Defense of Place

Defense of Place

Defense of Place, a nimble watchdog organization, upholds the inviolability of protected lands. Defense of Place collaborates with citizen activists nationwide to protect parks, nature preserves, wildlife refuges, open spaces, and conservation easements from sale, development and predatory changes in use. While climate change may affect landscapes’ character and species over time, Defense of Place is committed to the principal of saving land in perpetuity for the benefit of future generations. Whether it’s honoring a donor’s legacy or protecting a public asset, Defense of Place can help save a protected place you love.

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Garfield Park, Grand Rapids Michigan

Local community activists prevent the City of Grand Rapids from selling part of historic parkland to become a private Salvation Army community center.

Challenge When Charles Garfield gave a park to the City of Grand Rapids in 1906, he stipulated in the deed that it must be maintained and owned by the City as a public park. This didn’t stop the City Council from beginning secret discussions with the Salvation Army to turn several acres of the park over to the private religious organization for a new community center. The center would be owned and operated by the Salvation Army and the land that was supposed to be set aside forever as a public park would then be in private hands. A majority of the City Council was in favor of the plan, and the Salvation Army came out with very strong declaration that if the City did not sell them part of Garfield Park for the center it would get no center at all.

Strategy Local citizens created a very well organized effort to stop the sale of the park. Their organizing effort was aided by a very effective website, email distribution lists, and regular content with members of the news media who gave lots of attention to the story. This allowed park proponents to get large groups to attend city council meetings and voice their concerns. The citizens group also began evaluating their legal options for preventing the sale of the parkland and made their intentions very clear. Despite all of this, the majority on the Grand Rapids City Council pressed to move ahead with plans to sell part of Garfield Park to the Salvation Army. When Defense of Place was contacted by Friends of Garfield Park, the Friends group were not aware of the fact that by law if any part of a park received money from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and any part of that park was going to be sold, it would need to be replaced by a similar resource of equal size in a nearby location. The City Council was counting on the proceeds from selling part of Garfield Park to go into their coffers and there was not space available nearby that could easily replace part of Garfield Park. Defense of Place provided the background information regarding the Land Water Conservation Fund to the Friends of Garfield Park who immediately and strongly conveyed the restrictions to the City Council.

Result After learning of the Land Water Conservation Fund restrictions on Garfield Park, the City Council immediately conveyed their concerns to the Salvation Army. With the need to replace city parkland nearby, the project quickly became infeasible at the Garfield Park location and the Salvation Army dropped Garfield Park as a potential site for the community center.

Lessons Learned When working to save a place, learn everything you possibly can about all of the restrictions on the title, restrictions from grants, and obscure laws and rules that might prevent it from being sold.

Wagner Ranch Nature Area

Defense of Place works with local community members to assure that a beloved environmental education preserve wouldn’t be bulldozed to make way for a maintenance yard.

Challenge The Wagner Ranch Nature Area has been used by generations of Orinda’s school children as an introduction to the natural world and a rare opportunity to learn in a living classroom. When the Orinda Union School District sold their existing maintenance yard to a housing developer for $25 Million, they needed a new place for their maintenance yard. Despite the fact that several other sites were less expensive to develop than the Wagner Ranch Nature Area, and the local community was very opposed to the plan, the District was focused and intent on building within the preserve.

Strategy Members of the Orinda Community were already incredibly upset with the proposal to build on the Nature Area when they contacted Defense of Place seeking help. Defense of Place arrived and directly addressed the School Board at the first public community meeting for the threatened nature preserve. While some steps were taken in the right direction after the meeting, several incidents showed that the nature area was still very much threatened with being turned into a maintenance yard. Defense of Place wrote an opinion piece that appeared in the regional newspaper the Contra Costa Times that garnered significant attention. The opinion piece demonstrated that the opposition to building in the preserve wasn’t going to go away and was only going to get more intense (it contained the first mention of likely litigation.) Defense of Place also worked with local community activists to hone their message, improve communication to other concerned citizens, and create a website to disseminate information.

Result The community concern and the threat of a drawn out battle for the Wagner Ranch Nature Area forced the School Board to seriously consider other options. After a thorough investigation, the School District found an alternative location for the maintenance yard that spared the Nature Area from the bulldozers.

Lessons Learned Nearly 8 months elapsed before there was any clarity regarding the fate of the Nature Area. During that time, Defense of Place and local activists stayed actively involved opposing the construction within the nature and made our presence known. Persistence pays off – especially when things are moving slowly.


Wagner Ranch Must Be Saved, Contra Costa Times

Defense of Place Works to Prevent Park Sales in Millbrae, California

Challenge In February 2004, the City of Millbrae, California proposed selling protected open space that has long been used as a de-facto park.

The Spur Property was originally set aside to extend Junipero Serra Boulevard. When Interstate 280 was built instead, the state deeded the property to the city solely for the purpose of recreation, not to be used for development.

By selling the Spur Property for residential development Millbrae officials hoped to close a budget deficit. But when local citizens raised significant opposition to the proposal, the City Council eventually agreed not to sell the land if a ballot measure to fund fire protection received voter approval. The measure passed, but city officials again asked the City Council to consider selling the land.

Strategy In an effort to avoid a future sale, citizens contacted Defense of Place. With the legal counsel of Shute Mihaly and Weinberger, we notified the city that the sale of the Spur Property for development is illegal. The letter from the law firm cited the following:

The City designated the parcels as part of a park and selling parkland would require voter approval.

The land was given to the city by the State of California and can only be used for streets, highways, parks or open space.

The City would need to perform an Environmental Impact Review before it could sell because previous modifications to the property required such review.

Result Citizen activists initiated a petition drive and a website aimed at keeping the Spur Property in public hands as a park. We remain involved in this ongoing project.

Read a history of the Spur Property and the events leading up to its potential sale.

“No Trespassing: Group Tells Council Keep Away From Open Spaces,” San Francisco Examiner 7/28/04

(Headline) Defense of Place Press Release 7/26/04″Group Calls Open Space Sales Illegal”
San Mateo Daily Journal 7/24/04

Millbrae activists’ website

City of Millbrae’s “Millbrae Now” Report The city’s plan for resolving its budget problems that includes possible sale of protected open space.

Henry Coe State Park Spared From Dam Builders

Challenge With more than 87,000 open acres, 250 miles of hiking trails, historic Native American and Spanish habitation sites, and vast array of birds, wildflowers, and wildlife, Henry Coe State Park is a sanctuary on the edge of California’s fast-growing Silicon Valley. Sada Coe, whose family founded and operated the Coe cattle ranch in the late 19th Century donated the property to Santa Clara County in 1953 as “a gift to the people” in memory of her father. In 1958 the County gave the land to the State of California to be maintained as a park in perpetuity.

But in 2002, the Santa Clara Water District introduced a plan to build a dam within the park, to augment supplies from its San Luis Reservoir. Several dam sites were proposed inside Coe Park, including one that would inundate a state wilderness area. At first, the water district’s meetings to consider the plan, labeled the “San Luis Low Point Problem,” didn’t attract much notice. Many of those actively involved with the park weren’t even aware that the meetings were taking place. The meeting announcements gave no indication of the possible impact on Coe. But when park lovers learned what water managers had in mind, they joined forces with Defense of Place.

Strategy Defense of Place worked closely with local activists, Advocates for Coe, a friends group formed in response to the threat. We advised the group on a strategy, sought press coverage, and lobbied the water district and elected officials to stop construction of a reservoir in the park. Volunteers, some affiliated with the park for decades, began writing letters and contacting other organizations about joining the fight to save Coe. Meanwhile, the water district sought alternatives for fixing the problems plaguing their San Luis Reservoir. During the next several months, the district and their consultants, Jones and Stokes, whittled the list of possible dam sites down to 16 based on engineering feasibility and cost effectiveness, but not environmental impact.

Advocates for Coe, Defense of Place and representatives Sierra Club, Environmental Defense, Friends of the River, and other environmental organizations confronted the district about damaging a park owned by the people of California. The district responded that damaging a park was not a factor considered when evaluating sites.

A 2003 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Public lands, Private enterprise” dramatically increased the visibility of the Coe issue. The article described threats to the park not only from the water district, but also from a proposed high-speed rail line proposed by the California High Speed Rail Authority.

Result In May 2003 the water district withdrew its proposal for a reservoir in Henry Coe State Park. The district had issued similar statements before, but loopholes in the statements left plans for flooding parts of the park still on the table. Defense of Place and Dennis Pinion, leader of Advocates for Coe, addressed the water district’s Board of Directors asking for assurance that Coe Park not be compromised. As of the fall of 2003 concerns about flooding in Coe have been laid to rest. But threats to the park remain. Now it is being eyed for a high-speed rail line. Defense of Place remains actively involved.

Since the showdown, the district has changed its attitude toward those who fought against flooding Coe Park. The district has brought many of the stakeholders, including Defense of Place and Advocates for Coe, into the decision-making about San Luis Reservoir. This has allowed the environmental groups to monitor and comment on the water district’s plans.

“Public Lands, Private Enterprise” San Francisco Chronicle – Feb 6, 2003by Paul McHugh

Los Altos Hills, California Changes Course

Challenge Land in Los Altos Hills, located in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains above California’s Silicon Valley, sells for upwards of $2 million an acre. In 200x, the town leaders saw a chance to profit by selling land that had been given to the town to be preserved as open space. The sale would be a windfall for Los Altos Hills. Profits from the sale and the property taxes once the land was developed would generate millions of dollars for the town.

In 1975 the town acquired 15 acres and a barn adjacent to the Byrne Open Space Preserve from a local horsewoman. When the City Council and the mayor proposed selling the 15 acres for development and moving the barn to the Byrne Preserve, a local advocacy group decided to create a political climate friendly to open space.

Strategy Advocates organized meetings to discuss the future of Los Altos Hills’ open space and used their newsletter to publicize the proposed sale of townÕs open space. They gathered signatures to place an open space preservation initiative on the ballot and recruited candidates for City Council who were friendly to their cause. They wrote letters to local and regional newspapers. Defense of Place published an op-ed in the San Jose Mercury News that challenged the cityÕs right to sell the public’s land.

Result In November 2003, Los Altos Hills citizens voted to elect two open space-friendly candidates to the City Council, shifting the balance on the council from pro development to pro open space. The newly seated council unanimously approved an initiative that requires a popular vote to approve the sale any city-owned open space. The council decided not pursue the idea of moving the Westwind barn, and has put to rest the immediate threat to the land.
Since the showdown, the district has changed its attitude toward those who fought against flooding Coe Park. The district has brought many of the stakeholders, including Defense of Place and Advocates for Coe, into the decision-making about San Luis Reservoir. This has allowed the environmental groups to monitor and comment on the water district’s plans.

Open space battle to go to votersSan Jose Mercury News – Sunday, October 6, 2002 By Chuck Carroll

DOP Defends Sonoma County, California's Pepperwood Preserve

Challenge Pepperwood Ranch is a biologically rich 3,117-acre property located in the Bald Hills of Sonoma County in Northern California. The property belonged to Kenneth Bechtel, who had offered to donate the land to the California Academy of Sciences, but the Academy did not want to take the land with use restrictions at that time. Following Mr. Bechtel’s death, the Academy changed its position on accepting the gift and agreed to permanently preserve the land. The deed specified that the Academy “preserve the property in its present natural state and to utilize the property for research and educational activities in the natural and environmental sciences…”

However, the Academy later concluded that the best use of the property would be to sell the land to a “special kind of buyer” who would retain the vast majority of the land in a conservation easement while permitting the academy to continue its scientific and educational programs. In 1995 a “For Sale” sign went up on the preserve offering 37 home sites.

Strategy Local supporters of the preserve and Defense of Place went to work. Their strategy centered on a publicity campaign that focused on ethics and the responsibilities of scientific institutions to maintain their commitment to landowners who donate their land for the purpose of education or preservation.
A Defense of Place editorial “Academy of Science’s sale of Pepperwood breaks a promise,” published in the San Francisco Examiner mobilized long-time supporters of Pepperwood including scientists and members of the California Academy of Sciences to publicly questioned the sale. The negative publicity caused the Academy to take the property off the market.

Result The fact that the Academy’s board took Pepperwood off the market did not finally guarantee its permanent protection. While Defense of Place maintained that the Academy should be bound by its responsibility to the donor to preserve the land in perpetuity, the Academy scaled back its plans to subdivide the land for housing. Under the agreement, a single buyer will build a home on a portion of the property where development currently exists. Ninety percent of the land will be permanently protected by conservation easements. The Academy continues to use the preserve for research by graduate students and professionals, as well as adult field classes, Camp Academy, Junior Academy classes, and field trips. Defense of Place continues to monitor the agreement.

California's Yuba River - Public Land versus Private Interests

Challenge The Yuba Goldfields, some 10,000 acres of riverside land just outside of Marysville are the legacy of the California Gold Rush. Decades of hydraulic mining in the Sierra Nevada washed millions of tons of sand and gravel down the Yuba River. This sand and gravel provides the largest supply of construction grade gravel in the West, currently estimated at over $15 billion. Over the last 50 years, private interests and government agencies have disputed who has rights to this land and its resources – gravel, water from the river, and the wildlife in the area, including one of the last genetically pure lines of Chinook salmon.

In 1992, a Texas-based mining company, Western Aggregates, constructed a gate blocking the public road to the Goldfields. The company claimed the road to be private, although historical records clearly show otherwise. This sparked outrage among local residents and land conservationists who took the matter to court.

Strategy The Resource Renewal Institute, a nonprofit environmental organization based in San Francisco, set out to help find a multi-use sustainable solution and proposed the creation of a salmon sanctuary. Much needed economic growth Much-needed economic growth in the area would come from the sale of the gravel on public land and the creation of recreation-related jobs.

After extensive research and study, Defense of Place proposed a five-point plan of action and rehabilitation to meet the needs of all parties involved and “…to highlight integrated, systemic resource planning and the real successes that such forward thinking-management can achieve for society and environment,” and to “be a model for public-private cooperation and comprehensive response to environmental problems.”

Result In mid-2003, the 3rd District Court of Appeals in California upheld an earlier ruling which deemed the road public. Western Aggregates has appealed to the California Supreme Court, which currently must decide whether or not to hear the case or uphold the earlier rulings.

The Resource Renewal Institute, through its Defense of Place project, is working to establish a parkway, allowing public access to the river and Goldfields. Defense of Place also intends to restore the Yuba River to its natural state, preventing the private sale of a public water supply and establishing the Carla Bard Salmon Sanctuary.

Which voters approved a measure to allow more public access to the Yuba River, including a key 9-mile stretch of river through the Goldfields. Improved public access is expected to generate revenues from increased tourism and recreation.

There are several proposals for the Yuba Goldfields. The proposed redevelopment project includes: trails for hiking and bird watching; access to the river for rafting, canoeing, fishing, camping and picnicking; salmon rehabilitation in the form of the Carla Bard Salmon Sanctuary; resolving local hunting rights issues; reclaiming the river by curtailing water diversions; enhanced and replenished natural habitats; sustainable removal of the valuable gravel on public land at a direct benefit to the people of Yuba County. There are still many compromises necessary to please the interests involved, but there is progress.

Defense of Place wants to ensure the land is managed for multiple uses. In addition to research and long-range planning, Defense of Place has helped in more direct ways as well. Defense of Place has provided funding for the legal motions that have ensued between Yuba Goldfields Access Coalition and Western Aggregate. Defense of Place also has been responsible for much of the publicity surrounding the controversy. Through a combination of press releases and advertisements (including a 1999 ad in the New York Times), Defense of Place has created public interest in a controversy that may have otherwise remained obscure.

“Protecting the People’s Right of Way: Public Access Advocate Bill Calvert” High Country News – Dec 20, 2004by Tim Holt

“Interior Attorney Pushed Land Deal” Los Angeles Times – March 8, 2004by Henry Weinstein

Save Jean Klock Park, Michigan

Challenge With clear intent articulated by words of the heart and the terms of  a contract, John and Carrie Klock bestowed Lake Michigan parkland in 1917 to the residents of Benton Harbor, Michigan,  in memory of their infant daughter Jean.  John Klock’s dedication rang clear:  The beach is yours, the dunes are yours, all yours.  It is not so much a gift from my wife and myself as a gift from a little child.  See to it that the park is the children’s . . .”

The legal language of the gift’s deed was unambiguous: “ . . .upon express condition and with the express covenant that said lands and premises shall forever be used by the said city of Benton Harbor for bathing beach, park purposes or other public purposes and at all times shall be open for the use and benefit of the public.”

Over the years the magnet of the rare lakefront property brought several development attempts, but all were thwarted until seven years ago, when the city of  Benton Harbor signed a compromise with the Whirlpool Corporation’s Harbor Shores project that allowed partial residential development of approximately 22 acres “in exchange for permanent protections of the remaining 73 acres of the park.”

However,  with the complicity of politicians and governmental agencies – even those responsible for protecting the historic and environmental designation of the dunes, wetlands and marsh – that promise was shattered.  In September 2008, enabled by dubious permits and legal decisions, the developers set loose their bulldozers to breach the crest of the dunes and excavate the fragile and irreplaceable dune vegetation to carve out three holes for a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course for the “Harbor Shores Golf and Beach Club.”

Strategy Park advocates, conservation organizations and environmental attorneys have battled through courts, commissions and the media to protest the violation of the Klocks’ deed;  the  developers’ claims that the golf course offers “public use” (with green fees that reach more than $100); and, that “nearby” lands selected to replace the lost Jean Klock Park acreage are of equal ecological value.  Instead, the “mitigated” lands consist of widely scattered parcels known by the National Park Service to be contaminated with industrial pollutants.

Now, even though losses to the Park have occurred,  the voices on behalf of John and Carrie Klock are being heard in the higher reaches of State and Federal Courts:

~~~“On order of the Michigan State Supreme Court, the application for leave to appeal the January 21, 2010, judgment of the Court of Appeals is considered.”

With this sentence the Michigan Supreme Court renewed hope that Jean Klock Park may yet be reborn.  The September 15, 2010, order by the Supreme Court has opened the door  for reparation and restoration of the public park.  Oral arguments for the case, which was pressed on behalf of the Friends of Jean Klock Park, by Plaintiffs-Defendants Carol Drake and Clellen Bury, will be heard on January 21.

The application that persuaded the Court to consider a reversal of the Lower Court’s opinion articulates a thesis of Defense of Place: “It is also important as there is a greater shift from government lead conservation to movements encouraging private conservation by land conservancies or land trusts . . .People who make a gift, who leave a legacy like that of the Klocks, should know that their legacy will be protected in the future.”

Briefs were filed in support of the Plaintiffs by the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center including signers Defense of Place, Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance,  Preserve the Dunes, and West Michigan Environmental Action Council; and by Friends of Michigan Parks.

~~~ The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral argument in Spring 2011 based on the federal lawsuit brought by Protect Jean Klock Park advocates Julie Weiss, Nicole Moon, Emma Kinnard, James H. Duncan, Lea’Anna Locey, Scott Elliott and Ronnie Whitelow, under the Federal  Administrative Procedures Act (APA). 

The suit alleges that Federal laws violated in the course of  Harbor Shores’ permit process include the Clean Water Act, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.  The Complaint was filed against the Department of the Interior, National Park Service, the City of Benton Harbor, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment, Inc., has intervened to become a Defendant, as they continue to deploy their financially and politically powerful influence.

Descriptions of “inadequacy,” “noncompliance,” “capricious,”  “improper approval, ” “no public record narrative,” “no arithmetic discussion of this volume” (thousands of cubic yards of topsoil or other fill material to re-create dune ridge mass), “no quantified data, detail or discussion of any management of waterborne chemical runoff,” and more fill the pages of the complaint.

One key issue hinges on the truthfulness of filed documents, including the response to the question of whether project approval would have a disproportioinately high and adverse eeffect on low-income or minority populations. Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources answered “No,” when, in fact the population of the City of Benton Harbor is over 90 percent African-American. A “Yes” response “would have triggered the requirement of compiling an Environmental Impact Statement (which was not done).

What you can do:  Visit websites that tell the story of Jean Klock Park with updates, photos and ways to offer additional help: and

These photos supplied by Julie Weiss of Protect Jean Klock Park show native landscape of the Park’s northern dunes before and after the September 2008 excavation that cleared the way for the Jack Nicklaus Golf Course. The row of trees that parallel the lake offers the reference point.

Jean Klock Park, MI                    Jean Klock Park, MI

Save Washoe Meadows State Park, California

Challenge As part of a project to restore a reach of the Upper Truckee River that flows into Lake Tahoe, California’s State Parks agency proposes to expand a golf course across the river into Washoe Meadows State Park.  The park was formed  in 1984 when a state law was enacted to  “acquire as state lands an environmentally sensitive parcel of approximately 777 acres of land comprising wetlands, meadows, and wildlife habitat for the purpose of protecting an unique and irreplaceable watershed…”  The land to the east of the river has remained a “recreation area,” and includes the Lake Tahoe Golf Course which was built in the 1950s.  

Despite the fact that the restoration of the Upper Truckee  – and re-establishment of the fish-spawning streams —  is necessary due to the harm resulting from the design and maintenance of the original golf course,  State agencies  are forcefully promoting the golf course expansion, with an emphasis on economic factors over significant environmental  threats.

Strategy The Washoe Meadows Community has been organized to oppose the golf course expansion alternative of the Upper Truckee Restoration Project since the State announced its primary intent more than four years ago.   The Community initiated petitions to save the Park, and its members have worked tirelessly – and in the face of delays and defiance by State agencies —  to obtain documents related to the planning and claims by the restoration project managers.   Washoe Meadows activitsts attend public and government meetings and hearings; maintain a website to share information;  and,  coordinate the comments submitted  in response to the Environmental Impact Report.

Defense of Place participates in environmental studies and in the preparation and submission of articles,  commission statements, letters to the editor, and  op-ed pieces, including those written by Huey Johnson in the Sacramento Bee and the Reno Gazette.

Result The public comment period for the EIR ended November 15. Comments submitted through Defense of Place included land and hydrology studies by natural resources specialist David Katz along with policy and principle discussions by Nancy Graalman. The Washoe Meadows advocates submitted a far-reaching examination that was a culmination of their four-year commitment to  interviews, commission hearings, and document studies. The State must now fulfill its obligation to address all of the presented challenges to many of the EIR’s environmental, economic and legal positions. The responses and announcement of the State’s intent will take several months, during which time the Washoe Meadows Community and Defense of Place will continue the campaign to save the park AND  restore the river.

What you can Do Visit the “Save Washoe Meadows” website to read more on the Community’s efforts to protect the Park. The site includes a virtual walking tour of Washoe Meadows that follows the footprint of the proposed golf course expansion, showing  the extent to which the proposed reconfiguration impacts fragile parkland.

Even though the official public comment period has closed for the EIR,  continue contact with California State Parks to  protest the proposed golf course expansion across the Upper Truckee into Washoe Meadows: Also, contact agencies that have a part in preserving Lake Tahoe’s natural resources, including: Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (;  CalTrout (; and, California Fish and Game (

Donate to the Washoe Meadows campaign through the Resource Renewal Institute: contact

Save Battery Park, Ohio


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Why Defense of Place: Founder's Essay

How Long is Forever? By Huey D. Johnson, Founder and President Resource Renewal Institute

How do we respond when the value of land has risen exponentially and the pressure for development increases? What is our obligation to continue to preserve parks created by past generations? When we promise to preserve such spaces in perpetuity, how long is forever?

The question is one of permanence. Will Americans be strong enough to stand up for our parks and open spaces, for wild rivers and wilderness? Is their value above and beyond money?

Defense of Place is committed to making sure our protected lands stay that way. We stand not only for the places themselves, but also for the principle of law that provides for their protection.

The Public Trust is a legal doctrine founded in recognition that some public assets are so valuable to the health and equity of society that they cannot be sold or given away. Instead, this historic legal framework provides that they be managed in trust for the benefit of all people for all time.

Land set aside for parks and open space is not an extension of a government’s bank account or institution’s line of credit. It is placed in a public trust to be enjoyed by current and future generations forever.

Great Britain has met such challenges. It protects its national land legacy through a National Trust. The principles upon which the National Trust was founded are deeply engrained in the society’s values. No one would consider development in a park that had been donated for preservation.

New Zealand has passed laws that place all remaining old-growth trees on public lands into preserved status, never to be cut. New Zealand’s parliament concluded that there are values that go beyond dollars, and that those forests are too valuable to lose.

In the United States, New York City has faced such challenges many times – so many that Central Park would be layered 17 times over with buildings if all the proposals for its development had been allowed. The preservation of Central Park speaks volumes about the culture of New York.

At Defense of Place, we believe that we can and must preserve our heritage. That’s why our organization is dedicated to increasing the amount of preserved land and aggressively protecting the legacy left to us by previous generations. More importantly, we’re dedicated to changing the culture so that future generations will know this: forever means forever. Our common legacy demands nothing less.

Update: Preservation in an Era of Global Climate Change?

While climate disruption presents enormous challenges to the defense of protected landscapes, ecosystems, and individual species, the principle behind Defense of Place remains unchanged. Previous generations have left us not only protected landscapes but also a commitment to preservation itself. This same preservation imperative underlies the critical step of reducing carbon emissions worldwide.

Defense of Place believes that the roots of our Democracy can be found in America’s parks. Through the defense of parks, open space, and preserves, Defense of Place works to strengthen the uniquely American heritage of landscapes for the benefit of all in perpetuity.

How We Work: Methods

Defense of Place assists local communities, activists and organizations that are standing up for their public trust lands and invite us to participate. We provide strategic and public relations advice, technical information and fundraising assistance to help these groups ensure permanent protection for the lands they love.

Strategic and Public Relations Strategies: Defense of Place will help you shape an appropriate media and public relations strategy for your campaign. The timing of any campaign is crucial to its success; it is not only important whom you reach with your outreach efforts but also when and with what message. We can help write and review press releases, letters to editors, and website text. Social Media is a powerful tool to build support and get the word out, and we can advise on its use. We can support your traditional media strategy with our own press releases and provide links to your organization on our website, which reaches a national audience.

Technical Information: Defense of Place can help you determine which federal and state laws may help your case (such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the National and state Environmental Protection Acts, etc.) and help you understand how to use them. The Freedom of Information Act and similar state statutes guarantee your access to most public documents and is crucial to your campaign; DOP can help you understand this law and how to use it.

Fundraising Assistance: Defense of Place can help groups that do not have tax-exempt status with the IRS accept donations from their supporters and seek assistance from foundations.

Tools: Resources

Defense of Place’s Park Protection Handbook
A tool to help activists protect threatened parklands.

Conservation Easement Defense
Find out more about conservation easements and how Defense of Place is working to protect them.

Conservation Easement Defense

A conservation easement is a voluntary deed restriction between a private landowner and a nonprofit land trust or government agency that ensures that a property will be conserved forever. Conservation easements are flexible tools that can allow a variety of uses to continue on the land but their overarching purpose is to protect the important public conservation values of a property in perpetuity. When a landowner chooses to protect their land with a conservation easement they create a public benefit that entitles them to various tax benefits.

However, despite the best intentions of conservation easement donors and a strong national land trust community, there are troubling signs that perpetuity may not always mean forever to some. The land conservation community is facing increasing challenges to the permanence of conservation easements. As more conserved lands change hands, sometimes new landowners, either out of ignorance or hubris, disregard easement restrictions and violate this perpetual protective covenant. In more extreme cases, the community has seen landowners taking legal action to challenge the conservation easements on their lands. Another threat comes from government agencies and utility companies who view conserved lands as a cheaper option when they consider condemning land for transmission corridors.

Defense of Place is committed to working with the conservation community to ensure that commitments made to protect private lands for the public benefit are upheld as they were intended. Defense of Place will work to defend conservation easement integrity in the following ways:

We will help conservation-minded landowners choose the right land trust,  one that shares their ideals and their commitment to protecting their land in perpetuity.

We will act as a resource for individual land trusts and the land trust community on preventing and fighting conservation easement violations.

We will help communities that find the public trust obligation of conservation easements being broken by easement holders or landowners in their area.

We will create educational resources for the land trust community on conservation easement defense.

Tips for Protecting Parkland

The following piece by Catherine Engberg and Jason Kibbey appeared in the Shute Mihaly and Weinberger newsletter in the Summer of 2004.

Faced with tight budgets, cities often look to surplus land sales as a means of generating revenue. Unfortunately, these “surplus” lands often include parkland that provides the community with valuable open space and recreational areas. Although the sale of parklands may solve short-term budget gaps, once parks are sold for commercial or residential development, the loss to the community is permanent. In times of tight budgets, community members should consider political and legal strategies for the protection of parkland, and at the same time remind politicians that there are other, less drastic solutions to balancing city budgets.

Be an Alert Watchdog While one would think the proposed sale, development, or conversion of parklands would be a big story in local news, sometimes it can happen without even the decision-makers’ knowledge. Community members should pay close attention to the actions of the City Council when surplus land sales are proposed. For example, when one Bay Area city’s staff asked their Council to approve the sale of over fifty surplus parcels on the Council’s consent calendar, staff did not mention that this list included current and planned parklands. Had a community activist not noticed this proposed sale and alerted the San Francisco Chronicle, those parklands could have been lost to private development. Keep in mind that it is not necessary get press coverage in a large, regional newspaper; stories in local papers and community newsletters can also have a big impact.

Organize, Organize, Organize All successful attempts to save parks and open space require a strong coalition of community members fighting for that land. Fortunately, saving a park is perhaps the best-known rallying call for community action and involvement. It is a non-partisan issue that appeals to liberals, conservatives, seasoned community activists, political neophytes, senior citizens and even children. Organized coalitions demonstrate to decision-makers that there is a broad support for the parkland, and can coordinate tasks such as speaking at public meetings, gathering signatures, sending out mailings, tabling and posting flyers. Successful groups often use the Internet to disseminate information related to the campaign, and groups should consider maintaining a website to inform members of the community about threats to parkland.

Lobby Decision-Makers Everyone directly involved with the decision to sell, damage, or develop a park must be made aware of the opposition to this threat as soon as possible. Effective lobbying tools include the following tactics:

Have a representative of your coalition meet with council members and planning commissioners;

Speak out at city council meetings during the public comment period;

Submit letters to city hall; and

Send e-mails and make telephone calls to decision-makers.

Keep in mind that community organizing will dramatically increase the number of people lobbying the decision-makers, which will, in turn, have a greater impact on decision-makers.

Evaluate Legal Options Fortunately for parkland enthusiasts, state law and most cities’ local planning documents contain a host of legal protections for parkland. Most of the time, a city cannot simply sell its parkland to a developer without breaking several laws. These state and local restrictions against the sale of parkland include the following:

Deed Restrictions – Oftentimes, parks are deeded to the city by a private developer or public agency exclusively for “park purposes.” Similarly, if the parkland was a gift from the state, similar restrictions may apply. As a result, it is illegal for the city to sell or use the land for anything other than park purposes.

City Planning Documents – It is likely that the city’s general plan designates the park as “Park and Open Space.” In addition, other elements of the general plan or local specific plans may include policies in favor of protecting parkland. The proposed sale of parkland may therefore require a general plan amendment.

Voter Approval – Prior to selling parkland, the city must comply with the super-majority and voter approval requirements set forth in Government Code sections 38440-38462. Similar provisions apply to proposed sales of county parks. These provisions set forth formal protest procedures, and require the city council to overrule these procedures by a two-thirds majority. If the protests are overruled, the proposed sale must be approved by city voters in a special election. These provisions present a difficult procedural hurdle for cities and counties seeking to sell parkland.

CEQA – The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires agencies to analyze the environmental consequences of the “whole” action, which would include potential conversion of parks and open space lands for private development. Because such projects typically involve general plan amendments and significant changes in land use, an EIR may be required.

Community groups may want to consult with an attorney to determine which legal strategies are appropriate for them.

Maintain Focus A group that has formed to protect a park should focus on saving that park, not on solving all of the city’s problems. Cities often try to argue that selling a park is the only answer the city’s problem. However, community organizers should keep in mind that selling a park is never the only option for a city. It is the job of park advocates to speak up for parks; it is the job of a city council to figure out how to solve a city’s budget problems.

An Ounce of Prevention… Efforts to organize a park preservation group should be made before parkland is threatened. Government officials are much less likely to view a park as a source of revenue if that park is used by members of the public. In addition, the formation of a parkland preservation group sends an even stronger message to the public officials that local parks should remain parks.

Enlist Help Community groups may want to enlist the help of statewide organizations that have experience protecting parks from similar threats. One such group, Defense of Place, works with local organizations to preserve parkland and aggressively protect the legacy left to the public by previous generations. To find out more about Defense of Place and to learn about other communities’ experiences in defending parkland, visit their website at

Land and Water Conservation Fund Manual

Land and Water Conservation Fund Manual (current 2008)

Land and Water Conservation Fund Compliance Requirements

Many state and local parks have received funding for acquisition, development or maintenance from the National Park Service through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Parks that have received funding from the LWCF can not be disposed of or converted without following stringent conversion requirements. The attached NPS guidance on how to comply with these requirements is crucial for park advocates to understand.

“Parks Under Siege from Development” An excellent article on threats to public parks nationwide by Peter Harnick, Director of the Trust For Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence (originally appeared in the October 2008 edition of Planning Magazine).

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