Exactly four years after an East Coast investment firm, known as the Baupost Group, purchased the historic Cojo and Jalama ranches (known collectively as the Bixby Ranch) for some $136 million, the group is seeking to purchase a massive amount of State Water rights from the Carpinteria Valley Water District (CVWD). Originally slated for this week’s CVWD Board of Directors meeting, preliminary talks on the deal have been rescheduled for the district’s February 9 agenda, according to CVWD General Manager Charles Hamilton, so that more info can be gathered. “We want to make sure we do this very transparently,” explained Hamilton this week, adding, “We are well aware that this puts us right at the front end of a big land-use issue.”
According to CVWD documents, Coastal Management Resources (the official name for Baupost’s Bixby operation) is seeking to buy the right to up to 1,000 acre-feet of State Water per year from the CVWD’s stash of surplus. (For comparison’s sake, Hamilton figures one acre-foot provides enough annual water for three to five medium-sized Santa Barbara homes and their respective landscaping needs.)
Anything but a done deal, this is actually the second time that the new Bixby owners have looked into buying State Water rights. The first occasion, also with the CWVD, fell apart after the agency feared it would be left picking up the tab for the inevitable litigation that would follow the approval of any such sale to the Baupost folks.
Bemoaned by environmentalists as a sure precursor to potential development plans (the roughly 25,000-acre ranch, which sits in and around Point Conception, has approximately 100 legally buildable lots), the water play was defended by Bixby spokesperson Steve Amerikaner as nothing more than an insurance policy against drought for the ranch’s current cattle/farming operations. “The purpose of it is to assist with the ranch’s current needs and agricultural operations,” stated Amerikaner.