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Gaviota park advocates say opponents altered picture

political notebook 1/23/01

By MELINDA BURNS
NEWS-PRESS SENIOR WRITER

In ad in last week's Independent, paid for by the opponents of a national seashore on the Gaviota Coast, is accompanied by a doctored photo that has preservationists fuming. The photo shows two lanes of cars bumper-to-bumper, heading the same direction on a two-lane road along the coast. The licenses of two cars in the foreground have been whited out; the reflection on one of the cars does not match up with the car next to it; a guardrail is situated on the inland side of the traffic; and in the distance, the one-way road is empty of cars.

"It's a fabricated image," said Martha Crusius, a planner for the National Park Service regional headquarters in San Francisco. "I would be willing to bet that none of the National Park Service staff around the country would recognize it. This happens nowhere along the California coast. The road continues with no cars on it, so these two lines of traffic seem to have fallen into the brink."

The Park Service is conducting a study to determine whether the scenic coast from Coal Oil Point to Point Sal, from the mountains to the shore, merits inclusion in the park system. One of the options under study includes a national seashore such as the one at Point Reyes, near San Francisco. A draft report, with recommendations, is expected to be ready for public review in August.

The ad, entitled "Say Goodbye to Santa Barbara," refers to the federal government as "a monster" and says that "many millions of visitors a year" would descend on the city if a national park were created on the coast. A footnote states that Point Reyes and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area together reported more than 16 million visitors in 1999.

The ad was paid for by the Coastal Stewardship Council, a group of property owners on the Gaviota coast who contend that a park designation would spell the end of ranching there. The group recently sent a petition with 1,400 signatures to the Park Service, opposing the national seashore idea. Council members are also working on a letter to Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, requesting that the study be deferred until later.

Bernie Stableford, the owner of a ranch in Refugio Canyon and a co-founder of the council, said Monday that the photo in the ad was merely intended to get the message across that a national park on the Gaviota Coast would bring a lot of traffic. She promised to find out where the photo was taken, but she did not call back Monday.

In the first rendition of the council's ad, last fall in the News-Press, the photo ran with the caption, "Thousands of cars waiting to enter a national park." The caption does not appear in this week's ad.

According to the Park Service, Point Reyes gets about 2.3 million visitors per year, a number that has held firm for more than a decade. The Golden Gate recreation area, at both ends of the Golden Gate Bridge, is the largest urban national park in the world, and many of the key attractions are within walking distance of San Francisco. The Bay Area has a population of 6 million, and the Golden Gate recreation area gets 14 million visitors per year. It is the third most heavily visited national park in the country, after two in the Appalachian Mountains.

"You can't compare that to what we're doing here," said Mike Lunsford, president of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, a nonprofit group that seeks to save the coast from urbanization. "We're farther away from big metropolitan areas than Point Reyes is to the Bay Area. This is a negative, overstated piece. It is an attempt to construe information in a way that paints an ugly picture without respect to factual accuracy."

Lunsford said there was no plan to put concessions or huge parking lots or lodges on the Gaviota coast that would draw big crowds.

John Dell'Osso, a spokesman for Point Reyes, said he had never seen a traffic backup there like the one shown in the ad.

"A couple of weekends per year, the parking lots reach full capacity, but I have never seen an image like that," Dell'Osso said.