Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Wednesday a bill designed to open the elusive beaches at Hollister Ranch — a significant move forward under his administration on an issue that has stalled for decades in the face of powerful landowners.
Ed Easton had a long and illustrious career with the Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation on the East Coast prior to his “retirement” to the South Coast in 2000. Ed was active with numerous local organizations and causes, serving on the Goleta Design Review Board, Planning Commission and then City Council, including a term as mayor in 2012. He also joined the Board of Directors with Gaviota Coast Conservancy in January 2004.
Over the past 15 years, Ed served on GCC’s Land Use Committee, and played a leading role in shaping the Conservancy’s responses to design issues for virtually every building project proposed on the Gaviota Coast. Ed made dozens of appearances before the County’s Board of Architectural Review, Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. He met with innumerable applicants and counseled them on how to design their projects to fit into the Gaviota Coast’s natural landscape, rather than being imposed upon it.
Ed served on a number of GCC’s committees, and last year chaired the Land Use Committee. He was an active participant in GCC’s programs and an important voice in GCC’s decision to hire its first Executive Director earlier this year. The GCC family offers its deepest condolences to Ed’s wife Kai and two sons, and expresses its utmost appreciation for Ed’s many years of committed and effective service to the Gaviota Coast and our community. Goodbye to a respected friend and colleague.
On September 21, 2019, the Gaviota Coast Conservancy will honor Jack and Laura Dangermond for their outstanding conservation work at Coastal Legacy 2019.
Jack and Laura Dangermond
In 2017, Jack and Laura preserved in perpetuity the largest privately owned ranch on the Gaviota Coast. The Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve now protects over 24,000 acres in Santa Barbara County.Read more
Natalie Wilson, Exhibit Chair and Myla Kato, both of the Board of Directors of SCAPE, Southern California Artists Painting for the Environment, were interviewed by Santa Barbara City TV regarding the upcoming benefit for Gaviota Coast Conservancy, "Visions of the Gaviota Coast", at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara on Friday, 4/19 and Saturday, 4/20. The event features a free reception on Friday from 5 - 8 pm, with refreshments, music and a fabulous silent auction (running from 2 - 7:30pm). The film Gaviota: The End of Southern California will be screened on Saturday at 1 pm. Both days (from 2 pm on Friday until 5 pm on Saturday) feature a sale of local SCAPE artists' gorgeous paintings of the stunning Gaviota Coast... come early for best selection.
Approves a Procedural Path to Reject Settlement Agreement
Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Colleen K. Sterne issued her long-awaited ruling in the latest chapter of the battle to gain public access to Hollister Ranch on Santa Barbara County’s Gaviota Coast. Like earlier rulings, Judge Sterne endorsed the engagement of the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance, an alliance that includes Gaviota Coast Conservancy, and outlined a path to litigate issues to be resolved in order to achieve more meaningful public access to the beaches and coastline of Hollister Ranch.
Judge Sterne’s February 8 ruling rejected all of Hollister Ranch’s objections and upheld the tentative ruling she had proposed on January 14, 2019, when the parties and their attorneys last met in court. The final ruling supplemented the prior tentative ruling by adding an explanation of why the circumstances of this case required that the court consider the public’s interest in determining whether the closed-door Settlement Agreement between the Coastal Commission and Hollister Ranch Owners Association should be approved or rejected. The Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance argued the Settlement Agreement is both unfair and illegal, and must be rejected.
Coastal Commission directs staff to proceed with access plan development
On December 13, 2018, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Coleen Sterne rejected a motion by the Hollister Ranch Owners Association to dismiss the advocacy organization Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance (GCTA) from a lawsuit concerning public access to a portion of Hollister Ranch. Judge Sterne ruled that Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance had “standing” to participate in the lawsuit because it had an interest in the litigation and proposed Settlement Agreement as the Judge had previously ruled in August 2018. The judge rejected all other elements of Hollister’s “Demurrer” and ruled the Alliance could pursue all of its claims and defenses to the proposed Settlement Agreement and in any ensuring litigation.
GCTA Counsel Marc Chytilo stated, “The public’s interest in gaining access to the coastline by Hollister Ranch will continue to be represented by the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance. This ruling represents another failed effort by Hollister Ranch to maintain their private use of the public lands along the Hollister Ranch coastline. The state tidelands are owned by and for the people of California, not an elite few. The California Constitution and Coastal Act mandate public access to this coastline and we will not be deterred.”
The case will next be in court on January 14, 2019 at 1:30 pm, for a hearing on the fairness of a proposed Settlement Agreement between Hollister Ranch and the California Coastal Commission. After Judge Sterne expressed concern in May that the public should have an opportunity to participate in the court’s review of the fairness of the proposed Settlement Agreement, the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance formed from the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, California Coastal Protection Network, Santa Barbara County Trails Council and COASTWALK/California Coastal Trail Association, and successfully intervened in that case in August 2018.
All parties have submitted extensive briefing and the fairness of the Settlement Agreement will be decided on January 14, in Judge Sterne’s courtroom.
Coastal Commission Hearing in Newport Beach
On Friday December 14, 2018, the California Coastal Commission held an informational hearing addressing the agency’s plans to revise the 1982 Hollister Ranch Coastal Access Program, as directed by Governor Brown in his September 2018 veto message for AB 2534, a bill authored by Assemblymember Monique Limon. For background on the CCC process, the Staff Report can be found at https://www.coastal.ca.gov/meetings/agenda/#/2018/12.
Videos of the hearing are archived at http://cal-span.org/static/meetings-CCC.php.
During the hearing, a number of Hollister Ranch owners argued the Coastal Commission should not pursue public access, while others asked to be involved in the Commission’s stakeholder process. Although the Commission took no action on the informational item, Chair Bochco and other Commissioners restated their commitment to secure public access to the Hollister Ranch coastline, stating that the Coast belongs to everyone. The Coastal Commission is a member of an inter-agency working group (California Coastal Conservancy, State Lands Commission, State Parks) to develop an updated access plan. A stakeholder process is in development, and a public workshop will be convened in Santa Barbara in March 2019.
About The Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance
The Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance is an association of non-profit groups dedicated to opening Gaviota Coast beaches for equitable public use and completing the California Coastal Trail. Tax deductible donations may be made to the GCTA’s fiscal agent, the Gaviota Coast Conservancy for GCTA. For more information, visit http://gaviotacoastconservancy.org/
Las Varas Ranch: On a Path to Protection
Charles Munger Enables Donation of 1800-Acre Gaviota Coast Ranch to UCSB
(Las Varas image and map courtesy of Gaviota Coast Conservancy)
Capping a banner year for the Gaviota Coast, UCSB announced today that the UC Regents have approved a proposed donation of the 1800 acre Las Varas Ranch on the Gaviota Coast for ownership and stewardship by University of California Santa Barbara. UCSB has pledged to keep the property in its current state as a working ranch. Philanthropist Charles T. Munger is under contract to purchase the property and to donate it to UCSB early in 2019.
Las Varas Ranch is an historic agricultural ranch located between Dos Pueblos Ranch and El Capitan State Park. It has about 2 miles of coastline, is bisected by the Union Pacific Railroad line and Highway 101, and extends up Las Varas Canyon to border the Los Padres National Forest.
Las Varas Ranch has a significant history, including service as a prisoner of war camp during WW II, with a remnant of the camp’s water tower still visible from Highway 101. The views across the Ranch’s pastoral lands are extraordinary, while the creeks, grasslands and coastline each have high natural resource values.
In 2015 the then-owners asked the County to approve a subdivision of the Ranch that would have increased the number of coastal lots, and thereby substantially increased its value and developability. That proposal was rejected by the County after strenuous opposition from the Gaviota Coast Conservancy and other community groups due to a faulty environmental impact analysis, avoidable impacts to agricultural resources and inadequate protection of the Ranch’s biological, aesthetic and historical resources. The Ranch was then put on the market for sale, first at $108M, then reduced to $90M, and reportedly to be sold to Mr. Munger for $70M, who has pledged to donate it to UCSB.
Little is known how UCSB will manage the property, if and how public access will be provided to all or portions of the Ranch and its coastline, and whether it will be integrated into the University of California’s Natural Reserve System. The County Coastal Plan sites several trails on the property, including the California Coastal Trail along the bluff and through the Ranch, along with other potential low-intensity coastal recreational facilities. The Ranch has productive orchards and grazing lands, and reportedly will continue under the management of Paul Van Leer.
The preservation of Las Varas Ranch in December 2018 represents a year of extraordinary accomplishments throughout the Gaviota Coast. One year ago, on December 27, 2017, The Nature Conservancy announced their purchase of the 24,500 acre Bixby Ranch, now the Dangermond Preserve, for conservation purposes. In June 2018, a Settlement Agreement between Gaviota Coast Conservancy and Santa Barbara County established a prohibition against future expansion of the Tajiguas Landfill, the sole remaining operating solid waste landfill in California’s coastal zone. The Settlement included substantial funding to study, pioneer and implement Regenerative Agricultural practices on the Gaviota Coast, including carbon farming to sequester atmospheric carbon on the Gaviota Coast. In October, the Gaviota Coast Plan received its final approval from the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and California Coastal Commission. A decade in development, the Gaviota Coast Plan establishes updated and more protective policies and guidelines for land uses on the Gaviota Coast.
Steve Forsell, GCC’s President stated, “The Gaviota Coast Conservancy’s sole focus is the Gaviota Coast. For two decades we have worked to prevent large residential development proposals, and the Gaviota Coast is largely unchanged. We are pleased that NGOs and academic institutions have stepped up and acquire and permanently protect large portions of Gaviota Coast’s vulnerable lands. This is a great holiday present for Santa Barbara and California.”
Gaviota Coast Conservancy
Gaviota Coast Conservancy is a tax exempt, non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of the rural character of the Gaviota Coast and its unique natural, scenic, agricultural, recreational, and cultural resources. GCC monitors all significant development on the Gaviota Coast, acting as a watchdog and advocate for the region. Working through partnerships with other land conservation organizations, local landowners, resource agencies, and government entities, the Conservancy is promoting long-term strategies to protect the Gaviota Coast for future generations.
Longtime coastal advocate Mike Lunsford accepted a lifetime achievement award at a recent Gaviota Coast Conservancy (GCC) event to launch its annual award series.
Lunsford, GCC founder and board emeritus member, accepted the Coastal Legacy Award from friend and colleague Robert Field.
A retired state park ranger with 25 years of service, Lunsford is known for his achievements in resource management, and the creation of the Gaviota State Park trail system.
Lunsford became a charter member of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy Board of Directors, where he served as president for 15 years.
“There is something about having your worth validated that induces a deep sense of satisfaction and contentment,” he said.
“You are my colleagues, my collaborators, and friends, so to receive such recognition from you gives me great pride and humility. I believe GCC will continue to accomplish extraordinary things,” he said.
Gaviota Coast Conservancy Board Members, local dignitaries, coastal advocates and dedicated supporters gathered at he event hosted by the Belmond El Encanto to toast the GCC’s ongoing coastal preservation efforts.
U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal paid tribute to Lunsford with a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition presented by his predecessor, Rep. Lois Capps, who represented the Central Coast for two decades in the House of Representatives.
During Lunsford’s acceptance, he thanked friends and family for their continued contributions to the legacy of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, pointing to numerous shared legislative and environmental triumphs along the way.
“In creating the Coastal Legacy Award, we sought to honor in individual who has offered a lifetime of service and leadership in the ongoing mission to protect the Gaviota Coast,” GCC President Steve Forsell said after the event.
“In selecting Mike as our first honoree, we’ve set that bar very high. Mike Lunsford’s commitment to the preservation of the Gaviota Coast is legendary,” Forsell said.
The 76-mile Gaviota Coast in Santa Barbara County encompasses many of the coastal watersheds of the Santa Ynez Mountains. The coast is known for its remote beaches, rural landscapes, and expansive ocean, island and mountain views.
On October 16, 2018, by a 3-2 vote, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors took their final step to fully adopt the Gaviota Coast Plan. The Plan, over 10 years in the making, contains the policies, programs and goals for Santa Barbara’s Gaviota Coast planning area.
To become effective in the coastal zone, the Gaviota Coast Plan had to be certified by the Coastal Commission, and if there were any modifications, to have the County Board of Supervisors accept those modifications. The Coastal Commission conditionally certified the Gaviota Coast Plan on August 10th with 13 suggested modifications. Today the Board had to decide whether to accept all 13 suggested modifications and complete the Gaviota Coast Plan, or to reject or take no action on the modifications in which case the Plan would not apply in the coastal zone.
The Supervisors received over 100 letters of support for accepting the Commission’s modifications and finalizing the Gaviota Coast Plan. Three letters were received by the Supervisors in opposition. Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann made the motion to accept the modifications and adopt the Local Coastal Program (LCP). Supervisor Hartmann thanked former Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr who initiated the Gaviota Coast Plan process by forming the Gaviota Planning Advisory Committee (GavPAC) over 10 years ago. A majority of the Supervisors expressed the opinion that the County got the best deal it could from the Coastal Commission. With all modifications accepted, the Plan will be deemed and effective upon a Coastal Commission Executive Director determination that the Board’s action is adequate, and Commission non-objection to that determination.
Notably, as modified, the Gaviota Coast Plan includes new exemptions for ongoing and historic agricultural operations, providing Gaviota Coast farmers and ranchers with substantial flexibility to change and evolve their operations without first obtaining coastal development permits. This represents a major change from the County’s existing certified LCP which required permits for cultivation and grazing generally, including changes in ongoing operations, and renewed use of historically farmed or grazed areas. The County’s practice had been to exempt all agriculture from permits contrary to the LCP’s requirements, but the Coastal Commission soundly rejected that practice as inconsistent with the LCP and Coastal Act. This had been a major source of disagreement, with the County and agricultural interests on one side, and the Coastal Commission on the other. However, Supervisor Hartmann’s initiative to form a Ad Hoc Subcommittee of the Board and hold a public workshop with Coastal Commission staff in attendance, allowed for an open discussion of this issue and its ultimate resolution. The Gaviota Coast Conservancy proposed, and the Commission included, key language to clarify and broaden the scope of the exemptions for ongoing and historic agriculture.
Other disputed issues included the definition of and protections for Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHAs), permitting for residential accessory uses, biological study requirements, among other things. On each of these, County and Coastal Commission staff were able to negotiate compromise positions that Supervisors Hartmann, Wolf, and Chair Williams agreed adequately resolved the County’s concerns.
Now that the Gaviota Coast Plan can take effect in the coastal zone, there will be new meaningful controls on coastal development including stronger view protections (including a view corridor overlay, site design hierarchy, and design guidelines), stronger protections for sensitive habitats and watersheds including minimum setbacks from creeks, and stronger protections for the Gaviota Coast’s rich cultural and historic resources. With the Plan in effect in the coastal zone, there will also be new opportunities for coastal farmers and ranchers to process and sell their agricultural products on-site, and new flexibility and permit relief for ongoing operations, helping to maintain the vitality of Gaviota Coast agriculture.
Phil McKenna, Gaviota Coast Conservancy Board member and an appointed member of the GavPAC, stated, “The Board’s action is a major accomplishment that will help protect the Gaviota Coast into the future. The Plan establishes trail corridors, visual standards, habitat protection, exemptions for historical agricultural operations and a path for expanded regenerative agricultural practices that enhance habitat, reduce water consumption and sequester carbon in soils.”