This map locates major properties discussed below from Gaviota State Park to Coal Oil Point. Additionally, it identifies land that participates in the Williamson Act as agricultural preserve land.
Map created by Conception Coast Project.
National Seashore Questions
1. Is the Gaviota Coast threatened by development today?
Yes, on numerous fronts. County land use policies are constantly under assault by landowners with development intentions. From the Coal Oil Point Reserve to El Capitan, conditions for classic urban sprawl are ripe. The population growth on the Southcoast, the steady increase in land values on our beautiful coastline, and the arrival of State water in Santa Barbara County all contribute to the threatening spread of urban sprawl.
The County's present agricultural zoning and related land use policies are the main impediment to urban sprawl. However, these policies are vulnerable to political change and open to interpretation. For example, certain types of agricultural zoning (AG-II) allows rather intensive development such as golf courses, country clubs, retreats, guest ranches, etc provided a Major Conditional Use Permit is granted by the County. Without a firm, and long-standing commitment by elected county officials, there is little question that the rural character of this coastline will be lost.
One indication of the long-term intentions of landowners on the coast is their participation in the State agricultural preserve program known as the Williamson Act. This legislation allows working agriculturists to significantly reduce their property taxes by entering into a contract that requires the maintenance of the agricultural use of the land for a period of 10 or 20 years. The great majority of the 17,300 acres of land running from the urban-rural limit line through El Capitan is not in agricultural preserve status, This is a clear indication of landowner's lack of a long-term commitment to agriculture and may be an indication of their near-term development intentions.
Recently, four major land owners on the Gaviota Coast, collectively owning more than 11,000 coastal acres, sued the County of Santa Barbara challenging the County's Lot Size Compliance and Lot Line Adjustment Program, a county ordinance that generally prohibits landowners from reconfiguring their lot lines to increase their development potential. This lawsuit indicates that the owners of these large coastal properties, Eagle Canyon, Las Varas Ranch, Tajiguas Ranch, and Dos Vistas Ranch have clearly indicated their intention to increase the development potential of these properties. Or as the Director of Planning and Development John Patton observes, these lawsuits "can generally be seen as precursors to development."
The following is a partial list of potential development activities on the Gaviota Coast beginning near the urban-rural limit line and moving westward.
a) Ellwood Mesa: There is a long-standing proposal for the subdivision of the coastal open space on Ellwood Mesa, adjacent to the Monarch Butterfly Preserve. This proposal for luxury homes is known as the "Monarch Point" development, and continues to wind its way through the permit process. If approved, it would forever displace scenic coastal open space and sensitive habitats within the urban area.
b) Winchester Canyon: This wonderfully scenic canyon has been in row crop production for many years. Although zoned for agriculture, much of the canyon is not enrolled in the Williamson Act and is vulnerable to development if the zoning restrictions were to change. This canyon borders the urban limit line and stands in stark contrast to the residential development around it.
c) Eagle Canyon: Eagle Canyon, with lush bottomland and stunning mountain vistas, lies two canyons to the west of Winchester Canyon. It is in agricultural use, but is not in agricultural preserve status. The owners recently initiated a lawsuit against the County because of a new policy that prevents increased development on agriculturally zoned land. The owners assert that the policy impairs their "potential development rights." This is a clear indication of development awaiting a change in zoning policy.
d) Naples: Naples is located between Eagle Canyon and Dos Pueblos Canyon. There are two development proposals by landowners in this area.
1) West of the Bacara Resort, on the ocean side of the Highway 101, the Dos Pueblos Associates proposes to develop Dos Pueblos Links consisting of a golf course, driving range, restaurant, and miscellaneous support facilities on their 147 acres. While permit approval has not been secured, the project is well into the permit process and the intention to develop is not in doubt. Additionally, this property includes a portion of the old Naples antiquated subdivision with some uncertain number of potentially buildable lots. It is instructive to note that the County Board of Supervisors during the tenure of Supervisors Staffel and Stoker granted a conditional use permit for this development, circumventing a more rigorous process for change in zoning designations, an example of the limits of "local control" in containing urban sprawl. This proposed development is an example of intensive development occurring on land zoned for agriculture.
2) The site of the old Naples township was recently sold by the Morehart family, et al to Vintage Communities, an Orange County development company. This property is subject to an antiquated subdivision originating from the 1880s. The County currently recognizes up to 233 buildable lots on this 485 acre beachfront parcel. The County had proposed an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) between it, the Moreharts, and Vintage Communities that would have allowed the submittal and processing of a development application for the 263 acres north of the Highway 101. The MOU was conditional upon the 222 acres south of the highway being sold to a public agency or non-profit entity for public access. However, the provisions of the MOU were not met by Vintage Communities, so the deal collapsed. It is possible for the MOU to resurface if the County's conditions are met by the developer. This property has the largest and most threatening development potential on the coast at the present moment.
e) Las Varas Ranch: This ranch contains some of the most scenic coastal landscapes in the project area. Here, wide coastal and island views, with sweeping pastoral landscapes, illustrate the uniqueness of the Gaviota Coast within Southern California. This1,520 acre property has been on the market for $45,000,000 ($30,000 per acre), a price precluding any agriculturally profitable use of the majority of the land. A prior proposal by the owners to develop a resort on this agriculturally zoned land revealed their intention to hold the land for development purposes. The owners are a party to the suit by major Gaviota coast landowners against the County's Lot Line Adjustment Program, fearing that the program will limit the development potential of their property.
f) Tajiguas Ranch: The owners have recently proposed to subdivide the Tajiguas Ranch into twenty-five,100 acre lots using the "lot line adjustment" process. This would create a development similar to the subdivision of Hollister Ranch, where approximately 130 parcels of 100+ acres makes it the largest subdivision, and one of the most densely populated rural portion of the coast. When the County recently enacted a policy addressing the lot line adjustment process, the Tajiguas owners joined other large coastal landowners in suing the County to enhance their maximum development potential. g) Dos Vistas Ranch: The previous owner of this 1,400 acre ranch, proposed, but subsequently withdrew, an application to increase buildable lots on the property from 4 to 14. The former owner is a participant in the suit against the County to enhance his development rights elsewhere on the Gaviota Coast.
2. Why can't the urban-rural limit line stop urban sprawl?
The urban limit line is a County planing boundary along the northern edge of Goleta extending from the City of Santa Barbara at San Marcos Pass to Winchester Canyon, crossing the freeway and extending westward to encompass the new Bacara Resort. Zoning to the west and north of the limit line is generally agricultural, large lot parcels. The sanctity of this planning tool is only as secure as is the will of the sitting Board of Supervisors to maintain it. A Board with a philosophy more oriented toward allowing urban growth to expand along the coast could change the urban boundary by a simple majority vote. Allowing development to the west of the urban-rural limit line could create the classic conditions of urban sprawl; infrastructure development, followed by pocket development and the subsequent urban infill.
3. What are the options for preserving the coast and their advantages and disadvantages?
It is quite likely that a combination of the options below will provide the optimal preservation benefits.
a) National Seashore or other Federal designation: Advantages include greater access to federal funds for the purchase from willing sellers of development rights or fee title to land. Additionally, the Park Service has extensive experience in land management, regional planning to protect biodiversity, and creating public benefit from park amenities. Federal participation is also likely to result in greater access to state, local and private fund sources as granters increasingly recognize the importance of conservation in this area. One disadvantage could be the possible reduction of local control in land management decisions on land owned by NPS. Private land use decisions would remain under the local control of the County. The attraction of more tourism could have both positive and negative impacts.
b) Purchase of development rights/conservation easements or fee title by local conservation groups: the purchase of rights and easements is a relatively low cost method of reducing or eliminating the risk of development. Outright fee purchase and management retains local control of land management decisions, but it also carries large, long-term costs for resource management. Actions by local conservation groups have the potential for the retention of local control. Disadvantages include the problem of funding such purchases in a relatively short time period, as large sums would be required to purchase the most highly threatened areas of the coast from willing sellers. It is also unclear as to who would manage purchased properties and whether recreational opportunities would be developed.
c) SOAR Initiative (Save Our Agricultural Resources): An initiative could be placed on the ballot whereby the County's agricultural zoning ordinances and policies would be locked-in-place for a period of time unless a change were voted on by the people of the County. This is an anti-sprawl strategy growing in popularity around the State. Advantages include taking politics out of the land use arena and fixing minimum zoning regulations for a period of up to 30 years. It also tends to cause land to be valued more for its agricultural values rather than its speculative values based on anticipated development potential. The primary disadvantage of a SOAR Initiative is that it would not preclude large lot development (subdivision into minimum parcel size, with the associated development) of agricultural land now zoned mostly 100 acres minimum. Such development occurred on the 13,000 acre Hollister Ranch when it was subdivided into 100 acre lots. A SOAR initiative is only a temporary respite from development pressures, as it has a finite life.
d) Open Space/Park Initiative: Such initiatives allow citizens in a given geographic area to vote to create an open space, agricultural, or park district with the power to raise money through increased property taxes and to create an elected managing Board of Directors. The protection of properties occurs through the purchase of land or conservation easements. An advantage is, again, the retention of full local control. Land management is by the district itself. The requirement of a two-thirds majority vote for passage and the public's dislike of tax increases may make this alternative an unlikely strategy. However, it would provide a tool for agriculturists to protect themselves from urban sprawl, and empower them to determine the future of agriculture within the district.
e) Transfer of Development Rights Program: This type of program allows a landowner within the rural coastal area to sell their development rights to a property owner with a location more suitable for development. This program must be adopted by the County and if the transfer is into a city, by the city also. There is little political support by the County government for such a program at this time, but its application could be useful in certain circumstances.
4. What roles can citizens and Local, State, and Federal Government play in protecting the coast?
The public in southern Santa Barbara County has shown itself to be willing and able to engage in public fundraising for the preservation of open space, witness the success at the Douglas Family Preserve and the Carpinteria Bluffs. The Land Trust for Santa Barbara County has proven to be effective in conservation efforts on the coast with the finalization of one conservation easement and the current negotiations for the purchase/preservation of several other coastal properties. Despite the support of the local public and the expertise of the Land Trust, the financial scope of the preservation effort on the Gaviota Coast will likely dwarf the usual sources of funding.
County government has several available options that would help to restrict the development of agricultural land. The Planning Commission proposed rezoning agricultural land to a minimum parcel size based on agricultural viability several years ago, but the concept has remained dormant. This proposal would most likely result in downzoning to larger minimum parcel sizes on the Gaviota Coast. Second, the County could pursue a Transfer of Development Rights program as discussed above. Third, the County could restrict the building footprint on agricultural land to minimize the current practice of building massive "trophy" homes on large agricultural parcels such as those that have been constructed on the Hollister Ranch, Tajiguas Canyon, Las Varas Canyon, Venedito Canyon, and at Naples. Finally, the County could restrict non-agricultural uses of agriculturally zoned land by eliminating the practice of using conditional use permits.
On the state level, new laws could be enacted to make preservation easier, such as the recently enacted legislation authored by Senator O'Connell to grant a 55% state income tax credit for gifts of land for conservation purposes. Additionally, the State could supply more funding for the acquisition of vital Gaviota Coast lands, for state parks, or for habitat conservation programs. It could also develop a statewide transfer of development rights program.
The national government could provide funding for land acquisition and other preservation strategies. The National Park Service receives its acquisition funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Additionally, the LWCF has funded state and local grants for land acquisition. The federal government could also further restructure the estate tax to provide additional relief to landowners forced to sell their property to meet the financial burden of this tax. Congress could consider compensating farmers for conservation efforts such as improving water quality, protecting rare or endangered species, or promoting recreation that they voluntarily undertake on their land.
5. How can willing landowners participate in the preservation of their land?
Landowners can opt to sell or gift their development rights to a conservation organization such as a land trust or other entity. They retain all other land rights, but are precluded from exercising those development rights specified in the agreement. A conservation easement creates restrictions on land use that encourages conservation and ecological goals. The income, estate, and property tax benefits of the gift or sale of development rights or the creation of a conservation easement can be very significant for the landowner. For example, under a new State law gifts of property can be used to reduce State income taxes by 55% of the appraised value of the gifted land
6. Do preservation activities pose any threat to private property rights?
All of the preservation strategies being contemplated involve voluntary participation by existing landowners. Property values along the coast could decline as the potential for speculative development is reduced or these values could increase as a product of being located in close proximity to a protected and increasingly rare ecosystem. In general, there will be no change in existing property rights.
7. What will the public gain from the preservation of the Gaviota Coast?
The public will gain the preservation of the largest remnant of the Southern California coastline still in pristine condition. Citizens will benefit from the continued, and possibly enhanced, recreational and educational opportunities afforded by this coastline. A magnificent scenic area, providing an essential backdrop to the increasingly urban character of our society, will be protected for future appreciation. The potential for the survival of rare and endangered plant and animal species will be enhanced. Water quality in the area watersheds will be maintained or improved, helping to address contamination problems at area beaches and in the marine fisheries. A major wildlife corridor, stretching into the wilderness of our backcountry, will be preserved. The preservation and enhancement of our coastal environment will provide a reference point for future generations to understand and appreciate man's place in the natural world.
8. What role can the Gaviota Coast Conservancy play in protecting the coast?
The Gaviota Coast Conservancy (GCC) is playing a vital role in preserving the largest intact remnant of the coastal Southern California Mediterranean ecosystem. The Conservancy supports the National Parks Service study to address the feasibility of creating a National Seashore or other Federal designation along this coast. This study will provide critical information on our coastal resources. The GCC has been working within the community to find the best and most appropriate strategies for preserving these resources. Information collected on the resources of the coast and strategies for preserving these resources has been disseminated to the community and public officials. The Conservancy has been providing leadership in efforts to remove industrial uses, such as obsolete oil production facilities and the Tajiguas landfill. The GCC has built partnerships with other organizations to solve some of the threats to our coastline and watersheds. The GCC will continue to lead the efforts to preserve, protect, and enhance the intrinsic values of this coastal environment, while providing appropriate public access.
National Seashore Questions
9. What are the possibilities that land in a National Seashore would be condemned or experience a financial burden?
The National Park Service has a policy that avoids hostile condemnation of private land for public benefit. Legislation creating a National Park Service presence on the coast could explicitly prohibit such condemnation. No financial burdens are contemplated on landowners as a result of the creation of a National Seashore.
10. Where does the money to purchase the land come from?
The National Park Service would be authorized by Congress to purchase land and easements with financing from federal funding, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund (money derived from federal offshore oil leases).
11. If a National Seashore were to be created what types of services or improvements would be envisioned?
Development in a National Seashore or other NPS unit would be based on guidance from a General Management Plan (GMP). Legislation generally requires that a GMP be completed within three years of the designation of a new National Park unit. GMP's identify desired resource conditions and visitor experiences, and the kinds and levels of resource management, visitor use and development appropriate to each management zone. GMP's are prepared with substantial public involvement. They require the development of alternatives and the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in order to assess the impacts of different alternatives. A National Seashore could be planned so that the public uses of the Seashore would result in minimal negative impacts to the environment. It would be desirable to emphasize the development of low impact facilities such as trails, primitive camps, and day use areas, and keep motor vehicle impacts to a minimum.
Statistics for Established National Seashores
In the last reporting year the 10 National Seashores had 18,425,102 visitors. This averages 1,842,510 visitors per Park. The vast majority of these visitors were day use only. Of the 591,515 acres within the National Seashores 116,130, or 24%, acres are not Federally owned. Facilities provided at the 10 National Seashores are; 23 primitive walk in camps, 16 improved campgrounds, 20 visitor centers, 3 museums, 2 lighthouses and various other low impact services. Only one seashore has cabin rental through concessionaires.
National Seashore Year
Established Acreage Visitors Facilities
Point Reyes 1966 71,067
6,508 non-fed. 2,300,631
(2000) Four non auto camps, three visitor centers, lighthouse.
Gulf Islands - 150 Miles of coastline from Mississippi to East Florida 137,457 acres,
38,374 non-fed. 4,597,270
(2000) Three campgrounds, one youth group campground, three visitor centers.
Cape Hatteras - 70 miles of barrier islands 1953 30,321 acres,
all federal 2,634,587
(1999) Four campgrounds and three visitor centers.
Cape Cod 1961 40,604 acres,
16,103 non-fed. 4,915,414
(2000) Two visitor centers, camping at local State Park only.
Canaveral - 57,661 acres,
14 non-fed. 846,512
Assateague - 1965 39,732 acres,
21,866 non-fed. 1,891,992
(1999) Two campgrounds, six primitive campgrounds, one ranger station and three visitor centers.
Fire Island 19,579 acres,
13,338 non-fed. 559,764
Cumberland - 36,417 acres,
16,872 non-fed. 44,127
(1999) Two campgrounds, eight primitive campgrounds, museum, visitor center.
Cape Lookout - 1966 28,243 acres,
3,069 non-fed. 553,243
(1999) Two private concessionaires cabins, primitive camping only.
Padre Island 1962 130,434 acres,
78 non-fed. 63,562
(1999) Five primitive campgrounds and visitor center.
12. What would be the expected number of visitors to the Gaviota Coast after a national designation of some sort?
It is not possible to project the number of visitors a Gaviota Coast Seashore might attract without first knowing the nature of the designation and the extent of new visitor serving facilities. Any projections, at this time, would be too speculative to be useful. It is hoped that the feasibility study will provide some guidance on this issue. As a perspective, an average of 520,000 people paid to visit the State Parks on the Gaviota Cost over the years 1995-1999. Without more facilities, it is unlikely that the number of additional visitors would be significant. The goal of the land conservation effort is to preserve and enhance the present characteristics of the Gaviota Coast. Therefore, resource protection must be the first consideration when considering the extent and nature of any new visitor serving facilities.
13. If the coast were a National Seashore would the local government loose control of land use planning?
Land use decisions concerning private property would continue to be a function of county government, as is currently the case. Land use changes to non-federal property in the coastal zone would continue to be regulated by the Coastal Act. Any land use changes initiated by the NPS on federally owned property would follow from the development of a General Management Plan and associated EIS. The County and the general public would both have opportunities to participate in that planning process. The National Park Service is subject to the public processes set forth in the National Environmental Policy Act. Additionally, The Coastal Zone Management Act requires Federal consistency with the State Coastal Zone Management Plan, meaning that the NPS would be subject to Coastal Commission regulation.
14. Will the rights of property owners within the park be subservient to the perceived needs of the public?
Private property rights on privately owned land on the Gaviota Coast would remain unaffected by a national seashore or other designation. Trespassing would be illegal and owners would have the right to create fencing or other barriers to entry. Private property rights of landowners within the proposed national seashore would be analogous to those rights possessed by landholders within the boundaries of the Los Padres National Forest. Where easements for public access are sold by landowners, protection from landowner liability is provided by existing laws. Liability protection exists for landowners that allow recreational access to land that they own, as long as they don't charge a fee for that access and are not grossly negligent.
15. Would there be more regulation on private lands if a national designation is established on the Gaviota Coast?
Land purchased by the National Park Service would be subject to existing park service regulations, and any new regulations that may be included in the authorizing legislation. However, adjacent private lands would be unaffected by those regulations. The National Park Service's authority only applies on the land they own an interest in. For land the Federal Government owns or purchases in the future there could be more or different regulation of activities than if that land were privately owned. For land owned privately within a Seashore, the regulations would be substantially as they are today with little new interference from the Federal Government. The NPS does not have the ability to force regulation on private landowners. Existing state and local laws would continue to govern private lands, as it does today.