California: Hike to the top of Sonoma mountain with me

At the very top of Sonoma Mountain, there is a ranch, and in the middle of that ranch there is a meadow, and in the middle of that meadow there is a cairn of rocks. If you stand on those rocks, as a contingent of visitors did on Dec. 30, you can see, roughly, forever in every direction. Or at least to the horizon of the Pacific Ocean and, sometimes, the Sierra crest. That multi-million-dollar view ($9,950,000 to be exact), and the 283 acres surrounding those rocks, is now public property, and will be accessible to everyone as soon as some trail construction, fence-moving and management planning is in place.

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The Dec. 9 announcement of the purchase agreement for Sonoma Mountain
Ranch could hardly contain an adequate description of what that money
bought. Purchased through a partnership between the Sonoma County
Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, the Sonoma Land
Trust and the Coastal Conservancy, the property provides a vital link
in a 5,500-acre chain of open space that finally captures the summit
of Sonoma County’s namesake mountain. From that summit, you can see
the peak of every mountain within 50 or 60 miles, from San Bruno to
the south of San Francisco to Mt. Konocti on the shores of Clear Lake.
You can see beyond the California coast to the far edge of the Pacific
and you can, when the sky is clear, see the snow-capped peaks of the
Sierra Nevada.

From the Sonoma Valley, you’ll be able to hike to that
cairn through either Jack London State Historic Park or the Sonoma
Developmental Center, and while there are higher vantage points in
Sonoma County, none are more spectacular or, soon, as accessible. It
is the crown jewel, and capturing it took an extraordinary combination
of luck, effort and determination. The story starts with Kirsten
Lindquist, a Sotheby’s Realtor with a penchant for computer searches,
who stumbled across an online brochure for the ranch. It was not
listed in the Multiple Listing Service and was being quietly offered
by the trustee of a family estate who, for tax purposes, had a
deadline of Dec. 31 to make a sale.

It was already Sept. 2, and major open space acquisitions typically take six months to a year – or longer. Lindquist, whose family owns the old Hill ranch adjacent to Jack London State Park, and whose mother used to ride horseback with Win Smith, Lindquist’s uncle, across the Sonoma Mountain Ranch, knew immediately what was at stake here. She called the Sonoma Land Trust and the Open Space District and both organizations were instantly interested. First District Supervisor Valerie Brown was also brought in quickly and helped speed up the usually lengthy review process required for approval by the Board of Supervisors. Needing an immediate payment of $125,000 just to secure a contract, the Sonoma Land Trust dug deep and paid the good-faith deposit.

The next step was an appraisal and that represented a unique challenge. Comparable sales are a standard guide for real estate valuations, but how do you find a comparable sale for a mountain top? The value was further complicated by the presence of three sets of radio communications towers atop the mountain, placed there by the county, AT&T and PG&E. The appraisal, said Lindquist, was “a very deliberative process, using a number of
consultants and comp sales.” As the process continued, Lindquist
discovered there were ultimately two other potential buyers, one
standing by ready to wire cash if the open space purchase faltered.
“We couldn’t miss a step,” she said. Luckily the appraisal came in
close enough to the asking price to fulfill the open space requirement
of paying fair-market value.

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There were no houses in the summit of Sonoma Mountain, and, all alone
under the azure California sky, he reined in on the southern edge of the peak. He saw open pasture country, intersected with wooded canons, descending to the south and west from his feet, crease on crease and roll on roll, from lower level to lower level, to the floor of Petaluma Valley, flat as a billiard-table, a cardboard affair, all patches and squares of geometrical regularity where the fat freeholds were farmed. Beyond, to the west, rose range on range of mountains cuddling purple mists of atmosphere in their valleys; and still beyond, over the last range of all, he saw the silver sheen of the Pacific.

–Jack London

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