Not many would expect a happily-ever-after ending between environmental advocates and developers, but once upon a time in the early 2000s, it happened in Truckee.
The Martis Fund and Tahoe Mountain Resorts Foundation, the love children in this affair, came to life after agreements between the developers of Martis Camp, Old Greenwood, Gray’s Crossing, and Northstar, and advocates like Mountain Area Preservation, landed on using real estate exchanges for the good of the region. The mechanism, called a transfer fee, is added to the cost of a home, usually in the neighborhood of 1% of the sales price and paid for by the buyer, that is then channeled to nonprofits. A cumulative $30 million in these fees have been collected in Truckee and have funded grants focused on the environment, workforce housing, youth, and culture.
One percent of home sales in Martis Camp go to the Martis Fund while 1.5% to 1.75% of sales in Old Greenwood, Gray’s Crossing, and Northstar head to TMRF.
“We’re talking millions of dollars,” said Heidi Volkhardt Allstead, executive director of the Martis Fund. “I think I saw [a home] for sale in the $12 million range … It’s a lot of money.”
To date, Martis Fund has funneled over $12 million to the community, supporting projects within the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, which the fund uses as its boundary lines. Three different buckets define the fund’s guidelines: 50% goes to open space, 25% is for habitat restoration and forest management, and 25% goes to workforce housing.
Martis Fund remains solely supported by each Martis Camp real estate sale. From its inception in 2006 through Sept. 30, 2020, the fund has received a total of $25.2 million from transfer fees, with $3.3 million collected between Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, 2020. Unspent money is invested, Volkhardt Allstead said.
The Truckee River Watershed Council is a direct beneficiary of the Martis Fund, to the tune of $3.5 million for a variety of projects, as part of the habitat restoration bucket.
“The Truckee River Watershed Council is proud to partner with the Martis Fund for the implementation of [its] habitat and forest restoration initiatives,” shared Lisa Wallace, executive director of the TRWC, in an email. “We have matched support from the Martis Fund, with $8.1 million from other sources. Together, the Martis Fund and the watershed council have planned and completed over 500 acres of forest and meadow restoration projects in the Martis Valley, Bear Creek Basin, Coldstream Canyon, on the Truckee River, and more. These projects directly benefit local ecosystem resiliency against wildfire, drought, and flood.”
The water council is in the midst of a three-year funding cycle from the Martis Fund, with an annual $425,000 from 2020 through 2022 geared toward long-term restoration support.
In the workforce housing arena, Volkhardt Allstead said the organization has granted money to the Sierra Community House, Truckee Artist Lofts, Meadow View Place, Frishman Hollow, and the Emergency Warming Center in Truckee.
Most recently, the Martis Fund contributed a hefty $6 million to help purchase the 290-acre Canyon Springs on the eastern end of Truckee. In fact, this acquisition effort — attempting to raise $11.6 million by Dec. 15 to buy a property for conservation that heretofore has been slated for development — is touching multiple transfer fee funds. A partner in the purchase effort, Truckee Donner Land Trust, has received money from the Tahoe Mountain Resorts Foundation, and is putting up some of this dough for the buying of Canyon Springs.
The TMRF is actually a combination of five separate foundations: There’s the TMRF itself, the TMRF Environmental Fund, Old Greenwood Community Foundation, Gray’s Crossing Community Foundation, and Northstar Community Foundation. The same board oversees all five, and they’re all branded under the TMRF name and fully funded by transfer fees.
The percentage breakdown of money from sales in the three developments varies.
In Gray’s Crossing, 1.75% of each sale’s total goes to the following:
- Gray’s Crossing Community Foundation: 0.75%
- Truckee Donner Land Trust: 0.5%
- TMRF Environmental Fund: 0.25%
- TMRF: 0.25%
Northstar homes have the same breakdown, except the 0.75% goes to the Northstar Community Foundation. Old Greenwood, too, follows a similar pattern, though no percentage goes to the TMRF, for a total fee of 1.5% of the sales price.
Ed Morgan, COO for Taylor Builders, the company that now oversees the developments, told Moonshine that in the past decade (the stretch of time Morgan had information for, despite the foundation’s starting up in 2003/04), the TMRF has collected about $9.5 million and granted out $3.8 million. The remaining $5.7 million sits in mutual funds in an effort to grow principal and ensure long-term funding.
“The foundation target for giving every year is based on 5% of total assets,” Morgan said. As assets grow — as they did during 2020 and so far during 2021, he added, “We’ll have more money than ever to give.”
Organizations receiving funds from the TMRF in 2021 include the Boys and Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe, Truckee Arts Alliance, the watershed council, and many more.
Such transfer fee agreements are now a thing of the past. On Jan. 1, 2019, California’s AB-3041 began prohibiting this real estate transaction fee unless they provide a “direct benefit” to the property — think HOA fees going toward a community pool or golf course, as an example. The bill was proposed by California Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham in an effort to lower housing costs.
“By banning hidden fees that don’t directly benefit a property,” Cunningham tweeted back in May 2018, “this bill will lower housing costs and help folks qualify for federally backed loans.”
Despite the limitations on future ones, the local love children already in place are here to stay.
“[We’re] supporting our nonprofit community,” Volkhardt Allstead said. “There are people and organizations [who] need funds, and we’re keeping it in our community, we’re keeping jobs … I think we’ve done a great job in helping to support a significant number of our nonprofits here.”