Refugio Spill 5-20-15 Report


As the second day of the Refugio Oil Spill winds down, more questions arise as more information becomes available. Why wasn’t the leak detected immediately, and why has it taken so long for containment and cleanup efforts to engage? Why has a distant firm been retained to lead the cleanup effort when local firms have the equipment and resources to start the cleanup? How could this section of pipeline be inspected two weeks ago and presumably cleared for use, yet then fail so catastrophically? During permitting and in a subsequent lawsuit, the operator successfully argued against local oversight in favor of the State Fire Marshall – the only pipeline in the County without local oversight. Was the State as vigilant as it needed to be? Why did the County’s Emergency Operations Manager initially say this was an abandoned pipeline?

The spill has grown to 105,000 gallons from 21,000, and from four miles wide to nine. Calm winds have been replaced this evening by strong offshores, which will likely blow the now two oil slicks off shore and away from the coast. Air pollution from the oil slick is a health hazard, prompting public safety advisories to warn humans to stay away – but marine critters won’t get the memo. The number of oiled birds and animals is expected to rise dramatically in coming days. Both Refugio and El Capitan Campgrounds have been closed to the public as the slick moves easterly, towards Santa Barbara. Representatives of local Chumash tribes have been notified and are providing monitors to ensure consideration of sensitive resources. 

The Los Angeles Times reports that the pipeline operator, Plains Pipeline, has a rate of incidents per mile three times greater than the national average. Plains is number five in incidents nationally, among 1,700 pipeline operators. They have repeatedly stated their “deep regret that the release happened.” This pipeline carried up to 6,300,000 gallons of oil daily. 

Due to the hazards and the nature of current cleanup activities, volunteers are not desired at the site at this time. See to learn when and how you can help out.

Local groups are planning a "Stand in the Sand" event at Noon on Sunday, May 31, on State Street in Santa Barbara. 

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Refugio Spill, 5-19-15


The pipeline rupture near Refugio State Beach on the Gaviota Coast confirms the fact that oil production and transportation are not secure and threaten the environment that the Santa Barbara community has worked so hard to preserve. The Gaviota Coast is a world class environment and deserves to be treated with the utmost respect and not degraded by extractive oil industries. Oil production, processing, and transportation facilities should be removed from the Santa Barbara Channel and the Gaviota Coast as soon as possible.



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Las Varas Update, May 2015


The County Planning Commission denied the subdivision and lot line adjustment of the iconic Las Varas Ranch on Wednesday, April 29. The 1,700 acre ranch straddles 101, just to the west of Dos Pueblos Canyon, and includes the sweeping views of ocean pastures, historic barns, orchards, and eucalyptus windrows. The owners attempted to create additional lots on the ocean side of 101, and to gain approval to build upward of 14 house on 7 lots. The project would have significantly fragmented this working ranch, imperiling its agricultural viability. The owners refused to provide conservation or agricultural easements for the protection of the environment and agricultural productivity. As one commissioner said, “approval of this project could set an unwelcome precedent for the Gaviota Coast.” By a 3:2 majority, they voted to recommend that the Board of Supervisors deny this ill-conceived project.

The Gaviota Coast Conservancy has consistently opposed this project since 2007, at every level of the permitting process. Our sincere thanks to Commissioners Hartmann, Brown, and Cooney, for their strong statements supporting denial of this project, and their clear understanding of the importance of protecting the Gaviota Coast. One of the Commissioners cited the thousand letters that the Commission received over the course of the permit process as a strong influence on her decision to deny the project; your participation did make a difference!

A battle was won, but the war continues. The Las Varas project will now proceed to the County Supervisors for their final decision within 2 to 3 months. We will update you on this process, and will need your continued help to seal the denial of this project.

Phil McKenna, President, GCC

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President's Update Winter 2014


Photo by Bill Dewey

Naples is Sold

First Bank of Missouri sold Santa Barbara Ranch, aka Naples, to Standard Portfolios for $44.5 million. David Liu is the principal at Standard Portfolios, a real estate company with large apartment holdings that is reported by the Wall Street Journal to be funded by Chinese capital. Matt Osgood has reappeared to purportedly serve as the project developer; you will remember Mr. Osgood as the developer that secured the entitlements on the property in 2008 and subsequently defaulted on over $85M in loans in the Great Recession. First Bank spurned our offer to buy the property in 2010, and then rejected a market priced offer in 2014 by a “conservation developer” that we supported. We will continue to fight to preserve the rural character of this important property. 

The County’s 2008 preliminary approval of a 72-lot development is still effective, but going stale, and must still be approved by the Coastal Commission. Mr. Osgood will appear before the Board of Supervisors in March seeking transfer of a 20-year development agreement from First Bank to the new owner. Ironically, Mr. Osgood thwarted an earlier transfer to First Bank in 2010. The key question for the Supervisors is whether the new developer has the financial resources and reputation to complete their obligations to the County. 

Visit Naples

It’s springtime at Naples, and as we go to press, the property is still legally accessible for public recreational uses. To access Naples, go north on Highway 101, exit at Dos Pueblos Canyon Road and follow the poorly-maintained frontage road under the freeway to the stop sign. Turn left at the stop sign and drive about ¼ mile (back toward Santa Barbara) until just before the 101 southbound onramp, and park to the right on the ample shoulder near the large white gate. There is a pedestrian path to the left of the large white gate. Follow the ranch road (Langtree), leaving any gates as you find them, cautiously crossing the rail road track. Climb the sturdy ranch gate to the south of the rail road track and enjoy the beauty of the Naples mesa. Volunteers are needed to record public use at several locations on the Gaviota Coast – contact Janet Koed at 805-683-6631 to spend part of a day helping save our coast.

Las Varas Ranch

In mid-February the County Supervisors sent the Las Varas environmental impact report (EIR) back to Planning Commission for one more review, asking County staff to prepare findings for both approval and denial, depending on the Planning Commission’s action. This project is a complex subdivision of an 1800-acre ranch to facilitate increased coastal development. In their 2014 review of the project, the Planning Commission found the EIR inadequate in the areas of visual resources, agricultural resources, biological resources, cultural resources, land use, recreation and growth inducing impacts. At the Board hearing last month, County planning staff defended their EIR, highlighting the conflict between the Planning Commission and County staff on numerous issues. Although the project includes easements for several trail corridors, these are improperly sited and offer no real public benefits.  The proposed project would create a “freeway” coastal trail bounded by a 6 foot high chain link fence topped with 3 strands of barbed wire, would harm productive agriculture, would forever alter a highly scenic historical landscape and would induce future growth on and off the Ranch, and is at odds with a number of fundamental Local Coastal Plan policies. There was extraordinary public participation before the Board of Supervisors, which will be important to repeat to encourage the Planning Commission to deny this ill-conceived project. 

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Refugio Beach Sand Loss

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While the Conservancy is often focused on development proposals on the Gaviota Coast, we also keep our eye on other issues. This loss of sand at Refugio State Beach is a serious concern. Hopefully it is a natural cycle and the sand will return. But should it not, the State may have to implement some sort of protection for all the infrastructure built on what was the mouth of the creek. Stay tuned.     

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Globally Significant Botanical Resources


photo by Shaw Leonard

The indigenous botanical resources of the Gaviota Coast include rich and complex associations of plant species and vegetation types that are characteristic of Central Coastal California and also unique to the region. The many landforms of varying ages, origins, and composition; the transition zone between northern and southern biogeographic areas along the California coast at Pt. Conception; and the regional, seasonal, and changing climatic conditions contribute to the formation of a large number of habitats and subsequently a diverse flora.

Broad appreciation for the Gaviota Coast exists not only because of the region’s varied landscape, rich biological diversity, and unique natural heritage, but also because of the goods and services provided to its residents and visitors that contribute to the special nature of the region. The Gaviota Coast provides a distinct sense of place and it is of major importance as a natural classroom for all levels of training and investigation. Conservation of the natural heritage, including restoration of its habitats and recovery of sensitive species, is of paramount importance to our quality of life and to that of future generations. Successful stewardship of the region’s natural resources, including maintaining a balance between conservation and utilization of resources, is of global interest and is a significant contribution toward leadership in the conservation of Mediterranean-climate ecosystems in general.     

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We Belong in Wild Places


photo by Shaw Leonard

I was raised in Burbank when the air was thick and the pastures were a distant memory. My father routinely took me to the “wild lands” surrounding the San Fernando Valley, expecially the Santa Monica Mountains. I discovered the marvels of geology at the top of a ridge with an ocean view, where my father showed me the fossils embedded in rocks we were sitting on and described the forces that created our perch. We discovered a mountain lion long after it had perceived us; the reality of a lion in our domain thrilled me then and now. My father showed me tadpoles in the creek and we visited them pond for a month observing the transformation to frog. I learned the value of patient observation.

So I was a city boy, but because I had access to natural landscapes (and a wonderful teacher), I became an armchair naturalist. I camped, fished, hiked, biked, and learned to marvel at the common and ordinary.

I have passed on my father’s gift to me by introducing my children to the natural world and I advocate for public access to that natural world so the same opportunity is not lost to others. Without the direct experience of nature one is a “tenant” on earth, without pride of ownership; a poor steward of our fragile home. So I will argue for the broadest possible public access to the Gaviota region, consistent with the preservation and restoration of our natural heritage. And there is the rub. 

We are part of nature. We belong in wild landscapes, be we change them. The vision of a static nature, pure in form, finished and complete, is a myth. We bring many of the trappings of society with us when we enter uncivilized landscapes. This is perceived as being negative, and it sometimes is. But, we can contribute to the preservation of nature through our understanding of the living earth, gained best from direct experience.

Citizens of our complex and increasingly crowded society are divorced from the natural processes that support them. It is quite possible to intellectually understand these forces. However, that understanding is incomplete without the imprint of direct experience. Appropriate public access provides the stage for this direct experience.

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New Naples Investors

‘Mythical Being’ Wants Naples

Chinese-American Investor David Liu Eying Prized Gaviota Property

 According to the recent story in the Santa Barbara Independent (Feb. 26, 2015), "The long-dormant fight to carve 1,000 acres of breathtaking Gaviota real estate along both sides of Highway 101 into 72 parcels ​— ​a k a the Naples Project ​— ​just woke up. Matt Osgood, whose bankruptcy in 2010 put the development of Santa Barbara Ranch into a state of suspended agitation, is back, hoping to revive his old project with a new ownership structure. Osgood and his brother Mark, a real estate investor, enticed Chinese-American investor David Liu of Arcadia to buy the Naples property for $44.5 million."

According to Gaviota Coast Conservancy board president Phil McKenna, "The Conservancy will continue its opposition to inappropriate residential estate development on the Gaviota Coast. A large tract of over-sized houses is antithetical to our objective of preserving the rural character of the Coast. This has been our position since 1998 and we will continue to actively promote it."

Here's a history of the contentious Naples area from articles in the Santa Barbara Independent. 



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Should Gaviota Go Residential?


(From the Feb. 12 article in the SB Independent by Matt Ketteman): Should a 3,500-acre Gaviota Coast ranch be allowed to reconfigure in a way that would open the door for a handful of new oceanfront homes while also dedicating trails and a parking lot for the public to use? That’s what the Doheny family is seeking to do with their Las Varas Ranch, which is located just east of El Capitan State Beach. But they’re running into a wall of conservationists, who’ve strived for years to keep the stretch of coast undeveloped, and public-access advocates, who don’t think the proposed trails are good enough. The nearly decade-old proposal is scheduled to come before the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on February 17, when the Supes could accept the environmental review as is or order deeper analysis of the impacts to farming and recreation.


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Gaviota Trails



On January 24, friends and I took a hike up on the Gaviota Coast. The Bill Wallace trailhead is at the El Capitan Canyon Resort’s Ocean Meadows campground (pets are not allowed on this trail). Well, actually the parking lot is just BEFORE you go into the gate to the campground. We did a short loop of about 4 miles and the views were SPECTACULAR, especially because we followed the signs that read “hard” rather than the “easy” routes. Resting in the iridescent green fields we watched the beautiful sets of waves roll in, one point after another, from Coal Oil Point almost to Refugio. San Miguel Island, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz and Anacapa all saluted us. Gaviota Peak dared us to push ourselves harder. This was enough amazing beauty for one day. The word “WOW” was way overused. I recommend this hike for a reminder of why we need to save these treasures. Remember that many volunteers spend endless hours protecting this place. Thank you. I am also grateful for the farmers and ranchers who work hard to preserve a rural way of life on the Gaviota Coast.