(Bixby Ranch grading, Gaviota Coast aerial photos by Mike Lunsford)
On Thursday November 9, 2017, the Coastal Commission (CCC) voted unanimously to adopt a Cease and Desist Order finding extensive land use violations at the Bixby Ranch and a companion Restoration Order that mandated habitat restoration to compensate for the impacts of the violations, imposition of fines, and the donation of a 36 acre parcel to the County to expand the Jalama County Park. The Orders were negotiated between Commission staff and the manager of Bixby Ranch.
The violations were first investigated in 2011 by Mike Lunsford, during his service as President of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy when a citizen contacted the Conservancy with a report of the removal of habitat that had been restored for the endangered Gaviota Tarplant on Bixby Ranch. Due to the inaccessibility of the site, Mr. Lunsford arranged for an aerial survey of the damage to the Tarplant habitat with the non-profit LightHawk and invited a CCC enforcement officer to accompany him. The violation was confirmed during this flight and Mr. Lunsford contacted the County of Santa Barbara to initiate a County enforcement action. The County concluded that the there was no violation. The Gaviota Coast Conservancy and others encouraged CCC enforcement officers to further investigate the egregious violation and in so doing, Coastal Commission officers uncovered a number of other land use violations, including 37 unpermitted water wells, grading and development in riparian areas, destruction of other habitat and numerous new roadways and road maintenance in highly sensitive areas.
The Consent Restoration Order provides for numerous actions to remediate and compensate for the impact of the violations. Addressing a long-standing coastal access conflict, Bixby will donate 36 acres to The County of Santa Barbara that will extend the southern boundary of Jalama County Park to the “Crack”, a bluff access point to the surf break known at Tarantulas. The disturbed areas associated with the water wells, roads, stock pond, and bluff grading will be restored. 200 acres of oak tree habitat will be planted. 300 acres of invasive, non-native ice plant on the coastal prairie will be removed. And a $500,000 payment will be made to the CCC’s Violation Remediation Account.
Mike Lunsford, former President of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy stated: “Enforcement of the Coastal Act is central to the protection of the Gaviota Coast. Despite overwhelming evidence, the County refused to enforce its own LCP and Coastal Zoning Ordinance for the destruction of habitat that was created to mitigate the impacts of a prior oil development. We are grateful that the Coastal Commission pursued its investigation and prosecution of these egregious violations to a successful outcome.”