Gaviota Coast State Park Land Swells (CA)

SANTA BARBARA, 10/7/02—The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and the California Department of Parks and Recreation announced today the public purchase of the 2,500-acre El Capitan Ranch property, the largest public land conservation purchase to date along the Gaviota Coast. The purchase, which increases the amount of state park land on the Gaviota coast from 3,000 to 5,500 acres, was made possible through $9.5 million in public and private contributions, and the landowners’ offer to maintain the property for the next five years while State Parks works to secure funds for long-term operation and management.

“State Park officials have dreamed about acquiring El Capitan Ranch for the last 25 years. We are truly honored to be the agency responsible for such a fantastic property and look forward to working with the community as we make plans for habitat protection and suitable recreational opportunities on the land,” said Richard Rojas, District Superintendent for the California Department of Parks and Recreation’s Channel Coast District.

TPL struck a deal with landowners Chuck Blitz and Roger Himovitz last year to buy the property, valued at $12 million, to preserve a critical wildlife corridor and recreation link between the adjacent El Capitan State Beach and Los Padres National Forest. The ranch, with its sweeping coastal and mountain views, will be open for public enjoyment once State Parks completes a general plan, with public input, to determine appropriate uses of the property. In the meantime , the public can enjoy the property through docent-led tours offered by State Parks, which are scheduled to begin next spring.

“Due to the support of our agency partners, the landowners, and the Santa Barbara community, for years to come people will be able to experience and appreciate the special resources that El Capitan Ranch offers,” said Reed Holderman, Executive Director, TPL-California. “Placing this magnificent land in public ownership protects a unique recreational and wildlife habitat corridor stretching from the ocean to the mountains, including 11 miles of hiking trails with tremendous views,” added Holderman.

Thanks to the leadership of Senator Jack O’Connell and Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson, public funding for the purchase of El Capitan Ranch included $5 million from the California Department of Parks and Recreation. The project also received $3 million in grants from the State Coastal Conservancy, and a $1 million CalTrans Transportation Enhancement Activities grant. The landowners, in addition to assuming maintenance responsibilities at the ranch for the next five years, made a contribution of $2.5 million in land value.

“It is wonderful to see El Capitan Ranch in protected public ownership,” said Senator Jack O’Connell. “I am proud to be a part of the effort that is helping to protect our magnificent and much-loved Gaviota Coast.”

“The El Capitan Ranch purchase stands as a workable model for land conservation along the Gaviota Coast. TPL works independently with willing sellers and public agencies to structure transactions that fairly compensate landowners, while striving to get the best deal for the public. We are always exploring new conservation opportunities in an effort to save this beautiful coastline from inappropriate development,” said Debra Geiler, TPL Senior Project Manager.

In May, TPL launched a campaign to raise the last $500,000 necessary to purchase the ranch. Within days after the funding gap was announced, Pierre Claeyssens, a well-known local philanthropist, offered a $250,000 challenge grant to jump-start the effort. The response was tremendous – in seven weeks nearly 300 Santa Barbara area residents made donations. With just days left to reach the goal, Santa Barbara area residents Peter and Stephanie Sperling made a $110,000 donation to close the gap and successfully end the campaign.

“I am delighted that the people of Santa Barbara have come forward to help save El Capitan Ranch and the Gaviota Coast,” said Assembly Member Hannah Beth Jackson. “I am inspired by our community’s commitment to preserve our magnificent coast, and I will continue to fight to protect these resources for future generations.”

In addition to selling the 2,500-acre El Capitan Ranch for conservation through their work with TPL, the landowners donated to the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County a conservation easement restricting development on the 650 acres of the ranch they have retained in private ownership. The conservation easement allows for agricultural use of the privately held land, continued use of the developed horse ranch and private El Capitan campground, and the construction of a maximum of two additional homes on this 650 acres.

The purchase of El Capitan Ranch by State Parks is a key milestone in the conservation of the Gaviota Coast, the last remaining stretch of largely undeveloped and unprotected coastline in Southern California. In August, TPL announced that it has entered into an agreement with Santa Barbara Development Partners and Comstock Homes to acquire the 137-acre Monarch Point Bluffs property, also known as Ellwood Mesa, at the eastern gateway of the Gaviota Coast. If the transaction is successful, TPL plans to convey the land to the city of Goleta for protection as open space and wildlife habitat. The cherished property is threatened with the development of a residential subdivision, including up to 131 single-family homes.

The California State Parks System includes 273 parks, encompassing more than 1.4 million acres. About a quarter of California’s 1,100-mile coastline is within its jurisdiction. California State Parks attracts more than 85 million visitors a year, the most of any state park system in the nation.

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.