Al's Corner June: Committee Rise, Committee Set
Oh Do *@#$%& Off, Greenwald (regarding building on a conservation-forever easment specifically, but also in general)

Wildhorse proposal must be rejected, Conservation Easement must not be violated


City promises made, need to be kept 

by Eileen M. Samitz                                                                      

The City needs to reject the North Covell Creek housing application to develop 75 acres of the Wildhorse golf course because it would clearly violate the 1998 Deed of Conservation Easement executed between the Wildhorse property owner and the City.  The Conservation Easement unequivocally states that its purpose is “…forever conserving the open space character…” of the property.

In the early 1990’s I was one of a group of neighborhood representatives from the surrounding neighborhoods of Green Meadows, Covell Farms and La Buena Vida who spent years in a citizen-based planning process negotiating long and hard for a better Wildhorse project. We emphasized and placed a priority on the condition of a  Conservation Easement on the golf course so that it would never be developed and  would remain a golf course with its open space nature and preserving the habitat features around it.

We made it clear that this commitment needed to be permanent. Subsequently, the developers and the City agreed to this and included the Conservation Easement commitment to be solid and impenetrable into perpetuity. Since the developers, the City Staff and City Council completely committed to the Conservation Easement,  promises made then, need to be kept to our community.  Otherwise, it makes clear that our City government cannot be trusted on any agreement or any information they espouse to Davis citizens.

Regarding additional background, In 1995 there was a referendum campaign against the Wildhorse development agreement which went to a vote on the May ballot.  However, the Development Agreement included many benefits including $8 million to the City’s Major Project Financing Plan, a 9-acre dedicated school site at no cost to the school district, and  the critical Conservation Easement which the neighborhood representatives were successful in solidifying. The outcome was that Davis voters approved the Wildhorse Development Agreement which included the Conservation Easement. Therefore, any attempt now by the City to renege on this commitment would be a violation of public trust and an attempt to overturn a public vote.

The intent of a Conservation Easement  is “…for the exclusive purpose of assuring that the open space character of the Easement Area will be conserved and maintained forever, and that uses of the land that are inconsistent with these conservation purposes will be prevented or corrected.” The Wildhorse Conservation Easement also expressly prohibits any commercial, residential, or industrial use or activity on the easement area. 

The California legislature codified conservation easements as a unique public-private conservation method. Civil Code 815 clearly specifies that Conservation Easements are binding upon successive land owners.  Most important, the code states that “A conservation easement shall be perpetual in duration.”   

The permanent binding provisions of the Wildhorse Conservation Easement and State law are abundantly clear to the property owner and City. The notion of surrendering almost 75 acres of deed-restricted land to incompatible uses must  be summarily rejected. Any attempt to change or “amend” any Conservation easement is a dangerous precedent  and must be rejected, plus it would invite a lawsuit that will be financially costly for the City to litigate, the cost for which would come out of our City’s already stretched budget.

Regarding specifics on the documentation of the Conservation Easement and the development agreement, here are the facts:

On September 28, 1994, the City and Duffel Company executed a development agreement  for the Wildhorse Project, of which  Section 3.2(f) states: “Duffel shall record a conservation easement in favor of the City or a non-profit land trust selected and approved by the City on the property to be used as a golf course. The conservation easement shall preclude development of the golf course property for other urban uses and structures.” The conservation easement  was executed between Duffel and the City in March 1998, for the express purpose of “forever conserving the open space character of the subject property.”

Despite the unambiguous language in the Development Agreement and the Conservation Easement regarding the easement’s permanency , in December 2018 the owner submitted a development application that proposed to convert almost six acres of the golf course abutting Pole Line Road into the “Balterra at Wildhorse Condominium Project,” consisting of 40 – 60 homes. This was followed in early 2019 with a public meeting and strong opposition from community members, since this would also be a violation of the Conservation Easement.

The City responded in July 2019, noting that “…the property in question is covered by a Conservation Easement that preserves the property as an open space.” This means that once again, the golf course owner applicant was clearly advised that the property must remain as undeveloped open space. 

Yet, here we are with another proposal to attempt to violate the Conservation Easement and the Development Agreement conditions with paving over 75 acres of the golf course wiping out that open space and the  protected habitat around it as well.

One wonders why the City even accepted this current application knowing that this attempt to violate a Conservation Easement and Development Agreement which Davis citizens fought long and hard for is astonishing. Further, there is absolutely no language that allows any kind of land swap in the Conservation Easement, nor the Development Agreement as the applicant is trying for. Moreover, if the City violates these promises and agreements, what next? Will the City now start paving over our parks, greenbelts and habitat areas?

In summary, the City of Davis, the City Council, and the Wildhorse developers agreed to the hard negotiated Conservation Easement and Development Agreement. Anything other than  a solid rejection of this application would be a horrendous precedent and a complete violation of trust by our City government to our community and would invite a costly lawsuit. For community members concerned about this issue and want more information please email [email protected] or call (530) 756-5165.

Eileen Samitz is a former City of Davis Planning Commissioner and served on the subsequent Housing Element Steering committee and the 2001 General Plan update land use committee.


South of Davis

I'm not an attorney, but it seems like after reading this "The conservation easement shall preclude development of the golf course property for other urban uses and structures.” that they just need to convert the course from an 18 hole to a 9 hole and then they can develop the "vacant land" north of the "golf course" since it is not "golf course property" anymore...
P.S. Does anyone know the names of the people and companies truing to push this development through?

Colin Walsh

SOD - that’s not how that works, but nice creative thinking.

David Thompson

Eileen Samitz lays out a salient case for an agreement that must Be upheld.

The city needs to reject the application.

David Thompson

Ron O

It should also be emphasized that this is much more than a golf course, and includes more natural-habitat areas that can be seen via the gravel path/access road that surrounds the golf course. I used to jog/bike/walk on that path, and I also saw a beaver in the creek. I assume that path is still popular to this day, and its use is not limited to Wildhorse residents. For non-Wildhorse residents, they can access it via the path and tunnel that goes underneath Covell from the Mace Ranch neighborhood.

That path also goes past the proposed Palomino Place development, which I assume will be built. Those future residents will also appreciate the path/open space.

Now, I realize that Bapu Vaitla is pretty stubborn (and sees anyone with views that are different than his as "the enemy"), but I suspect that even he isn't going to try to violate the conservation easement. The city would have its arse handed to it on a platter, if it tried. (Hey, maybe that's what the new sales tax would be used for - to defend the resulting lawsuit?)

There is a part of me that is waiting for the inevitable rejection of the growth monkeys, statewide.

South of Davis

I'm not in favor of building the homes (or making Wildhorse a 9 hole), but it looks like someone has talked to an actual attorney and thinks they can push the project through (maybe under the new "builders remedy" programs where they add a few BMR units and they can do whatever they want). P.S. I know that Colin an David are more tapped in to the political and development works than I am and I'm wondering if they heard who is pushing this project (e,g. who is paying the attorneys to argue that it is fine and architects to draw up the plans)?

Colin Walsh

First, let me address the attorney issue. people often think of the law as black and white, and it is just not always the case. In this instance, the plain meaning of the easement is very clear and many lawyers would advice that the best and safest course is that the easement is to be permanent open space. Another lawyer can look at it and find a way to make an argument that is unlikely to succeed, but they can still make the argument. if the developer takes the advice of a lawyer like the later, well, they will get what they want unless someone challenges them and that challenge may need to be an expensive lawsuit.

As to your builders remedy theory - in order for builders remedy to apply a city needs to have a non compliant housing element. Davis currently has a compliant housing element so builders remedy can not apply.

R Keller

Meanwhile over at the Vanguard, David Greenwald is angling for some sweet sweet developer advertising $ by saying “sure, it was meant to be a permanent conservation easement, but shouldn’t we open it up for discussion anyway?”

Colin Walsh

What’s going on on the Vanguard around this is disgusting.
Greenwald admits the intent was that the land would be protected in perpetuity but wants to change it anyway.
Matt Williams blatantly misinterprets the civil law regarding easements.
And Greenwad claims no housing is being built or approved in Davis despite the fact that every housing project in the last 10+ years has been approved (including 2 measure J votes) and most have been built.
The aristocrats.

Ron O

From today's Vanguard:

David: "Of course, that goes against my overall point that perhaps we should not be making permanent decisions based on temporary circumstances, but no one seems to want to discuss the overall implications of this…

I agree. We should not be subdividing land and building houses based upon fake temporary claims of a "housing crisis".

I have yet to see land revert back to its previous state, once it's subdivided and developed.

David: "Isn’t it more wise to evaluate in real time those decisions rather than have made them 28 years ago in another time and almost another world?"

I agree again. 28 years ago, California was actually growing. It no longer is, so that should make it even easier to preserve land/open space.

Jan Castle Walker

I do not want Wild Horse to become a 9 hole course. It is a respectable and lovely course and provides the citizens of this community and others with quality golf. It is also a wildlife habitat that should be respected. That the owners want to divest, for profit, is sad, and I hope that there are some restrictions on what can be done with the company that will both accommodate the needs of the community and their needs.

Leo Zafonte

It seems to me that the original agreement definitely planned to conserve and to maintain the area as open space. There is a definite need in this modern world to maintain as much wildland as possible...particularly if it is located near a city where residents and area visitors can "recreate". The conservation easement clearly defines what was intended and what must be done with this area...i.e., keep open spaced open. Perhaps even plant a few trees and add a walking trail. This is an asset to the City of Davis that should not be lost.


The destruction of nature for human habitation is not a good use of natural resources. Go into downtown and build up....or just accept a relatively stable population. Afterall, population growth in the US is slow at only .4% per year. .4% of Davis is how many...???

Alan C. Miller


700 students just move in out my living-room window, so I think we could handle it.

But will the Vanguard-supporting developers accept a 'stable population' ?

Ron O

". . . or just accept a relatively stable population."

Some would apparently view that comment as "blasphemy".


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