Gaviota Conservancy beach walk.
Aaron Schmidt/Brooks Institute

Despite the rainy weather, a crowd of at least 50 people converged on the stretch of coastline north of the Goleta Pier on the last Sunday in January, for a beach walk with Mike Lunsford.

“It’s a recreational outing for them,” said Lunsford, president of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy and a former California State Parks ranger. “And they come to learn why people are so interested in protecting this property. This is the most volatile area down here on the eastern side of the Gaviota Coast.”

The land issues northwest of Goleta have been a contested subject since the proposed development of mansions on the Naples property. The area has traditionally been used for agriculture and is currently zoned outside the urban growth limit by Santa Barbara County. However, a history of conditional approvals have enabled the landowners to legally press for the right to develop. Lunsford is dedicated to promoting awareness in the community of the threats and repercussions of potential developments.

“We have to stand up and make sure the public interest is integrated in a complete and thorough way with the process in these projects,” said Lunsford. “And if the politics change, if the zoning changes, you can see the machine will march right up the coast from Goleta, that’s the big fear.”

Throughout the coastal walk, Lunsford entertained and educated the crowd on everything from proper crab identification to where the proposed individual mansions and condos are to be built. As he led the group along the proposed coastal trail between the railroad and beach, Lunsford spoke to public access issues on the different properties and the establishing of trail rights over the years. The bank that holds title to the Naples property recently granted permission for the public to use the trails there.

The Gaviota Coast Conservancy particularly values community involvement to help keep the different government agencies involved in check.

“If the Goleta Water District is going to annex properties to enable development outside the urban boundary, but the county has a plan for not developing, you can see the inconsistency there. So there has to be this coordination in governance that respects that boundary, and right now we don’t have that,” said Lunsford. “If citizens don’t stand up and say “No,” and where they do things improperly sue them for it, they’ll just do it.”

Throughout the walk people were impressed with the raw natural beauty so close to the cities of Santa Barbara and Goleta. It also became obvious to most that this stretch of coastline is a refuge for to many species of wildlife. “There is never a time when you don’t see at least five seals,” said Mariah Moon, a local surfer and supporter of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy.

The Conservancy, along with the Naples Coalition, is dedicated to protecting the Gaviota as it is one of the last remaining undeveloped coastal areas left in Southern California. “The goal is to keep the Gaviota coast rural, undeveloped. Not that there cannot be homes,” said Lunsford, “but to protect the wildlife habitat, the agriculture resources, and to maintain the rural character … and keep that for the future.”


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