Driving west from Winchester Canyon, you leave the City of Goleta and enter the Gaviota Coast. This glorious expanse of foothills, mountains, and coastline is facing many challenges. It is a land of farming, diverse wild life, sensitive habitats, and opportunities for hiking, surfing, and enjoying its wonderful beaches. It will take many people, working together, to keep it that way.
A few years ago, there was an attempt to create a National Seashore here, but it foundered on issues of politics and money. Today, we are looking at saving it piece-by-piece.
A major player in this is the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, which has negotiated conservation and agricultural easements for several thousand acres along the coast. These are areas where farmers who want to keep farming give up the right to subdivide their land in exchange for income tax credits and/or grants for environmental conservation. These easements do not open up the land to the public, but they do ensure that such land remains in agriculture or open space. At some sites, trails are being developed, but we have nothing yet comparable to the front country trails in the Santa Barbara area. This is a goal worth pursuing for the future, perhaps.
One beautiful site with a trail is the Arroyo Hondo Preserve, protected and managed by the Land Trust. It is open to the public on certain days by reservation. Extending from the shoreline to Camino Cielo, the preserve’s steep canyon walls and running creek have been likened to a miniature Yosemite.
Further west, the possibility is being explored of cleaning up an old oil industry site and adding it to the adjacent Gaviota State Park. This would allow new camping sites away from the flood zone.
These are some of the ways that the Gaviota Coast are being preserved. But there is also a major development underway.
A big project is being proposed for Naples, just two miles west of the City of Goleta and the urban limit line. The option of a referendum that saved El Capitan Ranch in 1972 is not a possibility here because of litigation that went all the way to the state’s Supreme Court, which ruled for the owners of the property.
Naples, a planned town site dating from 1888, lies on 800 acres, both north and south of the freeway. It originally included 400 lots, all much smaller than the county’s current agricultural zoning would allow. After years of negotiations and litigation over lot mergers, the county and the developer, Santa Barbara Ranch, entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for two options. The first is for a 54-unit residential development, and the second for a 72-unit rural estate, with additional acreage from neighboring Dos Pueblos Ranch. (See the county’s report on the proposed development here in PDF form.) Both would include nine mansions on the blufftop overlooking the ocean. Public access to the coast and parking is included in the plan, as are hiking, biking, and equestrian trails.
The Naples Coalition, a collection of six environmentally oriented groups, has been seeking ways to lessen the impact of this development. As this area lies just two miles west of Goleta, the fear is that it would create a precedent for development in the intervening area, even though the circumstances at Naples are unique.
The coalition is hoping to save some of the Naples sites through the transfer of development rights (TDRs). This process would allow denser development on more urban sites in exchange for purchase of whole or part of a site at Naples. It is a complicated process and not everyone agrees that accepting higher densities in urban areas is a fair trade-off for saving a few acres of the coast.
While optimists may hope that all of Naples can be spared, it seems certain that some building will happen, and the result will be mansions, not “workforce” housing for the middle class. But there are many steps yet to go and hearings before the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. The public still has a chance to shape this project and to preserve as much as possible of the quality of this place.
There will be a hearing on the revised draft environmental impact report on December 10 at 6:30 pm in the Planning Commission Hearing Room, 123 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara. Written comments may be submitted through January 2.
The goal is to maintain the Gaviota Coast as primarily an agricultural community, preserve its wonderful views, protect its watersheds and diverse habitats, and allow recreation that leaves only a gentle footprint on the land. This will take reading thick reports and sitting through endless meetings. But this is what it takes to ensure that Santa Barbara Ranch at Naples remains unique and does not become a model for the rest of the coast.
VETERAN’S DAY IN GOLETA: Goleta paid tribute to its veterans last Sunday at the Goleta Valley Community Center. Veterans from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam were recognized, along with the young men and women in harm’s way today in Iraq.
To a recorded recitation of “The Ragged Old Flag” by Lt. Col. Kenneth Todd, the old flag was lowered and folded by U.S. Air Force personnel, and a new flag raised on the main flag pole at the community center. Lt. Col. Todd passed away this year but his recitations of this and “On Flanders Field” had been a tradition on Veterans Day for many years. The old flag was presented to Hannah Todd, Lt. Col. Todd’s widow.
Many thanks to the Goleta Valley Community Center and Randy Rosness, its executive director, for this moving ceremony.