Santa Barbara Ranch: aka Naples

By Phil McKenna

Naples is the backbone of the eastern Gaviota Coast. It is 2 miles from Santa Barbara County’s Urban Limit Line that creates the boundary between the city of Goleta and the rural lands of the Gaviota Coast. This “gateway” property provides unblemished views of the ocean and mountains to motorists on Highway 101. (In the above photo note that there are two transportation corridors across the ranch; the top horizontal line is Highway 101, the bottom line, between the highway and the ocean, is the Union Pacific rail line.)

Santa Barbara Ranch in “green season” – Photo Courtesy of Bill Dewey

The Gaviota Coast Conservancy has opposed the development of this property located about 2 miles west of the Bacara for over 20 years. During numerous public hearings in the 10-year approval process (some attended by hundreds of people), there were zero public comments supportive of the project made by individuals unaffiliated with the developer. The County of Santa Barbara found itself in a legal vise, escaping punitive lawsuits by approving the project. The threat of future development of the property can be resolved by public acquisition.

The creation of approximately 400 residential lots in 1888 (not a typo) on the Naples property (now known as Santa Barbara Ranch) was a speculator’s dream of a new townsite. The dream floundered when the railroad failed to provide a timely extension of service to the area. The map illustrating this informal subdivision was forgotten by most but was resurrected by another speculator in the 1970s. After a lawsuit heard by the California Supreme Court over the County’s application of modern zoning to this antiquated subdivision, another lawsuit against the County for its preliminary decision, and a decade long administrative process, 71 houses were approved in 2008. Nothing has been built on the property in the intervening 13 years due to the financial crisis, intractable agreements with Dos Pueblos Ranch, foreclosure, mismanagement, and challenging project economics. Despite this history, the property is held by a development company and the threat of the approved project will reappear. Indeed, 2 of the 71 approved lots are currently seeking approval for large houses. The GCC will vigorously oppose permits for these houses at the proper time in the approval process.

Happy Cows on the Naples Bluff – Photo Courtesy of Reeve Woolpert

Removing the threat of development from this ranch cures a historical land-use defect, allowing the land to be utilized by the Chumash for their cultural expression, rejuvenating the grazing land and prime soils through regenerative agriculture, providing public access, completing a mile-long segment of the California Coastal Trail, preserving the viewshed and rural character of the Gaviota Coast at its gateway.

That’s our plan!

For an insightful visual history of Naples, thanks to Tom Modugno, visit;

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