In exchange for $95 million, Hearst gave 13 miles of coastline to the state—which includes breeding grounds for elephant seals—and the company promised it will do no more construction on the ranch, other than about two dozen private residences for 60-odd Hearst relatives. None of those houses will be visible from Highway 1 or the castle.
"Nobody in the mother company, the mother ship, really knew what we were doing," Hearst said about broaching the topic with the Hearst board of selling development rights. "They said it sounds like smoke and mirrors, and I said it's absolutely not, it's real."
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His rights sale is by far the most extreme example of selling development rights to a trust, but dozens of other smaller California ranches have sold rights to 300,000 acres of land. Similar trusts aimed at cattle ranchers exist in seven other states.
"It allows us to pull some money out of the ranch when, right now, it's not a great time to be a rancher, it's financially difficult to do that," said Daniel Sinton is a fifth-generation cattle ranch in Shandon, California, and a Rangeland Trust board member.
Steve Hearst didn't have to sell, but it seemed like a great solution. "What's different about this property owner than others is that we did it voluntarily," he said. "Normally people are dealing with land trusts like this because they have a tax issue to deal with. Dad dies and now you owe 50 percent of what you own to the government, and a lot of them have to sell the rights."