Monday, April 12, 2010

Future of Gaviota Coast Still Shrouded in Discussion

By Ben Preston, Noozhawk Staff Writer

From left, Naples Coalition president Phil McKenna, ranch manager Jose Baer, real estate lawyer Charles Kimball, Paul Van Leer of the Santa Barbara County Agricultural Advisory Board and rancher Guner Tautrim led the latest round of discussion on the future of the Gaviota coast. (Ben Preston / Noozhawk photo)

Latest stakeholders meeting tackles agricultural viability and visual impacts of development

Driving west on Highway 101, it’s easy to let the stress of city life slip away as Santa Barbara’s bustling urban center dissolves into a truly stunning rural coastline. Over the years, developers, agricultural interests and environmentalists alike have eyed the nearly pristine strip of land — stretching from the western end of Goleta all the way to Hollister Ranch near Point Conception — each with their own vision of what its future holds.

In a continuing effort to create a general plan for the Gaviota coast, Santa Barbara County’s Gaviota Planning Advisory Committee met at Brandon School in Goleta last week to bat ideas back and forth and field comments from the public.

Comprised of Gaviota coast stakeholder representatives, the committee — known as GavPAC — held an all-day workshop in March to allow stakeholders and community members to voice ideas and concerns related to the planning process. A major issue touched upon at Wednesday’s meeting was the viability of agriculture, which currently dominates the landscape. As a result of ever-increasing land values, several Gaviota coast ranchers and farmers suggested that unless the regional business model for food distribution changes to one more focused on local food production instead of national commodities, the future of agriculture faces a dubious future in the area.

“If you really want to make money on agriculture, the land prices in Fresno are cheaper and the products have a higher value there,” said GavPAC member Mark Lloyd, a development consultant who has been assisting Santa Barbara Ranch developer Matt Osgood, whose Naples project is currently making its way through the county’s regulatory process.

Gaviota rancher Gunner Tautrin countered that if Santa Barbara area businesses were more supportive of local food production, agriculture would be financially feasible on the Gaviota coast.

“I’m not sure I want the county government designing the local food distribution system,” said GavPAC member Michael Feeney. “I’d rather see the farmers do that.”

Making the transition from agriculture to the often discussed issue of visual impacts of development on the coast, Feeney asserted that developers haven’t properly addressed visual impacts in most project proposals.

“Dealing with visual impacts isn’t as simple as pushing houses back into the canyons where they can’t be seen,” he said, noting that more roads and infrastructure would have to be built to accommodate more remote construction.

GavPAC will continue its discussion, again inviting public participation, at its next meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. April 21. The meeting will be held at Vista de las Cruces School, 9467 San Julian Road, just north of the Gaviota Pass on Highway 101.

— Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston can be reached at

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