A number of people walking west along the beach from Haskell’s past the Bacara Resort have reported being intimidated by security guards on the property near the mouth of Eagle Canyon, a spot known locally as Driftwood.
Peter Moffat, a resident of nearby Rancho Embarcadero who walks his dog along this stretch of beach, has noticed “beefed up” patrols of the private property and witnessed a guard who lost his cool when a man and his girlfriend ventured onto a rocky area not far from his position.
“As the man approached the guard, who was siting in his car, to ask him a question, the guard jumped out of his car and told the man that he was on Venoco and federal property and he would go to jail if he went any further,” Moffat said. “The girlfriend was farther down the beach, collecting shells near the rocky edge of the high-tide line, and then the guard started yelling and making hand motions at her to not go any farther inland either.”
The property in question — located immediately west of the Bacara — is not owned by Venoco but is privately held by Seattle-area billionaire Craig McCaw, who purchased it in 2007. McCaw is the former husband of Wendy McCaw, who owns the Santa Barbara News-Press. The 60-acre property actually consists of three parcels, two located north of the railroad tracks and one 38-acre parcel on the south side that includes the Driftwood Cove area.
In an effort to verify whether there was an issue of not, I walked along the beach from Haskell’s to Driftwood Cove on Monday. As I approached Driftwood, I could see a white SUV parked on the edge of the property and within a few feet of the sand. Not too long after, while I was still quite a ways from the cove, the guard got out of his vehicle, stood in front of it, and watched me the entire time.
“Having security guards stationed immediately above the beach area where their presence could feel threatening is unfortunate,” said Anne Almy, supervising planner for Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department.”
“There has never been any intent to bother anyone using the beach,” said Denise Allec, director of operations for the property’s LLC, 8501 Hollister Avenue LLC. “We appreciate any input regarding the behavior of the security guards, and we will investigate the complaints further with the outside security firm who patrols the property and do our best to make sure there are no further problems with beach walkers.”
Allec noted that the guards are there to protect the property not harass people. “We’ve had calls from the Sheriff’s Department regarding marijuana growing, telephone poles cut down and used for a meth lab, bonfires within the trees along the creek, and other destruction on the property,” she added. “There are also sensitive habitat and cultural resources that are important for us to protect.”
McCaw’s ownership of the parcels has not been without controversy. In 2007, not long after McCaw became owner, unpermitted work was done to remove more than seven acres’ worth of eucalyptus trees, coastal sage shrub, native grass and nonnative vegetation, some of it in close proximity to a historic archeology site. As a result of the brush and tree removal, Gaviota Holdings LLC (now called 8501 Hollister Avenue LLC) was required to submit a Coastal Development Permit to mitigate the damage.
Neither the permit nor the mitigation has been completed yet, but Allec recently notified County Planning they would like to shift a portion of the mitigation work from the oceanfront parcel (where the removals took place) to the parcel north of the railroad tracks. She has also indicated the LLC will be submitting an application for a residential home on the property.
“We’ve told Ms. Allec that we’d like to see plans for both the mitigation and the home submitted to us by October,” Almy said. “Before we’ll make any decision regarding the mitigation, we want to see the whole package.”
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Several sentences relating to one of the guards walking with an unleashed pit bull have been removed because the location where they were walking was quite a distance away from the beach and the dog did not threaten anyone on the beach in any way.]