Land Trust acquires 1,380 acres on Atlas Peak

2014-06-16T11:15:00Z 2014-06-17T17:55:09Z Land Trust acquires 1,380 acres on Atlas PeakKEVIN COURTNEY Napa Valley Register

The estate of a San Francisco family has donated 1,380 acres of ridgetop land northeast of Napa to the Land Trust of Napa County.

The Sutro Ranch is the largest land gift in the Land Trust’s 38-year history. It comes with a $450,000 endowment to cover the cost of managing the property, Doug Parker, the trust’s CEO, said Wednesday.

The ranch, located at the end of Atlas Peak Road, is a gift from the estate of Elizabeth “Betty” Sutro, who bought the property with her husband, John, in 1950, the Land Trust said. The family used the ranch until Betty Sutro died in 2012.

“We’re very thankful to Betty Sutro for her farsighted commitment to the property and its long-term protection,” Parker said. “She was a longtime friend and supporter of The Land Trust and we look forward to a long relationship with her entire family.”

The Land Trust had been in talks with Betty Sutro for years about preserving her estate in perpetuity, Parker said. She used the gift as “a vehicle to make sure the land is protected forever,” he said. Donations also come with tax benefits.

The Sutro family retains 160 acres at the end of Atlas Peak that contain residential structures, Parker said. The donated property, which is reachable only through the family’s retained holding, will not be open to the public, he said.

Down the road, as ownership or circumstances change, the issue of public access could be revisited, Parker said.

For now, the only way for the public to walk the Sutro estate, which includes varying topography and elevation, will be to volunteer for a Land Trust work party to remove invasive species, such as star thistle, and do routine maintenance, he said.

The Land Trust has not fully inventoried the vegetation and animal life on the Sutro donation, which includes forest, shrub and grassland as well as several streams, Parker said.

The property covers four miles of largely undeveloped ridgeline, including Atlas Peak at 2,663 feet elevation. The donated land is visible from many points in Napa County as well as from the west side of the Napa Valley, Parker said.

With the latest acquisition, the Land Trust has now preserved major stretches of ridgeline on the east side of the Napa Valley between Napa and Calistoga, he said. Because of earlier acquisitions and easements, practically the entire ridgeline between Calistoga and Angwin has been protected from development, he noted.

Since its founding in 1976, the Land Trust has completed more than 150 real estate projects, including 130 easements, protecting more than 55,000 acres, the Land Trust said.

The 1,380-acre Sutro donation is substantially larger than San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, at 1,017 acres, and Central Park in New York City, at 843 acres.

Unspoiled scenery, such as that provided by the Sutro property, is valuable for both those who live in the Napa Valley and those who visit, Parker said.

Visit Napa Valley published the results of a survey conducted of visitors to Napa, asking them what they enjoyed most about their stay. The No. 1 choice was “scenic views.”

“This acquisition will certainly contribute toward the preservation of those views over the long-term,” he said.

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(10) Comments

  1. napablogger
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    napablogger - June 17, 2014 12:13 am
    Kudos to the Land Trust, good job!
  2. Mashed Potatoes
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    Mashed Potatoes - June 17, 2014 7:16 am
    Again, taxpayers pay the price for another rich family's bogus donation of non- existent development rights for a massive tax shelter but taxpayers/local residents cannot tread on this property.
    Wealthy property owners don't give up valueless land for nothing. They get recognition as philanthropists for a "Donation" yet it is nothing more than transferring the burden of taxes to working people. And, working people who want to see what their taxes paid for are prohibited from entering the property. Sort of like communist tyrants in the old Soviet Union used to do.
  3. Reggie
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    Reggie - June 17, 2014 9:57 am
    Wow, talk about sour grapes! Jealousy of wealthy families is a waste of time and energy...I'm delighted that the Sutro family have decided to donate the bulk of their property (which they had the foresight to purchase in 1950, for cryin' out loud!) to the Napa Land Trust. If you want to "...tread on this property," then volunteer some of that extra time and energy you devote to ranting about people you liken to "...communist tyrants in the old Soviet Union..." instead to the work crews of the Land Trust. You might find a day in the open air amidst all that gorgeousness will do more to heal your soul!
  4. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - June 17, 2014 2:29 pm
    MP, I think that this is an outright land donation, title and all, to the Land Trust.

    This is a completely different situation than landowners who still hold title and agree to not develop their land in exchange for tax benefits on land that can't be developed anyway.

    Kudos to the Sutro family. They could have just bequeathed it to their kids or grand kids instead.
  5. Bob Hillhouse
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    Bob Hillhouse - June 17, 2014 5:27 pm
    It's very sad to see Mashed Potatoes submit something so mean and completely false. The writer obviously knows nothing about the donation and should refrain from making such assumptions without knowing the real story.
    Betty Sutro has done many tremendous things for Napa and the whole bay area, but it was rarely reported because she never did it for the recognition, nor did she want it. AND never for financial gain.
    I have never before responded to many of the mean, ugly comments some folks make anonymously in this forum but in this case, knowing how wrong Mashed Potatoes is, I felt a strong need to respond, instead of just considering it an uneducated comment.
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    HLMMXII - June 18, 2014 8:57 am
    Beautiful property. Had the pleasure to meet John Sutro at the Sutro Ranch. Years ago. He had a champion horse too. Cliff Downing was his handyman and we rode in a jeep up to a radio shack on the property. Leased out to different vendors at the time. Could look down into Soda Canyon. Foss Valley.
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    RNJSMOM - June 18, 2014 11:08 am
    Mrs. Sutro never did anything to be recognized, she did it because she saw a need, and she did what she could to fill that need. She was my hero in that regard, and frankly, if I never get to go on the property again, I will be happy knowing that it will forever remain as beautiful and pristine as the day it was formed.
  8. Bystander 1
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    Bystander 1 - June 19, 2014 5:39 am
    I am not sure anyone really answer the tax question. not that it is necessarily bad to offer a tax break in exchange for a commitment of non development. but it would be nice to have the system explained clearly
  9. Mashed Potatoes
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    Mashed Potatoes - June 19, 2014 4:16 pm
    No one knows how much of a tax shelter the donor family got? But the donor family is inoculated from attacks by liberals because they say the family did "tremendous things" for Napa and the whole Bay Area. Name one philanthropic deed of the Sutro family with no tax shelter benefits and prove it had no tax shelter tied to it!
  10. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - June 19, 2014 11:47 pm
    I think Bystander raises a good point.

    I, too, would like the system clearly explained. Maybe NVR can address this issue?

    I do believe that there are incredibly generous people out there and that Sutro is one of them.

    I'm uncertain that every landowner who holds their parcel out of development in return for a tax break is doing it to be generous though. It's a clever strategy, although I do know of a landowner who put a large parcel into the land trust solely for the purpose of preserving land for wildlife. Believe it or not, there are wealthy people who genuinely care about environmental preservation.

    I would like to see a fair system of taxation, though, so that our middle class are not further burdened by other people trying to escape taxation.
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