Hope renewed for Montaña de Oro extension

Efforts to add 2,400 acres to Montaña de Oro State Park have gotten a new, temporary lease on life.

Owners of long-term leases on the property have agreed to extend a purchase agreement option for one final time to Sept. 30, 2012. The previous option would have expired at the end of the year, said Kara Blakeslee, who is negotiating to close the deal on behalf of the American Land Conservancy.

The extension gives the state Public Works Board nine more months to allocate the final $6.9 million of the $21 million purchase price for the Wild Cherry Canyon property behind Avila Beach.

“If they don’t, truly the project will not be successful,” Blakeslee said. “That’s the drop-dead date.”

Brian Dewey, an assistant administrative secretary for the Public Works Board, said the Wild Cherry Canyon item has not been placed on an upcoming agenda. He said he would have to check with the State Parks Department to determine an appropriate date for the board to hear the item.

The property is owned by PG&E, but a group of investors holds a lease on the property that is good for at least 160 more years. The investors have given more than a dozen extensions on the purchase option, Blakeslee said.

PG&E must also approve the sale of the property. The utility has said it expects to be able to give that approval in June.

If the Wild Cherry Canyon property is acquired, Montaña de Oro would extend from Los Osos to Avila Beach and become one of the largest parks in the State Parks system. Some critics have questioned the wisdom of adding to the parks system when some parks are in danger of closing due to budget shortfalls.

Blakeslee said the property could be acquired but kept closed to the public until the state’s budget situation improves.

“They have options,” she said. “They don’t have to open it up and incur costs.”