New redwood park in Santa Cruz Mountains could come from Beall law

Clearing the way for what could potentially be the biggest open space deal in the Santa Cruz Mountains in years, Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday signed a bill that would streamline the sale of up to 6,500 acres of land owned by San Jose Water Company, allowing it to become a public open space preserve.

The bill would allow the sale of the land — which includes 1,100 acres of redwood forests and could easily eclipse $30 million in price — to the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District without approval from the state Public Utilities Commission. The commission regulates San Jose Water, and its processes are often bureaucratic and slow-moving.

Talks are still in the very early stages. The water company says the land, which it has owned since the late 1800s, is not listed for sale. But company officials were told of the bill and did not oppose it and say they are willing to continue discussions.

“We are aware of their interest,” said Jayme Ackemann, a spokeswoman for San Jose Water Company, on Thursday afternoon. “But we aren’t actively seeking to sell the property.”

The sprawling, undeveloped property lies between Summit Road and Lexington Reservoir in Santa Clara County. Home to deer, mountain lions and other species, along with steep hillsides and redwood groves, it forms much of the headwaters of Los Gatos Creek, and includes Lake Elsman. The lands also include a property surrounded by El Sereno Open Space Preserve near Saratoga.

A decade ago, San Jose Water ran into a buzzsaw of controversy when it proposed to log the redwoods, which grow east of Highway 17. Neighbors in Aldercroft Heights, Redwood Estates and other mountain communities fought the plan, even enlisting the help of former Vice President Al Gore, and in 2007 state forestry officials rejected it.

The open space district, a government agency based in Los Altos, included $29 million in Measure AA, a bond measure passed by voters in 2014, to buy the property. Another $3 million that…

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