With Montecito’s priciest piece of property — Rancho San Carlos — hitting the market comes renewed chatter over whether that community needs, and will ever get, a third fire station. The Jackson family’s 237-acre ranch — replete with a mansion at its northerly region, 10 cottages, equestrian facilities, and citrus groves — accounts for the largest chunk of ag land left in the exclusive town and is up for the taking for anyone willing to pony up $125 million.
The Jackson family — known for their philanthropy and ownership of Alisal Ranch in Santa Ynez Valley — has owned Rancho San Carlos since the early 1900s. The property also includes 2.77 acres that in recent years served as the suggested location of that third firehouse. In 2008, the Jacksons, led by Jim Jackson, inked an option agreement with Montecito Fire District for purchase of that slice. But a Santa Barbara Superior Court judge hampered the plans in the spring of 2013, rejecting the station due to a faulty environmental analysis. Opponents to the firehouse had mobilized, too, voicing concerns over the station detracting from the property’s agricultural character and paving the way for the development of about 90 homes on the land. At the end of last year, the Jacksons’ deal with the district ended, and family opted not to renew it, citing the “significant controversy within the community” and the likely change in the property’s value since the agreement was first signed.
According to district spokesperson Geri Ventura, final portions of a redo of the environmental analysis — being done for free by consultant AMEC — are due in October, with a report by fire-protection firm Citygate on the need for a station coming in November. The district’s fire-station savings account currently holds about $7 million — buying the Jackson acreage would cost about $1.2 million, not including construction costs— and the department’s operating budget for the next fiscal year hovers at $15.8 million for its two stations. In comparison, County Fire manages 16 stations with $55 million, and the Santa Barbara Fire Department handles its eight stations for $23 million.
Some questioned the need for a third station at all, pointing to the community’s aging — and shrinking — population. Others said that very factor — and, with it, more medical emergencies and higher likelihood of homes catching on fire — only hastens the need. The family’s deal with the district may be dead, and potential buyers may be hush-hush, but Ventura said the district hasn’t given up on its plans. “Should the board of directors decide to move forward with the same project and the same location in the future,” she said, “the district can enter into negotiations for the purchase of the land with whoever the owner is at that time.”
Jim Jackson — whose grandmother, Ann, passed away in 1990 and was the last family member to reside in the home, which has since been maintained by a live-in housekeeper — seconded that notion. Jackson, who said the district has conducted trainings on the property over the years, added that Montecito Fire would have to approach the new owners about potentially buying a portion of the land.
The decision to sell, Jackson continued, comes from the family’s roots extending beyond Santa Barbara County and across the country. About 25 relatives own a share of the estate, he said, but none of them are able to purchase the land on their own or use it full-time. “It was a great house and a great property,” he said.