Trees and rolling grassy hills
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted on Jan. 23, 2024 to begin acquiring a nearly 1,500-acre portion of the 3,654 Richmond Ranch in San Jose. Photo courtesy of The Conservation Fund.

Just weeks after a deal fell through to buy the Richmond Ranch for development, county leaders are moving forward with turning the open space into a massive park.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously voted to begin acquiring a nearly 1,500-acre portion of the 3,654-acre ranch, with the remaining space being acquired by the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Agency.

The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit, purchased the land for $16 million from China-based Z&L Properties — whose co-founder and former CEO Zhang Li is under scrutiny for allegations of bribery and kickbacks — and is holding the land until the local public agencies have the financing in place to purchase it. This was due to a deal that collapsed last month between Z&L and San Jose-based developer Terrascape Ventures, according to The Mercury News.

The expansive swath of hills and fields straddles the southern border of San Jose, along San Felipe Road. It also sits at the nexus of fierce battles between urban development and land conservation.

Richmond Ranch is the latest chapter in a fine developmental balance, according to District 8 San Jose Councilmember Domingo Candelas, who helped push the vision for a park.

“I’m a big believer in everything happening for a reason. Fortunately for the public, we were able to negotiate this parcel of land well below its appraised value,” Candelas told San José Spotlight.

It’s one of the last remaining unprotected ranches near Coyote Valley, a commanding and environmentally delicate vista, that San Jose leaders for decades eyed for industrial sites and tech campuses. In 2021, council members voted to block industrial development in Coyote Valley. County supervisors followed suit with a similar vote that year.

Silicon Valley has kept conservationists on their toes, Green Foothills Policy Director Alice Kaufman told San José Spotlight. Green Foothills is a local organization that protects habitats, farmland and open space in the Bay Area.The open space vision for Richmond Ranch cut it close, Kaufman said.

“Richmond Ranch could have gone either way,” she told San José Spotlight. “One of the most pressing issues is the pressure for developing on open space — because it’s easier and cheaper to develop in open space than infill (building within unused land in urban areas), which, from a climate resilience perspective, we need to be densifying in our cities. We don’t want to be sprawling on open space.”

Z&L has major land holdings in San Jose, including the downtown. Terrascape is led by Mark Lazzarini and Tony Arreola, who have plans to redevelop the Pleasant Hills Golf Course property in San Jose, which riled residents who want it be an open space preserve.

Candelas called Richmond Ranch a rare opportunity in a city wrestling with development in the foothills. He called it a recreational resource for generations to come, just minutes from San Jose neighborhoods.

“Given the proximity to Silicon Valley and to some of the biggest companies in the world, like Adobe, Google and Facebook, it’s not unrealistic to see the value we’re getting for this asset,” Candelas said.

Contact Brandon Pho at [email protected] or @brandonphooo on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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