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Conservancy says it wants to stay

But permanent home's location still unsettled
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn’s quest to keep the state’s Sierra Nevada Conservancy headquarters in town appears to be a success — for now. The city beat out several other Sierra communities to become the new conservancy’s interim headquarters three years ago, but a search for a permanent location was renewed last year. The search could end Thursday if the board acts on a staff recommendation favoring Auburn to continue as its headquarters. But the permanent status would elude the city once again. Instead of recommending Auburn as its permanent headquarters location, the staff report to be considered Thursday at the conservancy board’s meeting in McArthur is to direct Executive Officer Jim Branham to pursue a lease extension at Blocker Drive’s Creekside Business Park — its location since June 2006. The current lease extends through next May. At the same time, Branham would be seeking ways to “green” the building and “increase the availability of education and interpretive opportunities at the site.” Branham said that if the board approves the recommendation, he would also be looking for more ways to provide public interaction at the site. The conservancy has a staff of 20 at the Auburn office and works with an annual budget of $4.3 million. The conservancy, which was formed as a body to look out for Sierra Nevada region interests, received five proposals this spring in the search for a permanent site. The others were from Colfax, Coloma, Nevada City and the city of Auburn. The Creekside Business Park is privately owned by a partnership that includes local and San Jose-area investors. The Auburn proposal was to build on an adjacent, city-owned property. The staff recommendation to be considered Thursday comes with the comment that “a number of the sites identified would be attractive alternatives to the existing facility.” “However, given the complexity of the process, staff does not believe the benefits outweigh cost, time and effort associated with securing a new location,” the report says. And if negotiations for a longer-term lease at the current location fall through, “exploring other options in the future should remain an option,” it says. Auburn City Councilmember Kevin Hanley, a leading proponent of locating the conservancy in Auburn, said he’s always looked at the 12-acre Blocker Drive property as a possible site. But the conservancy wasn’t willing to build the environmentally sensitive green building on its own, he said. Time factors and the state’s budget crisis also probably played a role in not going ahead, he said. “If they stay in Auburn, and I hope they do, the city will continue to work with them and try to make them happy,” Hanley said. “They’re beginning to put down roots.” Placer County Supervisor Robert Weygandt, who serves as vice-chairman of the conservancy board, also said that time could be a plus for Auburn. “It’s an advantage,” Weygandt said. “The longer they stay, the deeper the roots will grow.” The conservancy is, ideally, seeking a green building, he said. “That wouldn’t preclude staying at Auburn but at a different site,” Weygandt said. Last year, the conservancy — which is poised to give out $17 million in Prop. 84 grants this year and an equal amount next year — opened offices in Mariposa, Susanville and Bishop. But the criteria for a headquarters precludes those locations. The basic requirements are that it be within a 30 minute drive of Auburn, provide a minimum of 8,000 square feet of office space and have access to high-speed Internet. Preferences on a site included having access to major north-south and east-west transportation corridors, have available meeting facilities beyond conference room space, and provision for a green building in keeping with the state’s efforts to increase energy efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and generally reduce the impact on the environment. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com, or leave a comment on this story at auburnjournal.com.