Happy holidays for the Gaviota Coast:
The Cojo-Jalama Ranch (Bixby Ranch) goes to the Nature Conservancy
Illegal grading on the Bixby Ranch photographed by Gaviota Coast Conservancy former president Mike Lunsford
In a stunning development, The Nature Conservancy has announced that it has acquired the 24,364-acre Cojo-Jalama Ranch, aka Bixby Ranch. Cojo-Jalama Ranch surrounds Point Conception, extending from Jalama County Park to near the western boundary of Hollister Ranch. Ownership by The Nature Conservancy eliminates threats of the conversion of this historic property for residential development, oil extraction or mineral development.
“Cojo-Jalama Ranch is one of the crown jewels of the Gaviota Coast!” exclaimed Gaviota Coast Conservancy President Michael S. Brown. “Preservation of the Cojo-Jalama Ranch has long been one of the GCC’s leading goals. Cojo-Jalama is the largest privately owned ranch on the Gaviota Coast, and has faced significant development threats in the past.”
The Nature Conservancy’s purchase of Cojo-Jalama Ranch was made possible by a single donation of $165 Million by Jack and Laura Dangermond, whose company, Esri, played a major role in developing GIS methodologies. “The generosity of people like the Dangermonds have played a critical role in the preservation of the Gaviota Coast and other threatened coastal lands,” explained Phil McKenna, GCC Past President and Board member (see his recent OpEd in the Santa Barbara Independent on this issue), “GCC applauds their vision and generosity, and invites others to support GCC’s ongoing work to preserve our precious coastline.”
The Gaviota Coast Conservancy is the only non-governmental organization focused exclusively on the Gaviota Coast. Spanning 76 miles of coastline from Coal Oil Point in Goleta to Point Sal west of Santa Maria, the Gaviota Coast was studied to be a National Seashore in the early 2000’s. The National Park Service found that while the visual, biological and recreational resources made the Gaviota Coast suitable as a National Seashore, but opposition from the George W. Bush Administration and landowners made it infeasible. The 2004 Report suggested local efforts should be undertaken to protect and preserve the Gaviota Coast.
Cojo-Jalama was adjacent to the site of a proposed LNG plant in the 1970’s, which led to a pitched battle lasting for years. The lands surrounding Point Conception were occupied by protesting Chumash from June 1978 to March 1979 who were dedicated to protecting the area’s spiritual significance as the “Western Gate” in their culture. The LNG plant was never built.
Cojo-Jalama was subject to a set of Air Force easements restricting uses and development along the western edge of the ranch in designated “debris zones” where development is prohibited to accommodate Space Shuttle launches in the 1980’s. After the Challenger shuttle disaster, the program was curtailed and VAFB never launched a shuttle.
In 2007, Cojo-Jalama was purchased by Baupost Group, a Boston hedge fund, for the then extraordinary price of $135 Million. Shortly after that, the 2008 Recession deflated the value of the land, and while many rumors of different development projects circulated, no substantial development projects were formally proposed.
Point Conception aerial photo by Rich Reid
Controversy surrounded Cojo-Jalama when Gaviota Coast Conservancy and others uncovered illegal destruction of habitat for the endangered Gaviota Tarplant, leading to a protracted enforcement effort by the California Coastal Commission, which recently adopted an enforcement and Restoration Order, finally resolving the violations.
Baupost agreed to restore over 500 acres of habitat, pay $500,000 in fines to the Commission’s enforcement account, and offer to donate 36 acres of land adjacent to Jalama County Park to the Santa Barbara County Parks Department.
Gaviota Coast Conservancy has closely monitored Cojo-Jalama for decades, as it is among the most significant ranches on the Gaviota Coast. GCC applauds The Nature Conservancy’s acquisition of the property and expects that this could eventually result in public access to Point Conception, allowing the public to enjoy the 1985-era County recreational use easements on parcels near Point Conception.
Michael S. Brown, GCC’s President stated, “Preservation of Cojo-Jalama Ranch is an enormous achievement. While numerous development schemes have been put forward over the last few decades, none have succeeded. Conservation ownership with public access is the best possible outcome we could imagine. We look forward to working with The Nature Conservancy as they develop their management, restoration and access plans for Cojo-Jalama Ranch, one of the crown jewels of the Gaviota Coast.”
Happy holidays, with this amazing gift! Despite fires and power outages, our work at Gaviota Coast Conservancy continues until the rural character of the Coast is permanently preserved.
You can keep this work alive by contributing to the Gaviota Coast Conservancy. GCC has been selected for SB Gives!, a new year-end fundraising program sponsored by The Fund for Santa Barbara and The Santa Barbara Independent for nonprofits serving Santa Barbara County. Your contribution by December 31 will help us secure additional funds through SB Gives! matching grants.
On behalf of the board and staff of Gaviota Coast Conservancy, thank you to our community, supporters, friends and allies, and especially to Jack and Laura Dangermond and the Nature Conservancy for this bold conservation of our beloved coast.
The deal includes an expansion of Jalama County Park by 36 acres
This 24,500-acre ranch surrounds Point Conception extending from Jalama County Park to near the western boundary of Hollister Ranch. It is a working cattle ranch and possesses significant environmental and cultural resources while offering tremendous recreational potential.
Government Point and Point Conception, photo by Rich Reid
Bixby Ranch was owned for about 100 years by the Bixby family of Southern California until it was sold for 135,000,000 in 2007, at the height of the real estate bubble, to the Baupost Group, a hedge fund from Boston.
The development potential of the Ranch at the time of the Baupost purchase was considerable as it was eligible for special treatment under the 1982 Local Coastal Plan (LCP) which allowed up to 500 residential units and a 200 unit hotel. This one-of-a-kind zoning concession was contentiously debated and ultimately eliminated by the Gaviota Planning Advisory Committee (GavPAC), the community body that developed the County approved (2016) Gaviota Coast Plan which updated the 1982 LCP for the region. The Gaviota Coast Plan is currently being reviewed by the California Coastal Commission. Several Board members of Gaviota Coast Conservancy served on the GavPAC.
In early 2011, Mike Lunsford, then the Conservancy’s President, heard that the Ranch had illegally plowed-under endangered Gaviota Tarplant, a protected species ironically planted to mitigate the destruction of the plant on the property by Union Oil Company in the 1970s. Mike contacted Santa Barbara County and the California Coastal Commission (CCC). The County responded that there were no apparent regulatory violations. The CCC, however, sought to conduct an on-site investigation, which the property owner opposed. Mike contacted LightHawk, a non-profit that connects pilots with environmentalists, to view the conditions from the air with a CCC enforcement officer. They flew over a broad swath of land denuded of previously restored Gaviota Tarplant. The CCC had cause for further investigation.
After years of Cojo-Jalama Ranch obstruction and illegal actions resulting in “very significant delays in resolving this matter” (CCC Staff Report 10/27/17), Baupost’s management team recently signed a settlement with the CCC in the fall of 2017. The settlement agreement requires extensive remedies including restoration of disturbed Gaviota Tarplant areas and unpermitted roads, removal of most water wells, and planting of oak trees and removal of invasive ice plant and habitat restoration on over 500 acres. In addition, the Ranch agreed to “donate” 36 acres of coastal property to Santa Barbara County for inclusion in Jalama Beach Park and pay $500,000 to the Commission’s Violation Remediation Account.
A portion of the destroyed Gaviota Tarplant habitat is in the foreground. Government Point and Point Conception are in the background. Photo by Mike Lunsford, 2011
Cojo-Jalama Ranch is an extraordinary landscape. It sits in the transition zone between the California Southwestern and Central Western Jepson Ecoregions and as a consequence exhibits considerable floral diversity. Point Conception was the “Western Gate” for departing Chumash souls and is sacred land for the Chumash. The Point Conception Lighthouse still functions as a navigational aid. The geography of the ranch varies from the coastal bluff, to the extensive marine terrace to the mountains of its interior. It is a beautiful land that anchors the West Coast of our continent.
On Thursday, December 14, Gaviota Coast Conservancy (GCC) filed a lawsuit challenging Santa Barbara County’s approval of the Tajiguas Resource Recovery Project. The project was approved without an environmental impact analysis and in violation of the County’s own procedures.
The Tajiguas Resource Recovery Project is a flawed project that is unlikely to meet the County’s financial or environmental targets. China’s decision this summer to ban the import of most recycled materials undermines the project’s financial viability. Moreover, the County’s diversion goals can be accomplished through readily available less expensive programs. And in a time of rising concerns over the impacts of climate change, the project squanders an opportunity to sequester atmospheric carbon by diverting the use of clean food scraps and organic waste from creating high-quality compost for carbon farming.
GCC’s lawsuit demands that the County prepare a supplemental environmental impact report and provide advance release of all the documents considered by the Board of Supervisors when they consider the project again. More information will be available after the new year.
In the meantime, the Gaviota Coast Conservancy’s board, staff and volunteers thank all the firefighters, first responders, and public employees for their incredible efforts in protecting lives, property and the environment in the face of the Thomas Fire. We wish all of our supporters a safe, healthy and wonderful holiday season.
--- Michael S. Brown, President