Linda Kwong, Real Property Program Manager at the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, serves a purpose critical for any kind of large-scale conservation effort -- “I buy property,” Linda puts it simply.Cover photo: Linda Kwong, pictured hiking with her dog at Uvas Canyon County Park
Owning land or holding a conservation easement over a property allows conservation organizations, like the Authority, to protect it forever. Having a legal right to land also enables an organization to restore it. To do any work on a parcel of land – to alter it in any way – property rights are required, and the Authority can purchase these property rights from willing sellers.
Though she’s now been working on real estate for the Authority for over six years, Linda never saw herself in a role like this.
Linda grew up in Alhambra – a small city in the San Gabriel Valley, outside of Los Angeles. Being in a mostly urban environment, her exposure to nature seldom extended beyond the edges of her family’s TV screen – but that was enough. PBS nature shows, Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures, and hours of documentaries brought the beauty of nature to her living room and showed her that it was too precious, too important, for her to pursue anything else.
In 2003, Linda began her fall semester at U.C. Berkeley with a major in Integrative Biology, and minors in Forestry and English. She started taking classes in ecology where she learned about how earth systems work together, and the coexistence and functions of different species, and she became more interested in nature than she’d ever been before. In 2011, she was accepted into U.C. Santa Barbara’s Environmental Science and Management graduate program, where she then got her interdisciplinary master's degree, specializing in conservation planning and environmental economics and policy.
Coming out of grad school, Linda expected her days to be filled with land restoration work. She soon found an opportunity at the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) as a land assistant, where she developed a better understanding of the ins and outs of land protection and conservation. Much to her surprise, there was a lot of real estate work involved before the shovel could even hit the ground. “Wow, this makes so much sense,” she remembers saying to herself, never really considering before that how those protected lands came to be. “So many State and County parks and preserves started off as private land at some point that had to be purchased before they were turned into the great parks that we know and love.”
And when she learned that all this needed to happen behind the scenes before any restoration could ever be done to a landscape, she finally found her avenue to make the difference she’d been yearning for since Jack Hanna echoed through her house in that suburb of LA – a young girl not knowing how she was going to help the world, but simply knowing that she would.
Linda Kwong (right), Neal Sharma of POST (middle), and Gary Beck, Realtor (left) at a recent property acquisition site. Credit: Noelle Chambers, POST
She worked and enjoyed her role at POST for about two and a half years, until she saw an opportunity at the Open Space Authority for a planning tech job. “Measure Q had just passed, and they had just released the Santa Clara Valley Greenprint,” Linda recounts. “So, funding for new acquisitions was coming in, and seeing the vision the agency had for land-use planning in the Santa Clara Valley was so exciting.” Her real estate experience at POST fed into a need at the Authority for real estate to move forward, and eventually led to her current position, the Real Property Program Manager.
Linda and her team look at different ways they can conserve land with different real estate tools. They buy property, hold conservation easements, work with partners for funding sources, and work creatively to make the best use of the Authority’s public funding and make the money go farther.
After six years with the Open Space Authority, Linda, now the mother of a two-year old, is still inspired every day. She loves working with a variety of landowners, learning about the different histories of local properties, and all the challenges entailed in pushing a successful acquisition forward. “It keeps you on your toes, that is for sure.” It's the passion of her coworkers and the timeframe of perpetuity that makes this job the most worthwhile for her. “Working amongst such passionate individuals that are excited about the mission of conserving land and connecting people to nature is something very special, and very inspiring,” she enthuses. “We are a small agency, all things considered, and it’s so exciting to see all that we are able to accomplish because of that passion.”
And according to Linda, making changes that will last is the best part of the job. “The ability to look around and say the land is protected and serves the community, contributes to water quality, wildlife habitat and corridors – very tangibly, that’s the impact we’re having.”