preserve in southeastern Contra Costa County. On December 14, 2004, the East Bay Regional Park District Board of Directors unanimously agreed to purchase three parcels equaling a total of 617 acres formerly owned by the Souza family. This acquisition is being made possible thanks in part to a generous grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to the Regional Parks Foundation.
"The Regional Parks Foundation was invited to apply for these funds and we could not be more proud to be able to play a role in this important acquisition. We are grateful to the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for making what is the largest single grant the Regional Parks Foundation has ever received!" commented Tom Williams, President of the Regional Parks Foundation's Board of Directors. The Regional Parks Foundation will pass the $1.5 million Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation grant directly to East Bay Regional Park District to help fund the acquisition.
The property itself consists of grasslands and localized wetlands supporting a large population of special status species like California tiger salamander, California red-legged frog and longhorn fairy shrimp. Along with habitat conservation, the Souza acquisition will create a permanent buffer for one of the most important Native American cultural resource sites in the East Bay. Vasco Caves has a unique combination of these cultural resources and geological features including rock outcrops and vernal pools. The Souza property together with the adjoining Vasco Caves Regional Preserve will total nearly 1400 acres. Although at this time, Vasco Caves Regional Park is in landbank status and closed to the public, EBRPD is preparing to open the park with guided interpretive tours.
"This is a critical link in a 30-mile-long regional wildlife corridor," said EBRPD General Manager Pat O'Brien. He also notes that the population of nearby Brentwood has experienced a 260% increase over the last ten years. "Now, more than ever, it is important to preserve some of the remaining open space and culture of the area. The people who live here deserve the quality of life provided by open space and recreation opportunities. That could quickly disappear with future development." Along with urban encroachment, the expansion of Vasco Road, Byron Airport, and the Los Vaqueros Reservoir will all impact this area.
In September 2004, EBRPD began negotiations with the Souza family who for various reasons decided to sell its holdings west of Vasco Road. The final purchase price for the 617 acres was $2,961,600. Escrow should close by the end of 2004.
Nancy Wenninger, EBRPD's Land Acquisition Manager states that in purchasing the land, the Park District is required to continue three wind turbine leases scheduled to expire in 2014. "Although the Park District's ownership of land containing wind turbines may be seen as somewhat controversial, for the remainder of the leases, the District will work proactively with the California Energy Commission, wind companies, and environmental groups to seek solutions to mitigate wildlife impacts," says Wenninger. The leases will produce revenue averaging about $80,000 per year which will be used for restoration and management of the Souza property.
The largest single grant for the Souza property purchase was for $1.5 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to the Regional Parks Foundation. Established in 1969, the Regional Parks Foundation was the first non-profit in the United States established specifically to encourage private contributions in support of a park agency. Since then it has raised over $35 million to support parks and programs of the East Bay Regional Park District.
Headquartered in Oakland, the East Bay Regional Park District is the largest local park agency in the United States maintaining and operating over 96,000 acres of parkland in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties for outdoor recreation, wildlife habitat and nature education. More information about the East Bay Regional Park District and this acquisition can be found on www.ebparks.org.
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation was established in September 2000 to create positive outcomes for future generations. The Foundation funds outcome-based grants and initiatives to achieve significant and measurable results. Grantmaking supports the Foundation's principal areas of interest: global environmental conservation, science, and the San Francisco Bay Area.