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TO: Toward A National Seashore

ARCO & The Coastal Commission

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Welcome to the Coastal Commission


by: Nathan Post

Until the late 1970's, what is referred to as the ARCO property was part of the historic and productive Dos Pueblos Ranch. In 1842 Governor Alvarado approved Nicholas A. Den's application for a Mexican land grant. The history of the Dos Pueblos Ranch is a long and colorful one. The ranch was described as the finest of the local missions five Royal Ranchos.

From 1943-1977, Sam Mosher owned the ranch. Mosher was an avid agriculturist. While Mosher grew citrus, walnuts, avocados, and forage crops, his specialty was carnations. At one time Dos Pueblos Ranch was producing over 2 million blooms per year. Mosher's orchid company would become the largest in the world. Jack Morehart purchased the historic ranch in 1977.

Shortly after purchasing the property, Morehart sold what is now known as the ARCO property to Aminoil U.S.A. Inc. He sold what remains of the Dos Pueblos Ranch to Rudy Shulte, while retaining the paper, antiquated town site of Naples for himself. The Gaviota Coast, due in large part to Morehart's land acquisition, is currently threatened by at least three major developments. 1.) The huge Santa Barbara Club Resort & Spa (AKA Hyatt) destination resort planned for Haskell's Beach; 2.) The proposed ARCO golf courses, including a 10,000 square foot club house and cart barn; 3.) A large subdivision proposed for the antiquated town site of Naples.

In the view of some observers, the Hyatt destination resort, and the proposed ARCO golf course are projects that simply could not survive on their own. Some years ago Hyatt Hotel Corporation and ARCO Gas & Oil Company representatives held talks concerning their respective properties. One might ask what it would take to make the Hyatt destination resort a realistic going concern. Would a massive resort such as this one, located on the extreme outer edges of town, really be suited for a beach resort? While Haskell's Beach is at times a good surfing beach, there exists no expanse of sand to compare with say Santa Barbara's East Beach. The water is cold and full of oil from natural seepage at Coal Oil Point. The most pleasant and distinctive area of Santa Barbara, the historic adobe district, is not convenient to the proposed hotel for exploration or shopping. This is K-Mart country. Why would Hyatt choose to build on this particular site? The answer would appear to be in Hyatt's relationship with its neighbor ARCO. The only thing that would appear to make dollars and sense for Hyatt is a golf resort. The Hyatt Hotel development has been languishing without financing for several years now. Several knowledgable individuals in the hotel industry consider the project a bad investment. Will a golf course make proposed resort a more enticing investment?

Both Jack Morehart of Naples fame and ARCO appear determined to break down zoning laws protecting the Gaviota Coast in order to facilitate, what we believe are, illegal developments. Jack Morehart is convinced that he has extensive development rights at Naples. Naples is adjacent to the ARCO property. To justify his claims Morehart and his representatives point to a copy of an advertising brochure map, the 1888 "Plan of Naples", glued into County record books. Naples, never more than a dirt strip and a handful of wooden buildings, was torn down by Herbert G. Wiley following its purchase in 1917. In an effort to garner support for its golf development ARCO threatened to develop antiquated Naples lots that exist on it's property in the event it's golf course development was not approved. ARCO would ultimately gain approval for it's illegal golf course development through a highly politicized manipulation of the California Coastal Commission.

What are the facts? Is the ARCO site an appropriate place for ARCO's proposed golf course development? The answer is decidedly "no"! The ARCO site is zoned AGII 100acres. The site contains over 86 acres of prime agricultural soils. The Santa Barbara Coastal Zone Ordinance protects prime AG. Soils. Santa Barbara County's Coastal Zoning Ordinance prohibits the development of high-intensity recreation on land zoned AG.II in the Coastal Zone. Development on land zoned AG. II in the Coastal Zone must meet the requirements of the Underlying Zone District, Section 35-69.4. Section 35-69.4 addresses permitted uses on land zoned AG II. Utilizing a Major Conditional Use Permit. Section 35-69.4 allows for low-intensity recreation such as hiking trails, and campgrounds provided that:

a.) It is in character with the rural setting.

b.) It does not interfere with agricultural production on or adjacent to the lot on which it is located.

c.) It does not include commercial facilities open to the General Public who are not using said recreational facility.

d.) It does not require an expansion of urban services, which would increase pressure for conversion of affected agricultural lands.

Not only is the ARCO golf course development a high-intensity recreational development, but the golf course is not in keeping with the rural character of the surrounding area. It would preclude agriculture by dominating the entire site, and according to the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission Staff Report for the project, it would adversely impact the agricultural viability of adjacent lands. It would also cause the extension of public services in the form of water, police, fire protection, and perhaps most telling of all; it would require annexation to the Goleta Water District.

According to Santa Barbara County's Certified Local Coastal Plan, "The preservation of lands with prime agricultural soils, i.e., Class I or II according to the U.S. Conservation Service, is of highest priority."

Policy 8-2 of the Certified Local Coastal Plan states, "If a parcel is designated for agricultural use and is located in a rural area not contiguous with the urban/rural boundary, conversion to non-agricultural use shall not be permitted.

Policy 7-29 of the Local Coastal Plan reads, "Visitor serving commercial development in rural areas should be limited to low-intensity uses, i.e. campgrounds that are designed to protect and enhance visual resources and minimize effects on topography, habitats and water resources."

The proposed golf course development violates the Coastal Act, which calls for the maintenance of the maximum amount of agricultural lands, discourages the conversion of agricultural land, and protects agricultural lands from non-agricultural uses.

The ARCO golf course development flies in the face of Santa Barbara County's Local Coastal Plan Policies. It ignores the Coastal Act policies relating to agriculture, and it violates Santa Barbara County's Coastal Zoning Ordinance.

By allowing the use of a Major Conditional Use Permit for the precedent setting ARCO golf course development, the Coastal Commission has effectively destroyed zoning in the AG II zone, and as a result has put the entire Gaviota Coast at risk.

The Gaviota coast represents the last significant stretch of relatively undeveloped, unprotected coastline in Southern California. The Santa Barbara coastline is a scenic and natural wonder supporting hundreds of species of birds, unique plant and animal life, and miles of unspoiled coastline. It is here that the mountains rise majestically over the coastal plain and hug the sea. It is an area rich in natural resources supporting a number of animal species including harbor seals, sea lions, northern elephant seals, snowy egrets, great blue heron, snowy plovers and red-tailed hawks. Aggregation sites for Monarch butterflies dot the landscape. Here too are the California slender salamander, the red-legged frog, the western fence lizard, and the pacific rattlesnake. Observed residents include, the mountain lion, bobcat, gray fox, coyote, brush rabbit, striped skunk, and deer. It is a spiritual land, filled with special meaning for the lone hiker, and independent surfer. With it's increasingly rare habitats, unique beauty, and unparalleled potential for sensitive recreation, we feel it is a place worth preserving.

The ARCO site contains several threatened plants and animal species, and a number of Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas. In addition to a Harbor Seal rookery and haul-out at the mouth of Tomate Canyon, the site supports two sea bird roosting areas, native grasses, and Coastal Sage Scrub which is considered an endangered plant community by some experts.

Just offshore are rocky intertidal and subtidal areas, and extending a mile out to sea is Naples Reef. Naples Reef, due to the diversity of intertidal organisms, algae, and subtidal reef dwelling organisms found no where else on earth is considered a particularly sensitive biological community, one easily threatened by ARCO's proposed pesticide, rodenticide, and herbicide usage. Naples Reef, as well as Eagle Canyon, and Tomate Canyon are covered by Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Overlays.

The ARCO golf course development will destroy numerous on site wetland resources. Fully 39% of riverine intermittent streambeds will be lost to development. A large seasonal pond on Tomate Canyon that is extremely valuable to wildlife due to it's size and dense surrounding vegetation will be completely destroyed. A pond on drainage #3 will also be destroyed in order to make room for a lake designed to hold reclaimed sewage water. This water must be chemically treated making it useless for wildlife.

Perhaps the most disturbing feature related to the fight for this endangered rural coast has to do with the incredible and what appears as obvious corruption of the California Coastal Commission. In the time I have been dealing the Coastal Commission two Commissioners have been pulled from the Commission. We have reason to believe that this was done at ARCO's request. We have suffered delays, initiated by ARCO, one of which caused opponents of this golf course to travel to Los Angeles, and spend the night in San Diego at their own expense. In the battle for the Gaviota Coast, members of the Santa Barbara Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation have been to San Diego twice, Long Beach twice, Los Angeles and Huntington Beach. One hearing was held at the Miramar, which is located in Santa Barbara. We Have been forced to suffer through what we believe is an illegal request for a rehearing, after ARCO lost, only to have the vote fixed ahead of time, and we have spent countless hours and thousands of dollars preparing for the subsequent hearing that we believe was also fixed ahead of time. Can any of the above be proven or documented? Probably not. Is the above likely to be true? Unfortunately, the answer is yes!

Do lobbyists have an inordinate influence on the decision-making powers of the Coastal Commission? Does this thing we call a "fix" really exist? I can only speak for myself and the opinion of a number of individuals who deal with the Coastal Commission on a regular basis, when I say that evidence and experience would suggest that not only does a "fix" exist, but that it is a significant component of the Coastal Commission's decision making process. Indeed, one highly placed member of the California Coastal Commission confirmed the existence of the 'fix". While the News-Press celebrates ARCO's victory, I mourn the loss of law, process and honesty.

According to columnist Dan Walters, the "fix" as we affectionately call it, is the result of poor planning on the part of the creators of the Coastal Commission. Commissioners once appointed serve at the "pleasure" of the appointing authority. Former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown was, at the time of this hearing, responsible for appointing 4 Commissioners. Governor Wilson also appoints 4 Commissioners, as does the Senate Rules Committee.

Wilson and Brown see their appointments as an opportunity to exercise power. From the onset, the Coastal Commission was bound to encourage corruption. This is the way it works. A lobbyist from a well to do company desiring approval of one or more projects approaches the Governor or Speaker of the Assembly and lets him know that his company is prepared to make a large contribution to that individuals campaign chest. The lobbyist advises the Governor or Speaker of the Assembly or his lieutenants of their company's pet business concerns. They may want to construct a golf course, for example, on land zoned AG.II in the Coastal Zone, and will be going before the Coastal Commission in the future. The implication here is that the applicant does not feel his chances of winning approval are particularly good. Hence, would the Governor or Assembly Speaker mind putting in a good word for XYZ Corporation, and by the way here is an enormous campaign contribution. The message goes out, and if the appointed Coastal Commissioners don't get the message, then they can expect to be pulled from the Commission.

At the hearing of the California Coastal Commission held in Santa Barbara in January of 1993, environmentally concerned Coastal Commissioner Jane Yokoyama was mysteriously yanked from the Commission. We believe that it was done as a favor to ARCO. Indeed, one Coastal Commission official admitted that Yokoyama's removal, "was political." ARCO was Willie Brown's largest contributor in 1993. Still, possibly fearing a loss, and undoubtedly hoping for a smaller turn out, ARCO requested and was granted a postponement, forcing the Santa Barbara Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation to travel to the April hearing of the Coastal Commission which was held in Los Angeles.

At the April hearing, our attorney pointed to a gentleman who acts as a lobbyist and said, "Every time that guy shows up, we lose." That guy is Billie Rutland. We call Billy "Darth Vader". Rutland is a close personal friend of Willie Brown's, and a former employee of the Speaker. Despite Billie Rutlands presence, we somehow managed to win. ARCO had failed. It was a glorious moment, but it wouldn't last.

ARCO requested and was granted a rehearing. The rules for a rehearing are narrowly drawn, and rehearings are rarely granted. In order to qualify for a rehearing the applicant must produce significant new information that was not available before, or demonstrate that there were serious errors of fact or law. ARCO qualified under neither standard. A rehearing was granted in July on the odd reasoning that some of the commissioners were confused. The Santa Barbara Independent likened the rehearing to Dan White's Twinkie Defense. I can only assume that "confused" meant that they didn't know that the "fix" was in. It is interesting to note that Ellwood Shores was probably also "fixed". At about the same time we were forced into an illegal rehearing, Ellwood Shores went from a unanimous victory against Southwest Diversified to an 8-2 loss with little if any change in the plan presented only a few months earlier. Surfrider's 7-3 win was transformed into an 8-2 loss. The "fix" was definitely in.

Just prior to the November hearing we were advised that the Chairman of the Coastal Commission, Thomas Gwen, would be pulled from the Commission. Gwen had voted for us the first time around. He would attend the Coastal Commission meeting in San Diego on Tuesday, but a new Chairman would be appointed on Wednesday. The ARCO hearing was held on Wednesday. Ellwood Shores was also scheduled for Wednesday, but postponed to a later date. At the August hearing in Long Beach, the Ellwood issue was trailed to allow Dennis Murphy, Southwest Diversified's grasslands expert, time to get to the meeting. If there was a "fix" then it was hung on the arrogant Murphy's preposterous testimony. Members of Save Ellwood Shores firmly believe that Murphy sold his soul to the devil. It is also thought by some members of Save Ellwood Shores that the Ellwood issue was postponed at the November hearing in order to delay the decision until the new Board of Supervisors, one more favorable to Southwest Diversified, had come to power. Oddly enough, the request for a delay came not from the County, which is the applicant, but from the developer. The Commission agreed to the developer demands.

Alternate Commissioner, David Malcom, was reported to have spent time before the November hearing promoting the election of Carl Williams, an individual with no previous experience on the Commission, to the role of Chairman. He is reported to have said that ARCO would lose if Williams weren't chosen. He later denied the remarks. Malcom, we are told, has a special relationship with Willie Brown. He would merely request an appearance on the Commission when it suited him and regular Commissioner Leon Williams moved out of the way to accommodate his request.

ARCO lobbied the Commission hard. Commissioner Lou Calcagno was beat up so badly by lobbyists I overheard him remark on the way out of the hearing, "I never want to go through this again."

The ubiquitous Billie Rutland prowled the halls during the entire proceeding, button holing one Commissioner after another in his quest to satisfy Willie Brown's powerful will to exercise power. In the opinion of one respected, longtime Commission watcher, Calcagno would have been dropped from the Commission had he voted against ARCO, and Linda Moulton-Patterson and Lily Cervantes were merely following his lead in voting for ARCO's illegal development. Does a "fix" at the Coastal Commission exist? Yes it does! Can I prove it? No, unfortunately it is going to take a great deal more in the way of time and resources to prove that lobbyists undermine the Coastal Commission. Serious reform is called for. Multiply the ARCO decision by the hundreds of decisions the Commission takes up each year, and the enormity of the problem begins to become apparent. It is not merely a matter of politics, it is a matter of honesty and integrity, and respect for the law.

Finally, an interesting side light, the presence of former Santa Barbara (pro-development) Supervisor Willie Chamberlin at both the Ellwood hearing in August and the ARCO hearing in November. What interest could this former Supervisor possibly have in promoting these developments? All that I can come up with is that Willie was running for reelection, and that he was hoping that Southwest Diversified and ARCO would help pave the way with cash and prizes. And the beat goes on.

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