JIM WELTE. Writer. Editor.

Metallica’s Hetfield donates 330 acres to county

Metallica rock band leader James Hetfield has donated to the county a 330-acre agricultural conservation easement near his home on land overlooking Lucas Valley.

The Marin Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously accepted donation of the easement, which precludes development on the land known as the Luiz Ranch.

“This is a really exciting offer,” said Supervisor Steve Kinsey. He said Hetfield was “taking a break from heavy metal to become a heavy contributor to our agricultural conservation efforts. É It’s another indication of a continuing effort to improve our partnerships on that important ridge and I think it reflects very positively on him.””

The donation is adjacent to another 438.5 acres that Hetfield donated previously as an open space easement. Both donations essentially vacate development rights on the land, preserving it for open space and agriculture, while also providing a massive ring of open space around Hetfield’s home and property.

“There is a philanthropic bent here, but there is clearly also a preservation of privacy, which is very important to the Hetfield family,” said Scott Hochstrasser, Hetfield’s land use consultant. “This donation shows the continued willingness of the Hetfield family to be a positive and progressive part of the community and a family that respects public policy and the preservation of the beauty of open space in Marin, which is their home.”

Hetfield’s donation is entirely separate from his ongoing negotiations with the county over placement of a trail along a Terra Linda hilltop that bypasses the Luiz Ranch Fire Trail, which crosses Hetfield’s property. Hetfield’s recent construction of a 300-foot-long fence across the trail to keep people from hiking and riding across it sparked an outcry from hikers, bikers and equestrians.

The fence was placed at the end of a fire road in the Terra Linda-Sleepy Hollow Divide open space preserve on the Luiz Ranch property Hetfield owns next to his 500-acre property at 3001 Lucas Valley Road. Hetfield has proposed construction of a 14,000-square-foot house, a swimming pool and another 6,000-square-foot building that would house a music studio, garage and caretaker’s residence.

Kinsey said the fence/trail issue appears to be nearing a deal in which the trail would be re-routed along the edge of Hetfield’s property and off the ridgetop. The design and construction of the trail would cost the Marin County Open Space District more than $200,000.

“He has maintained a willingness to provide a route, but it doesn’t seem like that is going to be necessary,” Kinsey said. “It appears as though the county is going to be able to design and build the trail without crossing any of the Hetfield property.”

The cost of the new trail, provisionally named “680 Trail” for its elevation, would come out of the Marin County Open Space District’s budget, not the general fund. County officials hope to get volunteers to help with work on the path. The county wants to obtain needed environmental reviews and permits by May 2010, then start construction by next summer and officially open it in spring 2011.

The impending deal offered no solace for equestrian Connie Berto of Sleepy Hollow, who has been using the trail for five decades. She said for the county to spend so much money moving the trail is ludicrous, and that previous landowners never denied hikers and riders access.

“This is to replace a perfectly good, usable all-weather fire road that people have been using for years and years?” she said. “The next question is, how do you make a safe, multiuse trail out of land that is practically vertical in some places?”

Berto said the trail’s users have a simple solution, if anyone would ask.

“All (Hetfield) has to do is move his property line over a little bit on the Lucas Valley side and keep that fire road as it is,” she said. “It’s eight-tenths of a mile. This is unnecessary, and it’s a travesty of process. He’s got to realize that he can’t take it with him.”

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December 15, 2009 Marin IJ, News