Hopes high on Wild Cherry Canyon

Buoyed by a resolution to the state’s budget crisis and other recent developments, advocates of the Wild Cherry Canyon land conservation deal are optimistic the deal can be finalized early next year.

The $21 million deal would add 2,400 acres to Montaña de Oro State Park and expand the park from Los Osos to Avila Beach. It has broad public support, with groups and residents pledging at least 15,350 hours of labor to maintain the park and raising a $1 million maintenance endowment for the new park.

“The indications that I’m getting are that things are very positive,” said county Supervisor Adam Hill, whose district includes Wild Cherry Canyon. “It looks like this is going to happen in the new year.”

The effort stalled late last year when the state faced a severe budget crisis, which included the possible closure of 70 parks throughout the state. This prevented the state Public Works board from allocating the final $6.9 million to close the deal.

The item could be put on the Public Works board agenda as early as next month, said Kara Blakeslee, who has spent the better part of a decade trying to put the deal together. Two votes by the board are needed — one to accept the property into the State Parks system and the other to formally allocate the money.

“At the risk of getting ahead of myself, things are looking as positive as they ever have,” she said.

Supporters of the project cite three recent developments in Sacramento as reasons for turning around the deal.

First, voters in November passed Proposition 30 by a comfortable margin. It raises sales and income taxes in the state to generate as much as $9 billion to alleviate the worst of the state’s budget crisis.

Failure of the ballot initiative could well have quashed the Wild Cherry Canyon deal, Hill said.

“I think there’s a much greater can-do attitude in Sacramento these days,” he said.

Second, Gov. Jerry Brown in September signed Assembly Bill 1478, which prohibits the state from even proposing a state park closure until July 2014. It also directs $30 million of the $54 million surplus found squirreled away in several State Parks accounts to be spent maintaining and keeping parks open.

It would have been impossible to sell the idea of adding a new park to the system when the state was facing the prospect of shutting others down, State Parks Superintendent Nick Franco said.

“The park closure issue caused nothing to move forward,” he said.

Third, Democrats in November won supermajorities in each house of the Legislature. This means they can pass budgets — including funding for parks — without the backing of Republicans, Hill said.

Finally, progress is also being made in getting PG&E approval of the project. The utility owns some of the Wild Cherry Canyon land and must transfer title of the property to State Parks before the deal can be completed.

“We are pleased with the current status of the project,” said Tom Jones, PG&E governmental relations manager. “Productive talks are back under way.”