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Return to Save Haskell's Beach

Preservation and the Gaviota Coast

Santa Barbara News-Press

January 23, 2000
By Bob Keats

One evening, in May 1991, I stood alone in the field at Haskell's Beach, which appeared, at that time, to be facing imminent development I listened to the wind blowing through the grass, watched a couple of hawks circling overhead, and inhaled the scent of wild fennel, sage and ocean air. I decided, at that moment, to embark on a quest to save a part of our coastline that I love.

As I thought about my choice, I realized that, with my health problems, the best I could hope to do was to be a catalyst. I decided to become a catalyst for preserving the Gaviota coast and for creating a National Seashore as the best ultimate means of preservation. Although the concept of creating a National Seashore on the Gaviota coast had first occurred to me many years earlier, the time to try to make that concept into reality had arrived.

Now, almost nine years after that evening at Haskell's Beach, as a result of the efforts of a number of organizations and many individuals, the National Park Service is about to begin a feasibility study to determine whether the Gaviota coast meets the criteria for a federal conservation designation, such as a National Seashore.

I believe one of the reasons the Gaviota coast is being studied is because no substantial development has taken place west of the current urban/rural boundary. In fact, the Gaviota coast contains the last significant stretch of rural coastal land in Southern California. Much of the Gaviota coast looks as it did 50, and even 100 years ago. Private farms and ranches continue to be owned and operated by families that have lived on the Gaviota coast for generations. Wildlife corridors and watersheds flourish from the ridge line of the Santa Ynez Mountains to the beaches.

A federal conservation designation could substantially help to preserve all of these qualities and resources. It would be consistent with private agricultural operations, and it would protect the natural beauty and biological resources, and it would conserve the culture and history of the region. A national Seashore would also provide considerable economic benefits to all of our tourism-dependent businesses by attracting more visitors to our county.

However, just as we are about to embark on this new approach to the Gaviota coast, the threat of imminent development looms once more. This time, the threat is in the form of the Naples memorandum of understanding (MOU) that is under consideration by the Board of Supervisors.In essence, the Naples MOU would allow for potential development of a suburb of expensive homes west of the current urban/rural boundary.

That boundary is the key to the future of the Gaviota coast. As former California Coastal Commission member Gary Giacomini stated years ago, in reference to the proposed Dos Pueblos (ARCO) Golf Course project, if a significant parcel of agriculturally zoned land on the Gaviota coast is developed, it will start a process that will lead to the development of parcel after parcel, until the urban sprawl of Southern California reaches all the way to Gaviota.

Every year, according to the American Farmland Trust, 100,000 acres of agricultural land in California are lost to urbanization. Leap-frog development, such as the proposed Naples project,causes an increase in property values, which in turn causes an increase in property taxes, which makes it more difficult for farmers and ranchers to make a profit from agriculture. Land eventually is sold for development, not only adjacent to new development projects, but also between the projects and the nearest urban boundary.

Although the Naples MOU does provide for the possibility of conserving some of the coastal land at Naples, it contains no mitigations for the growth-inducing impacts of the project. Such mitigations could include revisions to our zoning ordinances that would eliminate non-agricultural commercial development on land that is zoned for agriculture on the Gaviota coast. Moreover, the MOU is not just the start of a process for a single development proposal. It is also part of a process of urbanization, as other developers have also expressed an interest in creating development projects on Gaviota coast parcels.

Thirty years ago, the community voted against a proposal for a housing development at El Capitan; and since that time, there has been an increasing community support for conserving the Gaviota coast. In recent years, our community has also shown substantial support for preserving coastal open space at the Douglas Family Preserve and at the Carpinteria Bluffs. Perhaps it is time to start conserving land on the Gaviota coast in a similar way.

I request that Vintage Communities and the Morehart Land Co. -and related interests-consider entering into negotiations with the appropriate community groups, with the county, and with Trust for Public Lands for the purchase of the entire Naples property as coastal open space. Such a purchase would set a precedent for acquiring land from investors on the Gaviota coast in the same way that the sale of development rights by the Freeman Ranch set a precedent for those Gaviota coast property owners who wish to continue to own and live on their ranch and farm land.

As Matthew Osgood, president of Vintage Communities, has said, it is time to seize the day. Let us seize it in a manner that is consistent with the values of our community, and let's begin a new phase in the history of the Gaviota coast by preserving Gaviota coast land through acquisition.