Woody Jackson (center) addressed the Montecito Water District Board of Directors earlier this year about the fate of Hot Springs Canyon. Jackson, who has been an outspoken critic of the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County’s plan to permanently protect the property, hopes to see the namesake mineral hot springs once found on the property brought back for public use.

Paul Wellman

Woody Jackson (center) addressed the Montecito Water District Board of Directors earlier this year about the fate of Hot Springs Canyon. Jackson, who has been an outspoken critic of the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County’s plan to permanently protect the property, hopes to see the namesake mineral hot springs once found on the property brought back for public use.

Hot Springs Plan Remains Stalled

New Concerns Emerge Over Historic 462-Acre Parcel in Montecito

Thursday, October 4, 2012
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Still working through the thick legal sludge of transferring its recently purchased Hot Springs Canyon property to the U.S. Forest Service as part of a long-term preservation plan, the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County was forced to issue a statement last week in hopes of clearing up certain controversies associated with the 462-acre historic parcel in the foothills of Montecito.

After reports of roughly 30 federally protected steelhead trout having to be rescued earlier this year from the lower waters of Montecito Creek (a body of water that has its origins, at least in part, up Hot Springs Canyon), the Land Trust found itself under fire in recent weeks for its alleged hand in the stranding, specifically for not uncapping long-sealed hot-water springs that would have potentially helped the downstream fish.

In a statement released last week, Michael Feeney, executive director of the Land Trust, explained the rationale for not triggering a water release. “Releasing mineral spring water could provide environmental benefits to the creek environment,” wrote Feeney. “However, this is not a decision that can be made lightly. It will require a careful assessment of the legal, environmental, and public health and safety implications.” He added that such a decision would be more appropriately made by the Forest Service as they are the intended owners of the property.

The Land Trust bought the land in mid March after a lengthy public fundraising effort, their plan from the outset to buy the land from the McCaslin family and then transfer it to the Forest Service for permanent stewardship. However, due to long-standing and complicated water claims, that transfer has been held up. The Forest Service has no interest in owning something that has outside ownership overlays, and both the Montecito Water District and the little known private Montecito Water Company have such claims.

And while it’s the former situation that is the more stubborn stick-in-the-mud in terms of conveyance, it is the Water Company’s claim to use a portion of the property’s artesian spring water that is at the heart of the steelhead controversy. The Water Company has been collecting most if not all of that water for decades and selling it off at a reduced rate to some 38 neighborhood residences for irrigation purposes, thus erasing the historical hot spring of the canyon. As per the water agreements with the McCaslin family, whoever owns Hot Springs Canyon has the right to at least 50 percent of that piped-away water, but the landowners haven’t exercised that right since at least 1990.

Enter Woody Jackson and his recently formed Friends of the Montecito Hot Springs organization. A lifelong advocate for the healing powers of hot springs everywhere, Jackson has been an outspoken critic of the Land Trust’s plan to give the property to the Forest Service. Though he supports protecting the land from further development, Jackson would prefer the public be given back the opportunity to soak in the mineral springs that were the heart and soul of the old Hot Springs Hotel that burned down during 1964’s Coyote Fire and had been used by the Chumash for some 10,000 years prior. It was Jackson who broke the news this summer that steelhead had to be rescued from Montecito Creek by California Fish and Game officials (such rescues are typically kept hush-hush to prevent poaching) and began a campaign of crying foul about the Land Trust’s failure to release their portion of the spring water.

In the months since, officials from Fish and Game and the federal National Marine Fisheries Service have come out for site visits but, as of press time, no enforcement cases have been opened. Jackson, meanwhile, has backed off his finger pointing and has instead turned to trying to create a community dialogue about what the public would prefer to have happen to the hot springs. “I just want the community to talk,” summed up Jackson this week. “Right now, the plan [for the property] is still so amendable.” To that end, Jackson is helping organize an October 24 event at Mt. Carmel Church designed to highlight the long and complicated history of the land.

Feeney, who declines to publicly speculate on any future use of the hot springs, explained this week that the Land Trust hopes it will finally be able to convey the land to the Forest Service this fall. Detailing a still-forming compromise between his group, the Forest Service, and Montecito Water District that would see the Land Trust keep ownership of the 40-acre chunk of the property that’s home to a Water District well with the remainder going over to federal control, Feeney said, “At this point, it is more important to us that we convey most of the property to the Forest Service than hold out for some other agreement that might not ever happen.”

The topic is on the Water District’s agenda for October 16.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

I want to clarify that I am not pro-development. Nor am I out to be a critic.

Primarily I support community discussion which has been inhibited which I see as a dangerous proposition and that will eventually backfire as a catastrophic conflagration.

I do believe the springs should be embraced and the community come together to resolve issues such as safety and elimination of fire danger. That suggested management is not too difficult in the end and I can provide plenty of current examples.

I have three years of research into the springs, and most of my life I have either been involved with hot springs on federal land managed by volunteer non-profits, and hot springs on private land.

I like the good old days when the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County took pride in the establishment or establishing land trusts and mentoring others in conservation based land trusts.

My research indicates that there were no fires credited or blamed upon the facilities and caretakers.

The water will be eventually released for the issue of watershed restoration and steelhead downstream. The springs simply will have to be managed at that point to fulfill the USFS mandate of multi-use.

I suggest it is better to keep local control of these culturally, historically, and environmentally significant springs.

Land Trust for Santa Barbara County could choose to provide the attention and devotion to Montecito Hot Springs as they did for Arroyo Hondo and Sedgwick Preserve.

Land Trust for Santa Barbara County shall hand the matchbook to the USFS and the USFS shall hand the matches to create the next Tea Fire. The locked pipes of the last 50 years is a failed experiment.

Woody Jackson
FaceBook: Montecito Hot Springs

mhsactive (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2012 at 1:44 p.m. (Suggest removal)

My understanding of National Forest Lands is that by law the land belongs to the public thus the public must be granted access. If the point is to advocate for the healing power of hot springs it seems logical that turning the land over to the NFS would be easiest way of 1) uncapping the springs 2) allowing the public to take advantage of said healing powers and 3) restoring a much needed steelhead estuary. The opposition to this seems misguided.

Num1UofAn (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2012 at 2:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

National Forest land doesn't "belong to the public" in the way that you think. There is no guarantee that the USDA would ever allow public access or release any water. They could close access, turn it into a "Fee area" or do whatever they choose with no public input.

The Land Trust should do what their mission statement says, preserve the resources for the enjoyment of present and future generations, and do it under local control.

Instead, they intend to permanently hand it over to a Federal bureaucracy with no guarantee of ANY access or preservation or release of water and no local control.

In many of their other projects to date the Land Trust has done very well in ensuring preservation and local control. This is not in character nor is it in keeping with the charter of the Land Trust.

bugmenot123 (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2012 at 2:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Multi-use of the USFS sounds great on paper, this is not always the case on the ground.

1) LT for SBC original plan was to allow the prior owner to retain 50% of the water rights. No water was to be released for stream flow for steelhead nor the public.

2) The Montecito Water District asked the question of why did the USFS choose to want to change their subsurface (and unused) water rights yet was satisfied with no alteration of the surface water rights enjoyed by Montecito Creek Water Company. Did that water company become spoiled by the excessive taking of the water just to avoid the issue of management of the springs by whomever holds title to the land?

3) Bruce Emmens of the USFS said that duties of management of the springs would primarily fall upon Montecito Creek Water Company and the recent new pipework and signs tend to enforce exactly what the long term goal is.

4) Both the USFS and LT for SBC could have provided advance notification to revert to the 1897 water rights. Thus far neither organization has chosen to be forthright or transparent upon the matter.

5) The near singular donor remains adamant that no one ever be allowed to touch the springs again. So the entire community remains penalized when the majority would not be the cause of real concern.

6) The question needs to be asked of Montecito Creek Water Company that if they have enjoyed 50% of the water by permissive use why did they not voluntarily release that water on the day the springs closed escrow? And will they be prepared to release that water when the springs are conveyed to the USFS?

I suggest that there are significant and worthy points of discussion and that should be addressed now rather then years from now in the land management planning process.

The main point that many rational people would agree with is the USFS and Land Trust for Santa Barbara County should resolve the water issue entirely so that there is no ambiguity that on day one of recievership the USFS will be stewarding the land for watershed restoration and downstream steelhead habitat.

This statement of delay from the Land Trust should concern the community: "Releasing mineral spring water could provide environmental benefits to the creek environment. However, this is not a decision that can be made lightly. It will require a careful assessment of the legal, environmental, and public health and safety implications. The Land Trust believes that the Forest Service, as the intended long-term manager of this land, is the appropriate agency to decide how the 50% of the spring water that may become available upon 180 days' notice may be put to beneficial public use." (

I suggest let the Land Trust for SBC and the USFS be transparent from here on.

Woody Jackson
FaceBook: Montecito Hot Springs

mhsactive (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2012 at 2:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

If fire danger is the concern, it seems that releasing the water is the obvious thing to do. A flowing creek is a a good natural firebreak. Leaving it dry will result in a disaster waiting to happen. Dead and dry vegetation in the creek bed adds to the spread of fire.

Taking it to the next level, release the water, then plant and manage fire-resistant vegetation to be fed by the creek. The return of fish is an added benefit to nature.

nospam4me (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2012 at 2:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

A water war is not what the steelhead trout need right now. Let's hope the water starts flowing again soon.

I respect both the Land Trust and the Forest Service. The trust provides "alternative" methods for conservation while the chronically underfunded FS does a thankless job.

The Land Trust carries out its mission in a variety of ways. Not all their lands are open to the public. Many are privately owned with an easement in place. And some properties are only open to the public on a limited basis with a strongly recommended donation ... myself, and everyone I go with, always pay the $10 donation at Arroyo Hondo, which is open to the public only two weekends out of the month.

Bottom line ... there must be a reason the Land Trust wants to turn the property over to the FS, and if you "force" them to manage it themselves, there is no guarantee you'll get the kind of public access you have in mind.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2012 at 4:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

If the USFS takes the springs there is no guarantee anyone will get public access to the springs nor steelhead habitat. The USFS is eerily quiet upon the matter.

It is very important to know today the USFS intent on the springs in regards to releasing the 50% of water especially in light that taxpayer dollars were spent this summer to protect the resident steelhead population when that could have been provided at no taxpayer expense.

The USFS and the Land Trust both offers pluses and minuses in how might they steward the land. There might be other options beyond the polarity of federal agency or the land trust.

There are unaddressed concerns within the community and these springs remain realized or not the most culturally, historically, and environmentally significant springs and land in our community:

1) Concerns within the community why the Chumash were not offered the culturally significant springs and land.

2) Concerns that the city with it's front country parks such as Rattlesnake Canyon and Gould Park which borders Montecito Hot Springs. Why was the city not offered the springs and land which is the last of Santa Barbara's mineral waters heritage and legacy?

3) Concerns that the county with it's front country park such as Toro Canyon and the adjoining Gould Park were not offered the historic Hot Springs.

4) Concerns the State with parks such as Gaviota Hot Springs State Park & Painted Cave State Park were not offered the historic Hot Springs.

All of these entities are perhaps just as budget plagued as the USFS.

We know we would enjoy community discussion and it is not too much to ask. We know that the community deserves transparency on behalf of the Land Trust and the USFS.

Proposed Town Halls:

A gifted and neutral facilitator to moderate the whole set of meetings to elicit and draw us out as a community and help to articulate developing consensus.

1) The stories of Monteciito Hot Springs. Two presentations: the story as known by the Chumash; the story as known by the Pearl Chase. Open Mic: your stories of the springs.
2) A panel discussion followed by questions and general discussion by participants.
3) A design charrette to brainstorm the future of the springs.

This town hall would not be pre-determined by vested interest but would be inclusive of all the stakeholders.

The actual stakeholders regarding Montecito Hot Springs:
1) The Barbarano Chumash Council
2) The Hot Springs Road Neighbor Association
3) The Montecito Association
4) Montecito Creek Water Company and Montecito Water District
5) Montecito Fire Protection District And Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office.
7) City of Santa Barbara and County of Santa Barbara
8) Friends of Montecito Hot Springs
9) The Pearl Chase Society and other historical organizations
10) Other local environmental and watershed organizations

Woody Jackson
FaceBook: Montecito Hot Springs

mhsactive (anonymous profile)
October 5, 2012 at 7:46 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Why is there all this complaining as to what's being done with the land that has had significant community involvement to acquire? Why didn't someone ELSE buy it and make a spa or a public springs or...? The property has been on the market for quite some time so being up in arms about it now seems a bit misplaced.

I appreciate well supported discourse but this conversation seems completely misdirected and unfounded. If you wanted the land, you should have bought it. Instead the Land Trust bought it for all. Seems like a good deal to me.

walkingthetalk (anonymous profile)
October 5, 2012 at 10:27 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The last paragraph of the Indy's article says:

"... that would see the Land Trust keep ownership of the 40-acre chunk of the property that’s home to a Water District well with the remainder going over to federal control ..."

Are the hot springs located on the 40-acre parcel, or on the land to be allocated to the FS?

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
October 5, 2012 at 12:07 p.m. (Suggest removal)

As someone involved with real estate I can tell you that raw land is always for sale. Despite Mr McCaslin's property development schemes over the years no one ever made a serious offer of the land, and the agent to the property Kerry Mormann of Coastal Ranch realty and advisory council member to the Land Trust can lay that to rest by showing real proof that someone would be foolish enough to buy the property to build a house or revitalize the springs. Any one providing due diligence would discover that by the early '90's the land had no value and the only value was in the water.

So this story is about water not land. The issue is steelhead habitat and anything else is a distraction.

keepingitlocal (anonymous profile)
October 5, 2012 at 12:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The water rights of Montecito Water District is easily found at the Hall of Records. In the early '90's Mark McCaslin exchanged the water rights for three water meters to be provided to the canyon to entice the possibility of building homes.

The fact that that went no further speaks volumes that there was no threat from development in these last nearly 25 years (the utilities and water meters still do not exist to this day).

It would be illuminating for the USFS to explain why it wanted to alter water rights to Montecito Water District and not alter the water rights to Montecito Creek Water Company.

keepingitlocal (anonymous profile)
October 5, 2012 at 1:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Walkingthetalk claims that the Land Trust bought it for all. If so, why aren't they releasing the water for all? That's the whole point of the discussion here.

nospam4me (anonymous profile)
October 5, 2012 at 1:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)


I found a link @Jackson's site that confirms your first post:

"By zoning and other ordinances and restrictions Lowry McCaslin had determined that there were no value in the land and the value was in the water."

I noticed here that all the donations to purchase the property were private:

Could any of the donors be shareholders in Montecito Creek Water Company? That might partially explain any outcome that benefits the company.

I don't mean to spread rumors, it's just an honest question.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
October 5, 2012 at 2:11 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I originally ran these APN's on 9-13-11 and then again today 10-5-12

Land Trust for Santa Barbara County website:
How was the purchase price determined?
An independent real estate appraiser has provided the Land Trust with an estimate of the fair market value of the property. The purchase price of $8.5 million is based on that appraisal and negotiation with the seller. (

Land Trust for Santa Barbara County newsletter:
Over a two-year period, we studied the property, completed our own real estate appraisal and negotiated a price below the appraised value. The property, which includes six legal land parcels zoned for residential development, was purchased for $7,600,000. (

County Clerk, Recorder and Assessor

2011 Assessed Values
Assessed Values:

2012 Assessed Values
Assessed Values:

Transfer Tax Amount: $8,360.00 was paid on each parcel at the transfer date: 3/15/12

I don't think the land was worth $8.5 million myself and I would have encouraged any prospective buyer to make a reasonable offer of maybe $3.75 million because it was likely to remain raw land. We all know that just because there are recorded Certificates of Compliance on each parcel doesn't mean that anything can be reasonably done to that parcel especially within RMZ 40 or 100.

keepingitlocal (anonymous profile)
October 5, 2012 at 4:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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