Tue09022014

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Hidden Villa may lease, sell land to fund endowment

Land-rich but cash-poor, Hidden Villa"s board of directors is considering a bold move to stabilize their organization — leasing or selling some of their 1,600 acres in and around Los Altos Hills. The non-profit drew more than 70 people Sunday to a forum discussing how to fund a $10 million endowment intended to provide a reliable income to boost the organic preserve"s flagging reserves. In 2004-2005, the non-profit ran a $340,000 deficit and made the controversial decision, later reversed, to cancel its popular summer camp. At the time, the board reported that while fundraising had remained static, expenses had risen. That trend has persisted, and the board seeks to overhaul Hidden Villa"s financial model. The planned endowment would support Hidden Villa with $400,000 a year, compared with the $35,000 a year currently coming from reserves. During the past five years, Hidden Villa has had a reduction in reserves from $2 million to $1.75 million. In contrast, the 2008 expense budget rose to $2.4 million, compared with $2.1 million in 2002. Hidden Villa has 1,550 acres restricted by easements and 50 unencumbered acres valued at approximately $20 million. Board Chairman Lee Price presented four possible ways to raise an endowment at the forum, noting that the board preferred to lease, rather than sell, the land. He described a range of possible deals with the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, including creating a park easement, with the possible addition of a playing field and a learning center or school. The different options would have varying impacts on Hidden Villa"s land — the learning center, for instance, would likely be at least 15,000 square feet, Price said. Bullis Charter School and the Waldorf School of the Peninsula have expressed an interest in the land. Any organization that elected to partner with Hidden Villa would have to cover the cost of the building, estimated at $3 million to $4 million, in addition to the land sale or lease. Price assured the audience that the board intended to vet projects for their compatibility with Hidden Villa"s environmental education agenda. Higher-impact projects such as a sports field or a school would bring consequences such as a high volume of water usage and added traffic. Board members said they would conduct an environmental impact assessment before taking action. "It is a compromise between money for an endowment and greater environmental impact," said Executive Director Chris Overington, noting that more lucrative projects would affect the land more severely. Contact Shannon Barry at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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