Article

Hearst Ranch

| posted on July 22, 2010

Hey Buddy,
Wanna Buy a Beach? Is $1,000 an Acre a Fair Price for Some of the Most
Valuable Real Estate in the World?

By Chris
Dixon



Hearst Ranch. Photo Courtesy Gary Felsman:
hearstranchconservation.org

A
few months ago, this intrepid reporter went up to the top of Malibu Canyon
Road to a place called the Ahmanson Ranch. Here, I reported on the state
of California’s $150 million purchase of this 3,000-acre slice of old
California. The purchase, at $5,000 an acre, was significant to surfers
in particular because if Ahmanson had been developed, runoff from over
3,000 new homes, shopping and a golf course would have considerably worsened
pollution in the waters of Malibu Creek at Surfrider Beach.

Now,
however, California has an opportunity to protect a slice of coast that
dwarfs Ahmanson. In fact, it dwarfs Malibu. In fact, it’s about two and
a half times the landmass of the city of San Francisco. I’m referring
to the famous 82,000 Hearst Ranch just north of Morro Bay. Right now,
a group called the American Land Conservancy is in the final stages of
brokering a deal with the Hearst Corporation and the state to protect
almost all of the ranch from development and to turn most of its 20 miles
of utterly incomparable coastline, into public state parkland. All for
about $80 million, or $1,000 an acre.

It
might surprise you to learn that all of Citizen Hearst’s land up to Big
Sur is not actually protected from development. In fact, at one point,
parts of the ranch’s coastline were zoned to become a mini city of some
60,000 people. As recently as the late 1990′s, the Hearst Corporation
planned to build a huge golf resort on land not far from the tacky little
town of San Simeon. However, outraged citizens jammed Coastal Commission
meetings and the Commission put a halt to these dramatic plans. Still
though, aside from the 127-acre castle site, which Hearst sold to the
state in 1958, the vast, vast majority of the ranch was and is owned by
the Hearsts. Just because they’ve been restricted from their current development
plan doesn’t mean that they won’t try to develop it in the future.
In
fact, with the value of California’s coastal land skyrocketing, it’s hard
to imagine that some development out here is not inevitable. Consider
if you will, that once the Irvine Ranch looked much like the Hearst Ranch
does today. Today, the Irvine Ranch has morphed into the city of Irvine,
parts of Corona del Mar and Newport Beach and the bulldozed, mansionized
hillsides along Newport Coast near Laguna Beach.

It would,
of course, be difficult to conceive of the Hearst Ranch ever being developed
like Irvine. Indeed, according to Hearst lawyer Roger Lyon, who took me
on a tour of the place, the Hearsts love the ranch. In fact, it’s the
family vacation spot. But still, it’s valuable property.

Ragged Point . Photo Courtesy Gary Felsman:
hearstranchconservation.org

The Hearst
Corporation, owners of Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan
and a slew of newspapers and TV stations, is of course, a moneymaking
franchise. And while the family, and indeed, much of the corporation appear
to want most of the ranch protected, any development here could bring
in a lot of money. And though they’re not terribly high, the Hearsts have
to pay taxes on the land, and it costs substantial sums to maintain the
ranch.