<strong>IN PERIL:</strong> Known around the world for its sheer beauty and perfect natural design, the Gaviota Coast has long been a desired conquest for developers. Now, with financial realities pushing historical agricultural operations to the side, long-running family ranches are left with few options for survival.
Paul Wellman (file)

Plans are in full swing to split the Las Varas Ranch on the Gaviota Coast into six subplots, and community members expressed their concern in no uncertain terms at a March 3 meeting of the Santa Barbara Planning Commission. County planner Alex Tuttle held the Draft Environmental Impact Report hearing to further assess the effects of the reconfiguration known as the Las Varas Ranch Project.

Representatives of Surfrider Foundation and Gaviota Coast Conservancy (GCC) also addressed the ecological issues that would arise from development. The agricultural land of the region was a primary concern. “There’s going to be a loss of prime agricultural soil,” said Sandy Lejeune, chair of the Santa Barbara Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and an experienced farmer. “Any loss of agricultural land is not acceptable … given our needs to produce food locally.”

The development project would displace a portion of the Coastal Trail, tentatively relocating it north of Highway 101. There is a qualitative difference between a trail lining the coast, which has a sense of the sea, and one lining the freeway, noted Mike Lunsford, president of the Gaviota Coastal Conservancy.

“Coastal access is required,” said Lunsford. He outlined the situation during high tide when the water brushes up to the base of the cliffs, and said there needed to be a route for hikers to follow at those times. Relocating the trail, he added, compromises recreation on the Gaviota Coast. Depending on the trail’s new location, there would be limited to no access to the surf-break at Edward’s Point.

Subdividing the land, said Lunsford, would presumably lead to large housing developments. Such developments are uncharacteristic for the resource-sensitive area, said Janet Koed, of Surfrider and the Conservancy. The Las Varas Ranch project would set a precedent for future subdivisions, according to Bob Keats of Surfrider.

“We’re not getting the kind of environmental review we need,” said Lunsford, because the owner of each subplot will eventually have ministerial authority to develop without any environmental review. The only protection for sensitive habitats like the local vernal pools lies in the covenants, restrictions, and conditions of the deeds, which, Ana Citrin of the Gaviota Coastal Conservancy noted, are subject to change by future owners.

“I just ask you to do everything you can to protect the integrity of the landscape that we all love,” said Koed.


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