Grant Would Help Save Gaviota Coast Land (CA)

SANTA BARBARA, CA, 4/24/02— Nearing the end of a two-year preservation effort, on Thursday, April 25, the board of the California Coastal Conservancy will hear a request for a $1.45 million grant to enable the public acquisition and protection of the 2,500-acre El Capitan Ranch along Santa Barbara’s Gaviota Coast. The Trust for Public Land (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 El Capitan State Beach and the Los Padres National Forest. When funding is in place, TPL will convey the property to the California Department of Parks and Recreation for long-term protection. The grant under consideration on Thursday would be in addition to the $1.6 million the Conservancy has already committed toward this acquisition.

“Public acquisition of 2,500 acres of the El Capitan Ranch provides a terrific opportunity to link the ocean to the mountains and the mountains to the Santa Ynez Valley, thus ensuring access to many incredible vistas of the Pacific Ocean and the Channel Islands,” stated Senator Jack O’Connell. “In addition, this purchase will continue a longstanding goal of permanent protection for this magnificent place we call the Gaviota Coast,” added O’Connell.

TPL still needs private monies to close the final funding gap on the 2,500-acre public acquisition. This month, TPL launched a fundraising campaign to raise $500,000 by June 30 from the Santa Barbara area community to complete the public purchase of the property.

In addition to protecting the 2,500-acre El Capitan Ranch through their work with TPL, the landowners are donating 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, expected to be finalized in the next three months, will allow 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.

“I am delighted that we will soon have an extraordinary new State Park on the Gaviota Coast,” exclaimed Assemblymember Hannah-Beth Jackson, a legislative representative on the California Coastal Conservancy Board of Directors. “Throughout the process, everyone involved has been committed to protecting the rural character, agricultural values and natural beauty of the Gaviota Coast from the threat of urban sprawl. This cooperative effort between the landowners, State officials, and conservation organizations provides an excellent model for future Gaviota Coast protection endeavors. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of Mr. Blitz and Mr. Himovitz, the Trust for Public Land, State Agencies and local conservation organizations, this magnificent land will now be protected in perpetuity for present and future generations to explore and enjoy.”

“The conservation vision shared by the landowners, the Land Trust, TPL, and the local environmental community is enabling us to ensure the long-term protection of a total of 3,150 magnificent acres of land,” said Michael Feeney, Executive Director for the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County.

“Although a minimal amount of development may take place on the 650-acre privately retained portion of the ranch, most of the property will be preserved as wildlife habitat and for the enjoyment of future generations. This project puts forth a workable model between conservationists and landowners that helps to leverage protection of the high-value real estate on the Gaviota Coast,” said Debra Geiler, Sr. Project Manager for TPL.

“The high cost of land protection in the Santa Barbara area requires everyone to pitch in to get the job done. We are under a looming June 30 deadline—we only need $500,000 from the community,” said Margaret Eadington, TPL Central Coast Program Director. “The community is receiving a tremendous property for a mere 4 percent of the land value,” added Eadington.

Once owned by oil giant Texaco, El Capitan Ranch includes 11 miles of hiking trails with panoramic views. The ranch’s protection will augment the recreational opportunities found in the nearby state parks and national forest. The acquisition will create both a public trail and a habitat corridor stretching from the ocean to the mountains.

“As many local residents may know, State Park Officials have dreamed about acquiring portions of the El Capitan Ranch for the last 25 years. We are truly honored and looking forward to becoming the agency responsible for such a fantastic property and look forward to involving the community as we make plans for limited public access, protection, and stewardship,” said Rich Rojas, District Superintendent for the California Department of Parks and Recreation’s Channel Coast District.

Although El Capitan Ranch is TPL’s first acquisition on the Gaviota Coast, TPL is familiar to Santa Barbara residents as the organization that 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 in 1997.

TPL is accepting donations to the campaign for the El Capitan Ranch purchase. The public can mail a contribution to The Trust for Public Land-California, 3905 State Street, Box 140, Santa Barbara, CA 93105 or call 415/495-5660. 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 1.2 million acres nationwide.