It isn’t official yet, but, if all goes according to plan, Ocean Meadows Golf Course in Goleta — a much loved 9-hole, par-36 course for the thrifty golfer — may soon be converted back to the wide-ranging wetland habitat it once was. With the Trust for Public Land already under contract to purchase the 63-acre property by next January, the California State Coastal Conservancy is poised to approve this week a $3-million grant (this figure includes an already awarded $500,000 kick-down from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) that would go a long way toward helping the national nonprofit in its preservation play and open the door for a wholesale restoration project. “Every time we get a heavy rain, you can see it,” explained Trust for Public Land (TPL) Manager Carla Frisk recently. “The place just wants to be a wetland again so bad.”
Once upon a time, Ocean Meadows was part of the Devereux Slough and, as such, was home to all sorts of creatures, many of which — the tidewater goby, red-legged frog, and white-tailed kite — are now considered threatened or endangered. However, in 1965, former owners took more than 1 million cubic yards of dirt from a nearby parcel and backfilled the area as they prepared to build Ocean Meadows. The wetland, like 70 percent of the historic wetland areas across the state of California, was essentially erased. Now, thanks to the hopeful TPL deal, that fate can be reversed. As Paige Rausser, TPL senior project manager put it, “The main thing about this project is to preserve it and then restore it.” That sentiment becomes even more impressive when you consider the land is currently zoned for residential use with the potential for up to 30 individual units.
Another factor driving the motivation for purchasing the golf course — and one that earned the project a coveted Tier 1 priority ranking by the California Wetlands Restoration Project — is the fact that, if successful, the rehabilitation of the area would help connect some 650 acres of permanently preserved open space in the neighborhood that include the down-creek Coal Oil Point Reserve and Elwood Mesa to the west. Also, in what would be a major boon for wildlife corridors in the otherwise urban area, there exists the potential for linking the site to the Goleta Slough property to the east. “When you look at all the pieces, the timing just could not be better. It is just a huge window of opportunity,” summed up Frisk.
After first approaching Ocean Meadows ownership in 2008 about a possible purchase, TPL recently entered into a formal option agreement to buy the land for $7 million. According to Frisk, thanks to standing pledges of dough from Goleta Valley Land Trust, the County of Santa Barbara, and the Department of Transportation, should the Coastal Conservancy give the thumbs-up (which all parties involved seem to think will happen), TPL would only need $2.5 million more to make the preservation a reality. Even better, an application is already submitted to NOAA’s Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation wing for that exact amount. “We are not there yet but we are in a really, really good position,” beamed Rausser.