Land Grab

The county road to Camp Pico Blanco has been washed out since 2017 and there is still no official timetable or funding on the table for repairs.

Perched atop 368 acres at the north fork of the Little Sur River in Big Sur, Camp Pico Blanco has been a jewel of the local Boy Scouts council real estate portfolio for the better part of the last century, since William Randolph Hearst essentially gifted it to the organization in 1948.

Yet, the camp has sat vacant for six years, since rainstorms following 2016’s destructive Soberanes Fire washed out access on Palo Colorado Road. Now, the Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Council is on the search for a buyer, asking for $1.8 million and a set of conditions in exchange for the camp, and $1.6 million for an adjacent 350 acres of undeveloped wilderness area.

The property, which welcomed bids between April 1 and May 1, attracted a “responsible amount” of proposals, says Peter Baird, managing partner at real estate firm Mahoney & Associates, which is handling the listing. Among the bidders is a group who claimed the land thousands of years before Hearst or the Boy Scouts ever got their hands on it, before it was ever considered “property” – the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County.

The tribe’s bid is part of a larger effort to reacquire properties from which the tribe was displaced during the colonization of America. “Pixchi,” the Esselen name for Pico Blanco, is the “center of the Esselen world” according to the tribe’s bid for the property, where “the creation story for our tribe began.” The nonprofit Western Rivers Conservancy has agreed to front the money for the initial land purchase while the tribe gets the financing together. The group has said they are interested in the conservation of the Little Sur River, among the most important habitats for the Central California steelhead trout.

Despite deep ties to the land, Eric Tarbox, deputy scout executive with the Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Council, says the tribe will not receive special treatment. He says a volunteer group will grade each bid against the same criteria, which includes: plans for the land; whether the new owner will allow future access to scout programming (the Esselen Tribe has included this in its proposal); and how much money the bidder is willing to spend for the land. Tarbox says the vision for the land and accessibility to future scout programming will weigh heaviest for the council’s executive board in selecting the winning bid.

The local scout council is only requiring an official proposal process for the $1.8 million Camp Pico Blanco parcel. Tarbox says the proceeds from the sale will go into local programming. However, the adjacent wilderness area is a different story.

Baird, who is also on the local scout council’s executive board, says that $1.6 million property doesn’t need an in-depth proposal because the scouts need to dispatch it and collect the money as quickly as possible. Local scouts will see none of the money – every penny will be funneled to the national council and placed into the new sexual abuse settlement fund, last valued at $2.7 billion, $515 million of which will come in cash and property from local councils.

Baird says the property value will cover some of the local council’s required contribution to help settle the more than 82,000 claims of sexual abuse against the Boy Scouts of America. If the local council cannot sell the wilderness parcels in time, they can transfer the real estate assets to the national council.

Christopher Neely covers a mixed beat that includes the environment, water politics, and Monterey County's Board of Supervisors. He began at the Weekly in 2021 after five years on the City Hall beat in Austin, TX.

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