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Gaviota Coast Could Become Part of National Park System

4/7/99 By Nick Robertson Goleta Valley Voice Staff Reporter

Efforts are underway to designate the Gaviota Coast as a national park, with community groups joining county and federal officials in exploring the possibility of creating an oceanside parkland spanning from Goleta to Vandenberg.

Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) is scheduled to attend the April 6 County Board of Supervisors meeting to urge that the supervisors support a federal study to look at the merits of including the Gaviota Coast in the National Park System.

If the supervisors like what Capps has to say, they will draft a letter supporting the study, which would lend weight to the preservation endeavor, said Third District Supervisor Gail Marshall.

"We are focusing our energies and efforts on protecting the resources of the Gaviota coast," said Marshall, who sponsored the April 6 agenda item. "There's tremendous pressures to develop. We're saying [to the Federal government], please step forward and help us preserve this wonderful resource."

The area proposed, as the Gaviota National Seashore would stretch west from Coal Oil Point to Point Sal, encompassing the Santa Ynez Mountains and Vandenberg Air Force Base, said Bob Keats, president of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy.

The proposed study would cost approximately $150,000 and comes after several years of grassroots effort, including participation from the Surfrider Foundation and a $25,000 grant from the Goleta Valley Land Trust, Keats said.

"We have been building the foundation of this, and it's finally gotten to a point where it's ready, Keats said. "A lot of people have pitched in."

Keats founded the Gaviota Coast Conservancy in 1993 specifically to conserve this piece of coastline.

"Our goal is to conserve these resources because this is the last significant stretch of relatively undeveloped and unprotected coastline in Southern California," Keats explained.

In December, the Board of Supervisors appropriated a $25,000 Coastal Resources Enhancement Fund grant toward the study. That money will be combined with Land Trust funding for a total $50,000 raised to cover the cost of the study.

Last week Capps requested a $75,000 federal grant to help pay for the study. That leaves $25,000 to be raised before the National Park Service review can occur, said Capps spokeswoman Lisa Finkel.

"[Capps] has drafted a letter to the Parks Service asking them to make this feasibility study a priority," Finkel said, adding that the project has the support of both California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

The study will determine the coastline's natural and cultural resources available to the public, as well as make sure that the area can be administered at a reasonable cost, Marshall said.

Although being designated as part of the National Park Service would mean some development and agriculture restrictions and guidelines, advocates for the new park stress that there is no intention to acquire land or thwart private property rights.

"We really want to work with property owners, and we have property owners on the [Gaviota Coast Conservancy] Board of Directors," Keats said.

He explained that various levels of park service inclusion mean different park management methods, and administration of the park would incorporate local and private leadership.

"We are supportive of private property rights," Keats said. "We're not interested in taking anything away from anyone."

If the supervisors decide to write the letter supporting the study, the effort will shift to Washington D.C. where the National Park Service will present Congress with its budget requests, including the $75,000 to help fund the study, Finkel said.

This leaves the Gaviota Coast Conservancy with the responsibility of raising the additional $25,000 for the study. Keats said he is optimistic that the money can be raised because the stakes are so high.

"I think the pressures of westward expansion from urbanization of the rest of Southern California could lead to urbanization of the Gaviota Coast," Keats said. "And given how difficult it is for farmers and ranchers to survive, if development starts to take place on the Gaviota Coast, I fear that their property taxes will get so high they won't be able to afford to stay in agriculture. We've seen this in so many rural communities across the county. This is what is happening to our farmland. We want to make sure that the Gaviota Coast stays as beautiful and as rural as it is now."