Agreement to Protect Ellwood Mesa (CA)

GOLETA, CA, 8/6/02: The Trust for Public Land (TPL) announced today that it has entered into an agreement with real estate development company Comstock Homes and Santa Barbara Development Partners to protect the 135-acre Ellwood Mesa property along the spectacular Gaviota Coast in Santa Barbara County. More than 100,000 butterflies gather during their annual winter migration at this internationally significant roosting site. Currently threatened with the development of a large residential subdivision, the magnificent bluff-top property is located between the University of California Santa Barbara campus to its east and the Santa Barbara Shores City Park to its west.

“The preservation of Ellwood Mesa has long been a top priority for this community,” said Goleta Mayor Margaret Connell. “The city of Goleta is delighted to have the opportunity to permanently protect this precious resource, including the sensitive vernal pools, native grasslands, and the eucalyptus groves that support thousands of over-wintering monarch butterflies.”

Through an innovative two-pronged conservation strategy, developed in response to the high market value of the oceanfront land and the community’s desire to protect the 135-acre property, the city of Goleta is working with TPL to ensure the entire mesa is protected forever. TPL will launch a campaign to raise public and private funds to compensate the landowner for a portion of the property’s value, and, to complete the conservation effort, the city will work with the landowner to swap an inland portion of the adjacent city park for the remainder of the landowner’s interest in the mesa. Once these efforts are complete, TPL intends to transfer its portion of the mesa property to the city of Goleta for long-term stewardship as park and open space for public recreation and wildlife habitat protection.

“We are embarking with the city on what we expect will be an 18-month effort to determine an appropriate level of development on the park property,” said Bob Comstock of Comstock Homes, who holds an option to buy the mesa property from Santa Barbara Development Partners. “I look forward to working with the community on this win-win effort.”

“TPL has been engaged with the Santa Barbara community for years trying to put together a viable acquisition strategy to protect the Ellwood Mesa, and finally a seller who is willing to respond to the community’s interests has entered the picture,” said Debra Geiler, Senior Project Manager at the Trust for Public Land. “We are undertaking an ambitious effort to raise substantial public and private funds for this project over the next year. Once protected, the Ellwood Mesa will be the cornerstone of the two-mile stretch of open space that forms the gateway to the Gaviota Coast,” added Geiler.

“This community has fought for years to prevent development on the Ellwood bluffs to protect the sensitive natural resources including the monarch butterfly aggregation, and to preserve the stunning mountain and ocean views for future generations,” said Kevin Barthel, President of Friends of the Ellwood Coast. “This unique opportunity for the public to acquire the land cannot be missed.”

Senator Jack O’Connell and Assembly Member Hannah-Beth Jackson have been instrumental in many land conservation initiatives, including the recently passed Proposition 40, a funding source that could significantly contribute toward the protection of Ellwood Mesa. Senator O’Connell also authored the Natural Heritage Preservation Tax Credit Act of 2000, a program through which the developer may donate a portion of the property to TPL in exchange for tax credit.

“I am pleased to have played an integral role in working with the community toward a proposal that will permanently conserve the Ellwood Mesa property,” stated Senator O’Connell. “I applaud the Trust for Public Land for making a commitment to our community to protect this property, which, due to its location at the beginning of the spectacular Gaviota Coast, has been a long-standing conservation priority.”

“I am excited to know that twenty years from now when I stand with my grandchildren on Coal Oil Point in Santa Barbara and look west up the Gaviota Coast, I will be able to see the same magnificent rugged, natural beauty that I see now. To make that dream a reality, today we have all come together?– the community, the city, and the Trust for Public Land — to buy Ellwood Mesa and protect it for generations to come,” said Assembly Member Hannah-Beth Jackson.

TPL recently completed a successful campaign to save El Capitan Ranch further west along the coast and expects to transfer the ranch to the State of California in September. In 1996 TPL bought and protected the 70-acre Douglas Family Preserve, also known as the Wilcox property. TPL then donated the prime coastal bluffs to the city of Santa Barbara for public use and enjoyment.

The Gaviota Coast is the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in Southern California. Spanning 76 miles along Highway 101 between Coal Oil Point and Point Sal, this spectacular coastline is located within 90 minutes of Los Angeles. The Gaviota Coast is where the northern and southern California ecosystems meet, and is host to a wealth of biological diversity. More than 40 sensitive vertebrate species are found there, as well as 525 plant species, representing approximately half of the plant families found in California. The Gaviota Coast is well suited for outdoor recreation, with expansive ocean, island, and mountain views, and miles of beaches and inland landscapes.

TPL is a national land conservation organization dedicated to conserving land for people as parks, greenways, wilderness areas and natural, historic and cultural resources for future generations. Founded in 1972, TPL has protected more than 1.4 million acres nationwide. For more information find TPL on-line at