Should a 3,500-acre Gaviota Coast ranch be allowed to reconfigure in a way that would open the door for a handful of new oceanfront homes while also dedicating trails and a parking lot for the public to use? That’s what the Doheny family is seeking to do with their Las Varas Ranch, which is located just east of El Capitan State Beach. But they’re running into a wall of conservationists, who’ve strived for years to keep the stretch of coast undeveloped, and public-access advocates, who don’t think the proposed trails are good enough. The nearly decade-old proposal is scheduled to come before the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on February 17, when the supes could accept the environmental review as is or order deeper analysis of the impacts to farming and recreation.
Though the project does not create any additional lots, county planner Alex Tuttle explained that it moves one of the property’s seven existing lots onto the coastal bluffs, lays some road infrastructure, creates a water treatment plant, and establishes development envelopes for future buildings. One proposed trail would leave a parking lot and head to the beach down Las Varas Creek (critics say that’s not as good as the historic access to Edwards Point); the other would go alongside Highway 101, but California Coastal Trail proponents prefer a bluff-top one along the shoreline.
The loudest opponent is the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, whose attorney Ana Citrin called the proposal “piecemealing” because it seeks approval for the grand plan before specifics of each individual development can be evaluated. “There is far less opportunity for impact mitigation when it’s home by home,” she said. “The Gaviota Coast Conservancy’s position at this point is that there are serious and fundamental flaws, both with the project itself and with the EIR. The project should be denied.”