Marin County rejects demand to target land trust

Cattle walk across a pasture near Point Reyes Station, Calif. on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. (Frankie Frost/Marin Independent Journal) 

Marin County’s legal office has denied a request to take legal action against the Marin Agricultural Land Trust for the alleged misuse of tax funds.

Ross resident Ken Slayen sought the litigation, claiming the trust used Measure A funds to enrich current and former board members at the public’s expense. MALT denies wrongdoing.

“Based on our review, we are comfortable that the county appropriately, and in compliance with industry standards, reviewed appraisals for the Farmland Preservation Program grants and received appropriate value for the grants that the county issued,” Marin County Counsel Brian Washington wrote in a letter to Slayen’s attorney.

Ray Fort, MALT’s acting executive director, said, “We feel that our position on these issues is clearly vindicated by the county’s response.”

Slayen’s attorney, Thomas Brown, wrote that his client disagrees with the county counsel’s “conclusions and factual assumptions.”

“We now look forward to vindicating in court Mr. Slayen’s efforts to expose MALT’s and Marin’s pervasive misconduct in their misuse of the taxpayers’ Measure A funds,” Brown said.

Slayen, who unsuccessfully sought a conservation easement from the trust in 2015, submitted related requests to the Marin County District Attorney’s Office and the state Fair Political Practices Commission. The commission turned Slayen down. The district attorney has declined to comment on the matter.

Marin voters approved the Measure A sales tax in 2012. The measure mandates that 20% of the revenues are for protecting farmland from development to preserve Marin’s working farms and ranches.

MALT is a nonprofit organization created in 1980 to acquire agricultural conservation easements to permanently protect farmland from development. Since 2014, MALT has received more than $14.8 million in Measure A funds to help purchase agricultural easements. MALT typically purchases conservation easements with an equal split of private donations and public funding.

Landowners who sell to MALT are compensated for agreeing to accept certain limits on what they can do with their properties, such as subdivide them and build homes. Beginning in 2011, MALT also began including mandates in their easements requiring that land continue to be used actively for agriculture.

In his submissions to the county counsel, the district attorney and the Fair Political Practices Commission, Slayen makes two basic allegations.

First, he alleges that several MALT board members have used their positions to improperly influence decisions to acquire conservation easements over properties they own or have a financial interest in.

Second, he asserts that MALT has inflated the value of conservation easements it acquired using Measure A funds in order to benefit present and former board members and their families.

Slayen says the alleged misconduct violated Government Code Section 1090, the Political Reform Act, the Brown Act, the Public Records Act and the California False Claims Act. With the exception of the False Claims Act, all of these laws apply only to public officials and public agencies.

Government Code section 1090 governs conflicts of interest in the making of government contracts. The Political Reform Act was enacted to ensure that public …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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