Developer takes another swing at Gaviota golf course
By MELINDA BURNS
NEWS-PRESS SENIOR WRITER
After a three-year delay caused by red-legged frogs, monarch butterflies, white-tailed kites and a rare herb, a developer's plans for a public golf course on the Gaviota coast will return to the state Coastal Commission for review on Monday.
It's been eight years since the county Board of Supervisors and the Coastal Commission approved a proposal by the Arco Oil and Gas Co. for an 18-hole golf course, a nine-hole "par-3" course, a clubhouse, a barn and an office building on 200 acres south of Highway 101, about a mile west of what is now the Bacara Resort & Spa.
The proposed Dos Pueblos Golf Links survived one appeal and a lawsuit by the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit environmentalist group. But the proposal faltered in 1999, when Surfrider filed a second appeal based on the appearance of California red-legged frogs, a threatened species, in Eagle Canyon Creek, below the proposed nine-hole course.
California tidewater gobies, an endangered species, showed up in the creek, too. In addition, thousands of monarch butterflies began roosting in eucalyptus groves on the property during the winter months.
Several populations of southern tarplant, a rare herb in the sunflower family, were discovered on the site of an old oil field. And two pairs of white-tailed kites, a species in decline in California, were observed perching and foraging in some large trees. Just three weeks ago, one of the pairs was confirmed to be nesting.
The commission staff is now recommending that CPH Dos Pueblos Associates, the current property owner, scrap the plans for the par-3 course near Eagle Canyon Creek in order to avoid potentially poisoning the frogs, the fish and the butterflies with pesticides. Removal of the nine-hole course also would prevent wayward golf balls from flying into the eucalyptus trees, according to a staff report for Monday's meeting.
The planners also recommend relocating the 18th hole of the main golf course to protect the trees where the kites are nesting. The clubhouse, parking lot and maintenance building should be moved to save the tarplant, the report says; and no pesticides should be used on the grass within 300 feet of the top of Eagle Canyon. In addition, it says, the mature pine, cypress and eucalyptus trees where the kites perch and forage should not be cut down.
But Whitt Hollis, the project manager, said Friday that these revisions would effectively kill the project. He noted that the owners -- Dos Pueblos Associates and, previously, Arco Oil and Gas -- have already removed a producing oil field on half of the property. Altogether, Mr. Hollis said, they have spent $11 million preparing for the golf course project, and they don't want to make any changes in what was unanimously approved by county supervisors in 1993.
"We'll build houses," Mr. Hollis said, in exasperation. "After 11 years of hanging in here, you have to do something. We have legal rights. What they're recommending is way, way beyond what the rules allow them to do."
If the Dos Pueblos Golf Links project goes forward, it would be the first development west of Goleta's urban boundary approved in recent years. The property is zoned for agriculture; half of it has been historically farmed and grazed. The beach at the mouth of Eagle Canyon Creek is a popular surfing spot known as "Driftwood."
Project opponents, including members of the Surfrider Foundation, the Sierra Club and the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, say a large number environmentalists will make the trip to the commission meeting on Monday to urge a "no" vote on the golf course. The hearing will be held at the Queen Mary in Long Beach.
Bob Keats, a spokesman for Surfrider, said his group objects to the use of prime farmland on the Gaviota coast for a golf course.
"It sets a precedent for all those coastal parcels in private hands between the freeway and the ocean, from Haskell's Beach to El Capitan," Mr. Keats said. "This is the last undeveloped coastal plateau in California and it's all zoned for agriculture. And what are they going to do? Golf courses? Luxury homes?"
Ariana Katovich, a Sierra Club organizer in Santa Barbara, said she was concerned about the effects of pesticides on coastal waters. Seals come up on the beach nearby. The proposed revisions in the project, Ms. Katovich said, would not solve the problem.
"There are too many sensitive habitats there," she said. "To me, it's a Band-Aid solution."
But more than 2,000 members of the Dos Pueblos Golf Links citizens' action committee, led by Eric Heinsohn of Goleta, are hoping the project will finally get the green light after so many delays. Some plan to attend the hearing in Long Beach.
"It's a project for the whole community, not just golfers," Mr. Heinsohn said. "It gives the people of Santa Barbara and Goleta another avenue for activities, such as surfing, hiking and going to the beach. I think it's overdue. I'd love to see it passed."