A little more than 24 acres are left of the 2,000 acres that Ellwood Cooper ran in cattle in the late 1800s and where he planted groves of fruit trees that were famous for their variety. More than 100 years later, the land in the foothills of western Goleta is still farmed and also home to a 142-foot-tall lemon-scented gum tree called the Ellwood Queen. When the property was put up for sale privately and off-market, neighbors said a prospective buyer had talked about building four “mini-mansions” there and removing the eucalyptus trees that shield the property from Cathedral Oaks Road. Tom Modugno, a Goleta historian who posts at GoletaHistory.com, heard about the sale and immediately thought of the Ellwood Queen. Was it in danger?
Planted by Ellwood Cooper in 1887, and now grown to have a trunk 14 feet in circumference, the Queen is a Champion Tree on California’s Big Tree Registry and towers over Cooper’s ranch. Also onsite are a small house, a two-story called “the Store” which is lived in, and a redwood barn that dates back to the 1870s, said Modugno. “There’s a huge eucalyptus grove there that may or may not have monarch butterflies in it,” Modugno said, “and a Morton Bay Fig Tree as big as the one in Santa Barbara.”
The land is deeded to the Bradley Family Trust. One family member familiar with the sale, who asked not to be named, said the ranch was one of several properties being sold after the death of a relative. He’d been disturbed to hear the purchaser ask about taking down the eucalyptus grove, and he worried that structures, like the old blacksmith’s shop still onsite, might not be valued by the new owner.
The purchaser, David Radan of Orange County, told the Independent he had no intention of changing anything at the property other than to “clean it up a little bit. There are some things on the other side of the property like junked cars that I’d like to remove,” he said. Though Radan is in construction, he said he didn’t do developments and that his plan for the property was for it to be his vacation home. Neither Radan nor the Bradley family member were willing to speak to the sale price.
The remnant of what was once a 2,000-acre ranch is historic for the city in many ways. “Half the city is named Ellwood,” exclaimed City Councilmember Stuart Kasdin. “I live in a place called Ellwood!” Any suggestion that non-permitted work could just take place seems unlikely given Radan’s comments and the neighbors’ vigilance. Plus, the city would stop work immediately if any tree cutting or building demolition were reported, said city spokesperson Kelly Hoover. As for what could be built there, the planning department noted the 24-acre property is zoned for two primary structures on minimum 10-acre lots, though one accessory dwelling unit could be added to each. Structures over 50 years old add a historic determination, which means permits would go through a discretionary approval process, Hoover said.
A second Goleta-centric wrinkle would require any conversion of the zoning from agricultural to any other category to go to a citywide vote, per Measure G, which passed in 2012. Bob Wignot, who was among the people who fought to pass the measure, recalled it gained a 71 percent majority and succeeded in keeping Bishop Ranch in one piece between Cathedral Oaks and the freeway. The measure applies to any parcel of 10 acres or more. “Goletans thought it was a good idea to preserve local agriculture,” Wignot said.
Correction: This story now correctly states the Ellwood Queen is 14 feet in circumference, not diameter.