The Sperling Preserve's monument.
Margaret Connell

— There was a celebration last week with the unveiling of the Sperling Preserve Donor Recognition Marker. It commemorates the many private donors and public partners that contributed to preserving in perpetuity this magnificent coastal area along the Ellwood coastline, home to one of the largest monarch butterfly roosts in California and many environmentally important habitats such as vernal pools and native grasslands. A quotation on the marker encapsulates the spirit of the project: “One monarch butterfly weighs less than a gram but the collective weight of thousands has transformed the community.” The combination of circumstances that lead to success at Ellwood may be unique, but it is an example of how committed people working together can accomplish great things and give hope to others with similar goals.

At the marker dedication were, from left, Cynthia Brock, Assemblyman Pedro Nava, Goleta City Manager Dan Singer, Hannah-Beth Jackson, and Councilmember Roger Aceves.
Margaret Connell

Most of the heroes and heroines of this enterprise were there. Debra Geiler of the Trust for Public Land, who coordinated the fundraising campaign, recognized the contributions of the many people who worked to preserve this special place for generations to come. Cynthia Brock, longtime Santa Barbara Shores neighborhood activist and former Goleta mayor and councilmember, and Chris Lange, of Friends of the Ellwood Coast, described the years of opposing development plans – first for a shopping center and later for mansions on the bluff. But the combined forces of neighborhood families, joggers, surfers, children, and dog walkers, a new city, and a willing developer lead to the outcome we see today. Former Assemblymember Hannah-Beth Jackson, who persuaded several state commissions to come up with $12 million toward the $20.4 million needed to complete the land swap, described the community as one that says nothing is impossible.

Bob Comstock and Debra Geiler
Margaret Connell

The final component for bringing this concept to fruition was a willing developer. Bob Comstock arrived on the scene as everything seemed to be at an impasse and agreed to negotiate moving his project off the bluff to a more inland area of the neighboring Santa Barbara Shores Park. This required major fundraising to complete the land swap and, as Bob said last Thursday, it was one of the most complicated transactions that he had ever been involved with – but also one of the most rewarding. We can thank him for his patience in negotiating the many bureaucratic hurdles to be overcome. Mayor Jean Blois commended the major effort by Goleta city staff to complete the project at a time when they were still putting a new city together.

John Iwerks
Margaret Connell

The monument lists all the major donors to the project and includes a relief map of the Sperling Preserve, showing the monarch grove and main trails, including a two-mile addition to the California Coastal Trail system. “Children can touch and feel the trees and animals on the marker,” said Chris Lange when speaking of the many artists, from the Oak Group to kindergarteners, who had participated in the project. The marker was designed by Oak Group painter John Iwerks. He originally used alphabet soup letters to name the trails on the clay model! Unfortunately, they fell off in transit across the country so the foundry had to replace them with regular type.

The Sperling Preserve Monument
Margaret Connell

The monarchs will be back for the winter in late October. Come out to see them and then walk to the edge of the bluff, listen to the surf, and watch for dolphins and whales. This is a place for the quiet enjoyment of nature as well as a lasting reminder of the power of community.

Bishop Ranch Resurfaces!

It is hard to keep a determined developer down! This past week, Michael Keston, head of the Encino-based Larwin Company, sent out hundreds of letters to people in Goleta and Santa Barbara inviting them to join “the Bishop Ranch Community Working Group, a grassroots effort to provide Goleta residents with an opportunity to create a community-driven vision for this property.” In addition, large ads are being run in local papers headlined “Shape the Future of Goleta.”

Bishop Ranch as seen from Glen Annie.
Margaret Connell

Keston has been trying for many years to develop this 240-acre parcel between Los Carneros and Glen Annie roads, currently zoned for agriculture. After carefully considering neighborhood impacts, testimony, and the context of the overall General Plan, the previous council, on which I served, determined that it was not appropriate to change the agricultural zoning of this property. Now there is a new council, so Keston is hoping for a different result.

It should be noted that, in the last week before the November 2006 election, Keston and four members of his family contributed a total of $16,496 to the three challenging candidates and a Political Action Committee supporting them. Each donation was just below the $1,000 limit that would have required immediate reporting before the election. It was only in January, three months after the election, that they became public.

It is important that some good people volunteer to join this working group and make sure that whatever is proposed is looked at in the context of all its impacts. And they should bring to the table an abundance of caution. As a friend suggested some years ago, “Maybe what they need is to find a better farmer.”

Music in the Park

This has been a summer of outdoor musical evenings in Goleta – first, during August, in the beautiful gardens at the Stow House, and now through mid-October, at Girsh Park. The remaining concerts will be on Sunday afternoons from 4 to 5:30 pm. This year’s series is in honor of the 100th birthday of Viola S. Girsh, a major benefactor of the park. There is still time to catch the last four concerts. Bring a blanket and a picnic dinner. Then relax and enjoy the music.

Here's the flyer for Music in the Park.

Girsh Park Concert Calendar:

September 23rd Tony Ybarra

September 30th Black Lotus Music

October 7th Foggy Dew

October 14th Ulysses Jazz

To contact the Goleta Grapevine’s Margaret Connell, email For more of the Grapevine, see


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