LIVERMORE — Aborted real estate deals and a wildfire were among the twists and turns that preceded a land purchase that is poised to preserve the pristine and vast N3 Cattle Co. ranch in the Bay Area.
Through a foundation and an affiliate, William Brown, an East Bay businessman, rancher and corporate executive, has bought the vast Livermore-area N3 Cattle ranch, which at 79 square miles is larger than San Francisco’s 47 square miles.
William Brown Foundation and WEB Ranch, which are both headed up by Brown, are the official new owners of the N3 Cattle properties.
Brown is the founder and chairman of the board of Walnut Creek-based Central Garden & Pet, which provides a wide array of lawn, garden and pet supplies. His expertise includes industrial engineering.
Meadow pond and trees on N3 Cattle Co. ranch, a 50,500-acre property that occupies portions of Alameda County, Santa Clara County, San Joaquin County and Stanislaus County. // California Outdoor Properties
The just-bought ranchlands occupy big chunks of Santa Clara County, Alameda County, San Joaquin County and Stanislaus County. The properties in all four counties were bought on Oct. 22, according to deeds and other documents filed in the respective jurisdictions on that day.
Brown is a fifth-generation Californian. Brown’s family has been involved in ranching since they arrived in the Golden State in the 1850s.
“I spent a great deal of my youth on my grandfather’s cattle ranch, which helped shape me as a person,” Brown said. “I have a great love for our state’s ranching heritage and have long been committed to preserving ranch lands in California.”
The buyers spent somewhere in the range of $65 million, based on the average per-acre price for the properties in Alameda County, Santa Clara County and San Joaquin County as reported in multiple deeds for the transactions that this news organization reviewed.
At 50,500 acres, the property was the largest land offering ever in California. The sellers were two sisters, Sandra Naftzger and Natalie Naftzger Davis, who live in Southern California.
Wildlife on a hillside of N3 Cattle Co., a 50,500-acre ranch that’s located in sections of Alameda County, Santa Clara County, San Joaquin County and Stanislaus County. // California Outdoor Properties
The sisters are fourth-generation ranchers and decided to call it quits ahead of putting the ranch up for sale in July 2019 with a listing price of $72 million. By sometime in the spring of 2020, the asking price was lowered to $68 million.
The two years during which the property was up for sale brought some twists and turns.
— In October 2019, the Alameda County Water District revealed that it was toying with the idea of buying the ranch as a way to preserve water quality in the region by ensuring the property wouldn’t be developed. The district warned at the time that it might have to increase water rates, raise debt, or tap reserves to pay for the purchase.
— In January 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed setting aside $20 million to create a new state park in California. About the same time, 17 Bay Area state lawmakers sent the governor a letter that urged Newsom to direct the funds to purchase the N3 Cattle Co. properties.
— In August 2020, the SCU Lightning Complex fire erupted and scorched part of the ranch’s lands. The blaze spared the headquarters and main ranch house near Livermore.
— In July 2021, faced with the reality that a sale was pending on the ranch and the property was in escrow, the Alameda County Water District said it was “considering” the submission of a “backup offer” in case the deal fell through.
Buildings in the main complex of N3 Cattle Co. ranch near Livermore, a 50,500-acre property located in sections of Alameda County, Santa Clara County, San Joaquin County and Stanislaus County. // California Outdoor Properties
Ultimately, the various grand plans of the state, local and regional government agencies evaporated. After Friday’s deal, the ranch remains under private ownership.
The purchase of the ranch was arranged by Todd Renfrew, a broker with Vacaville-based California Outdoor Properties, which listed the N3 Cattle Co. land for sale.
The sellers are two sisters, Sandra Naftzger and Natalie Naftzger Davis, who live in Southern California. They are fourth-generation ranchers and decided to call it quits around the time they put the ranch up for sale in 2019. The sisters are members of a family that had owned and operated the property for more than 85 years.
Steep canyons, rolling oak woodlands, grasslands, canyons covered with shrubs, rock outcroppings, meadows, ponds and watersheds are among the features of the ranch, according to the sales brochure that Renfrew prepared.
The property’s wildlife consists of animals that can be encountered throughout the wildlands of Northern California.
Coyotes, bobcats, grey foxes and mountain lions, along with deer, tule elk, wild pigs, turkeys, quails, doves, rabbits, ground squirrels and raccoons can be found on the huge ranch, along with an array of birds. A pair of bald eagles have nested on the site.
The ranch’s headquarters complex consists of a four-bedroom main residence, a one-bedroom annex residence, a bunkhouse, horse barn, hay barn, two shops, some sheds and four cabins for employees, the California Outdoor Properties brochure stated.
Brown said he hopes the preservation of the N3 Cattle ranch will allow others to experience what he did on his grandfather’s property decades ago.
“It is our hope that future generations will have similar experiences to mine and by being close to nature they will fully appreciate the need to preserve our open space,” Brown said.
A pond and forests on the N3 Cattle Co. ranch, a 50,500-acre property in sections of Alameda County, Santa Clara County, San Joaquin County and Stanislaus County. // California Outdoor Properties