MALT Returns $833K in Measure A Funds to County of Marin

May 29, 2020

Today the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) announced that it had returned the Measure A funds used to support the purchase of the agricultural conservation easement for Dolcini-Beltrametti Ranch in 2017. The funds were deposited in the county’s Farmland Preservation Program fund, which is funded through a quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2012 as Measure A. Measure A funds are dedicated to protecting parks, open space and farmland in Marin County. 

“Measure A has played an important role in helping MALT reach its conservation goals,” said Neil Rudolph, chair of MALT’s board of directors. “Returning these funds is a reflection of MALT’s commitment to transparency.”

MALT applies for Measure A funds, leveraging a 1:1 match with private donations to support the purchase of agricultural conservation easements. Such easements are designed to keep Marin County farmland and ranchland in agricultural production in perpetuity.

As part of a recent review of easement transactions, MALT staff noted that two separate appraisals were obtained to determine the valuation of the Dolcini-Beltrametti Ranch easement. This property was at high risk of conversion to non-agricultural use given its location. Because the initial draft valuation for the easement was well below comparable values for MALT projects, MALT obtained a second appraisal and ultimately used the higher appraisal to value the easement. However, MALT’s application to the County for Measure A funds did not include mention of the first appraisal as a point of reference. 

“The Dolcini-Beltrametti Ranch is an important agricultural property, especially since it is located next to other MALT-protected land,” said MALT executive director Jamison Watts. “MALT was committed to making sure the property remained in agriculture. After our recent internal review, we determined we should have told the County of Marin about the existence of the first draft appraisal as part of our application for Measure A funds for this property.”

Both appraisals related to this transaction were conducted by experienced and reputable independent third-party appraisers. While obtaining more than one appraisal for the purpose of easement valuation can be necessary for a variety of reasons, it has not been MALT’s common practice. 

“While MALT followed the letter of the County’s requirements for Measure A applications in this transaction, the recent follow up with the County was to ensure that all parties agreed MALT also adhered to the spirit of those requirements,” added Watts. “While many staff and the board of directors are involved in every transaction, as MALT’s executive director, I take full responsibility for this Measure A application.”

MALT recently informed the County about the existence of the earlier appraisal and initiated a discussion with County staff to determine the best way forward related to this transaction. In response, the County asked MALT to return all Measure A funds used to support the purchase of this easement. MALT agreed to deposit $833,250 into the County’s Farmland Preservation Program fund.

“In the interest of ensuring MALT is using taxpayer dollars transparently, and out of respect for our longstanding relationship with the County, the MALT board agreed to return these Measure A funds,” concluded Rudolph. “We are working to update our internal policies and procedures to ensure that MALT maintains this level of transparency in all future transactions with our public funders.”

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