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.