The Marin Agricultural Land Trust has hired a Bay Area nonprofit leader as its new executive director, the third since July 2020.
Lily Verdone worked at Coastal Quest, an Oakland-based organization focused on building climate resilience for coastal communities. Previously, she worked for over a decade at the Nature Conservancy.
Before joining the Nature Conservancy in 2010, Verdone spent two years working for the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy as the director of conservation. He has a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and a master’s in biology from Sonoma State University.
“Lily has the leadership experience, the skills of the people and the experience of preserving and trusting the land to further build on MALT’s successful work,” said Jennifer Carlin, who was MALT’s acting executive director and now assumes the role of deputy director.
Verdone’s hiring follows a period of turmoil at MALT that began in 2020 with allegations made by Ross resident Ken Slayen. He said MALT inflated the value of conservation easements acquired using Measure A funds in order to benefit current and former board members and their families.
MALT countered that Slayen was unhappy that MALT had turned down his offer for a conservation easement in 2015.
Slayen filed his allegations with the Marin County District Attorney’s Office and the State Committee on Fair Political Practices in September 2020. The district attorney did not file any charges. The Politics Committee and Marin County Councilor Brian Washington also reviewed Slayen’s claims and took no action.
However, MALT changed its conflict of interest policy which prohibited board members and their close relatives from selling easements to MALT. In July 2020, MALT director Jamison Watts resigned.
In April 2021, MALT hired Thane Kreiner, who earned a PhD in neuroscience from Stanford University and spent 17 years founding and managing life science companies, to replace Watts. Kreiner, he left in December, without publicly giving any reasons.
Regarding the recent turmoil surrounding MALT, Verdone said: “My approach is to enter and respect the past but look to the future. The way MALT’s charter is written now is consistent with the organizations I’ve worked with. ”
Despite the controversy surrounding the MALT, Marin residents voted in June to renew Measure A, a quarter-cent sales tax that provided matching funds for 12 MALT easements covering 7,414 acres. The measure received the support of over 74% of voters. The share of measure A funds destined for easements was reduced from 20% to 10%.
“We are so excited that he passed, and he passed with such overwhelming support,” said Verdone.
In addition to Slayen’s allegations, MALT’s public support was undermined by those who opposed the approval of the National Park Service’s land management plan in Point Reyes National Seashore last year. Livestock farming continues on approximately 28,000 acres within the 86,000-acre coast and nearby Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The management plan allows the park to extend leases from five years to 20 years.
“Continuing agriculture by the sea directly affects our mission to permanently protect agricultural land for agricultural use, so MALT supports sustainable agriculture and livestock farming in these areas,” said Verdone.
Verdone said climate change and development are the two biggest threats to the future of agriculture in western Marin. He said MALT’s primary mission is to protect farmland in western Marin for agricultural use. Buying conservation easements is a vital part of that, he said.
“This is a major tool in our tool belt,” he said.
Unlike Kreiner, Verdone has considerable experience with conservation easements and agriculture in general.
“My work with the Nature Conservancy has focused on easements and the acquisition of ownership rights in both open spaces and agricultural land,” said Verdone.
He said the Nature Conservancy bought farmland along the Santa Clara River in Ventura County and then, in many cases, leased it to the families who owned it so they could continue farming. As a result, a unique open space and agricultural region have been preserved within an hour’s drive of the greater Los Angeles area, where 20 million people live.
“Agriculture and farmland are really great partners for on-the-ground conservation,” said Verdone.
In late August, MALT announced that it had completed its first conservation easement since July 2020, when MALT returned $ 833,250 in Measure A funds that the county gave it to help purchase agricultural easements on the Dolcini-Beltrametti Ranch. .
The county asked MALT for a refund after the trust notified officials that it did not disclose a previous valuation of the property that would reduce the grant.
The 723-acre McDowell Ranch easement announced in August was completed with $ 1.8 million in Measure A proceeds and $ 1.8 million from private donations to MALT.
Verdone said MALT has six other easements in the pipeline totaling 4,000 acres.
“Some are in the works for this year,” he said, “the rest will be staggered over the next 18 months.”
Marin’s Agriculture Commissioner Stefan Parnay said: “I work with a large part of the MALT staff and the organization. They are really responsive and passionate about what they do ”.
“I think the organization is going in an excellent direction,” he said.