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
In a terrible and momentous decision, the Board of Supervisors re-approved the Tajiguas Resource Recovery Project (TRRP) on a 5-0 vote on November 14, 2017. They made this decision in the worst possible way by withholding critical documents until the last minute (in violation of County rules), relying on questionable if not inaccurate “facts,” and sweeping significant environmental issues under the rug.
The re-approval relied on a deeply flawed environmental analysis that ignored evidence of new significant impacts from both the coastal zone boundary error (that placed the anaerobic digester in the coastal zone) and the emergence of the federally threatened California red-legged frog on landfill areas that will experience increased vehicle traffic and night-lighting. Rather than address these issues head-on, the County chose to ignore them.
Staff disclosed, for the first time, that their coastal zone error will increase the project’s cost by 18%, or $20M, to a total $130M, plus interest. Before the error, tipping fees were slated to increase by 26% over 3 years, followed by unknown future annual increases as a result of the TRRP’s “Put or Pay” contracts. Rates could go even higher as the County has a $10M deficit in the funds needed to close the landfill.
While Project documents claim a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the deployment of the anaerobic digester (AD), new regulations will accomplish much of this reduction without the AD. More importantly, the TRRP imperils the creation of high-quality compost that can be used for carbon farming; an agricultural process that sequesters atmospheric carbon in the soil. By eliminating the TRRP, improving source separation of the waste stream, making compost with food scraps, and building robust community participation in recycling we can achieve a carbon negative project. As recently reported in The Economist, forward-thinking communities and businesses must focus on creating net negative emissions. The TRRP’s problematic reduction in GHG emissions squanders the opportunity to achieve much better GHG results.
The TRRP may have made some sense at some point, but not as it is configured, and not in current market conditions. In 2016 the Board of Supervisors signed contracts with Mustang, the investor-team, to have Mustang build and operate the TRRP. The County also entered into contracts with the four participating cities. The deal was signed and sealed, and ready to take the final step of issuing $120M in municipal bonds when the coastal zone blunder was discovered. Now the County has revised the project to avoid placing the TRRP in the coastal zone, but numerous new significant coastal zone issues remain unanswered. More importantly, China recently closed its market for contaminated recycled materials, which is the main output from the dirty materials recovery facility which produces a contaminated feedstock for the anaerobic digester.
A group of five solid waste experts knowledgeable about current legal and regulatory requirements, recycling markets and the suite of available technical and programmatic options have concluded the TRRP is not the correct approach for the South Coast. The inflexible “Put or Pay" contract locks each participating city into this system for 20 years. This contract is extremely expensive and can already be replaced by simpler, more efficient and proven alternatives. The best way to maximize the reuse and recycling of our waste stream and avoid contaminating reusable materials is to separate at the source and compost. At the end of the day, we as a community need to produce less waste. This is the best way to reduce GHG emissions and lessen our impact on the planet and the Gaviota Coast. The TRRP’s “Put or Pay” contract conflicts with this basic premise. The next best way to lessen the impact of our solid waste is to sort it at the source to minimize the cost of processing and avoid contamination. Many communities have enhanced the effectiveness of their collection and sorting systems, and we should take a page from their book.
Don’t Trash the Gaviota Coast!
The single biggest threat to the Gaviota Coast today is the County’s trash processing plant proposed at the Tajiguas Landfill.
The County approved the project last year but relied on an incorrect boundary line for the coastal zone, and now must revise and reconsider the project. The project’s purpose was to extend the landfill’s life by 12 years, but with the delays, the landfill’s life may be extended eight years or less. As time passes, the project’s benefits decrease while costs rise.
The Tajiguas Resource Recovery Project (TRRP) involves $120M of trash processing machines housed in two Costco-sized buildings on top of the Tajiguas Landfill. All solid waste from the South Coast (except Carpinteria), Solvang, Buellton and the Cuyama Valley will be trucked to the TRRP for processing. Residential trash rates will need to increase by at least 40% to pay for the TRRP; some estimate the rate increases will be much higher.
To overcome the coastal zone problem, the County is proposing to expand trash processing beyond the Tajiguas Landfill and onto the adjacent Baron Ranch. Baron Ranch was to serve as a buffer for the Tajiguas Landfill, not as an expansion zone. While the County’s vague proposal leaves many unanswered questions, the expansion onto Baron Ranch represents a significant threat to the Gaviota Coast.
TRRP is entirely incompatible with the National Seashore-worthy Gaviota Coast. The TRRP will substantially increase the amount of traffic on the Gaviota Coast, will squander the potential to reduce greenhouse gases through carbon farming (a practice referenced in the Paris Agreement that sequesters atmospheric carbon in the soil), and will extend operations at the Landfill for 20 more years. The County pledged to close the landfill by 2015 but now proposes to extend operations until 2036.
In proposing the TRRP, the County rejected viable alternatives that would have less cost, fewer impacts, and move towards Zero Waste goals that many other local governments have adopted throughout the Country. We can do better.
(click above for their letter)
- Paul Relis, Former State of California Board Member, CalRecycle Lecturer in Waste Management, UC Santa Barbara Vice Chair, Bioenergy Association of California
- Gary Petersen, Former State of California Board Member, CalRecycle Former Vice President Waste Management, Inc. Former Director of Environmental Affairs, Recycle America
- William O’Toole, President, EcoNomics Inc.
- Nick Lapis, Director of Advocacy, Californians Against Waste
- Matt Cotton, Principal, Integrated Waste Management Consulting, LLC
(click above for our letter)
Endangered red-legged frog, recently found at Tajiguas
(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.Read more
View from Baron Ranch
Speak up for the Gaviota Coast!
Let's take this opportunity for another path for Tajiguas
For the update on what's possible and what's at stake, please check our recent Op Ed in the Independent, in collaboration with Sigrid Wright of Community Environmental Council. Also, here's our GCC Letter to the Planning Commission, sharing what we see could be possible and why it's a good time to reconsider this astronomically-expensive project.
Please Email, call or
rsvp to attend the Goleta City Council hearing on September 5 at 6:00 PM (Butterfly Hearing) and 8:00 PM (Approx., for Rate Increase Hearing)
Write a supportive letter to the editor
and/or a supportive comment on the Independent Op Ed we submitted with Community Environmental Council sharing your concern for the future of the Gaviota Coast
GCC has long opposed expansions of the landfill and opposed the Tajiguas Resource Recovery Project (TRRP). Despite this opposition, the County approved the TRRP in 2016 but used the wrong coastal zone boundary line. Landfills are not allowed in the coastal zone, so the County is trying to revise and re-approve the project. The County is now proposing to expand the Tajiguas Landfill and site the TRRP’s anaerobic digester on the adjacent Baron Ranch and make a series of other changes to the project.
GCC has recently been working on developing an alternative approach to South Coast solid waste management that has substantially better environmental benefits at considerably less cost while embracing a progressive, long-term vision for the South Coast’s waste streams. This vision cannot proceed if the TRRP is approved.
The County is desperate to re-approve the TRRP, but to do so, must get approval for steeply increased trash rates. Those rate increases will be considered on September 5 by the Goleta City Council. The Rate setting hearing will follow a hearing on the fate of the Ellwood Butterfly grove, which GCC is involved in supporting the Friends of the Ellwood Monarchs.
Thank you for your support for the Gaviota Coast
Visions of the Gaviota Coast
It’s summer on the Gaviota Coast. The green hills that sprouted during our much-needed winter rains have turned to gold and brown. The seal pups grew up and have moved on. And the Gaviota Coast Conservancy has been busier than ever on a variety of issues.
Our most current concern out on the Coast is the evolving situation at the Tajiquas Landfill. Marc Chytilo and his legal colleagues have helped GCC identify critical defects in Santa Barbara County’s plan to anaerobically digest organic waste at the landfill and spread the contaminated residual organic “digestate” on local farm land. While approved, the project is in a state of limbo due to the County’s error in siting a portion of the project within the coastal zone where such industrial activities are not appropriate. It is
our view that it is long past the time to close the landfill at Tajiguas, as such an industrial activity is inappropriate for the Gaviota Coast and it is certainly not good policy to develop additional industrial activities such as the anaerobic digestion process. We are committed to working with others to create a 21st-century approach to managing waste in the Santa Barbara region that is on the cutting edge of sustainability practice, and to work to restore Tajiguas to a positive role in the coastal ecosystem.
Many of you may have seen Shaw Leonard’s movie Gaviota: The End of Southern California when it was shown at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and more recently at the Sandbox. The movie is a terrific exploration of the natural history of the Gaviota Coast. If you haven’t seen it or you want to see it again, more showings are coming up. In most cases, we are showing the film in conjunction with the movie Losing Ground: Gaviota, a UCSB Blue Horizons student film featuring GCC Board member Guner Tautrim and his efforts to promote more sustainable agriculture practices on his family’s Gaviota Coast ranch and to encourage his neighbors’ efforts.
We're excited about our new membership program, and invite you to join (if you haven't already). Thanks for participating with us! Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates and invitations.
We offer occasional guided hikes onto the Naples property and select other sites on the Gaviota Coast. Sign up to be on the Hikes Email List and we’ll let you know about the next opportunities to explore a part of the nearby Gaviota Coast up close.
President, Gaviota Coast Conservancy