Terra Firma?

Mike Lunsford & I recently  took a walk on the bluff-top west of Refugio State Park, enjoying a beautiful morning. Mike was a founder and long-time President of the Conservancy and as a career State Park ranger on the Gaviota Coast, knows the terrain well.

Mike and his family lived in a doublewide trailer for a number of years on this bluff top about a quarter mile west of Refugio Beach. When we reached the building site of his former home, it was no longer there. It wasn’t a mystery; that section of the 100-foot-tall bluff  had simple fallen into the ocean. Mike estimated that about 60 feet of the bluff that supported a deck, the doublewide and a single lane access road, had collapsed into the sea since he and his family had moved into the trailer in 1979. That’s an average of about 1 ½ feet per year. Pretty dynamic for something we think is terra firma.

In the cove at Refugio State Park the palm trees bear additional witness to coastal erosion from storms and climate change. The trees were planted about 1928 and developed into an iconic, some would say exotic, landscape. Early photos of the palms show them planted in alluvial soil adjacent, but removed from the water and sand https://goletahistory.com/the-refugio-palms/.

Today those palms are being swamped by climate change with their toes engulfed in sand and sea water.

©Reeve Woolpert / reevewoolpert.com

Exposed Root Balls


The exposed root balls of the trees, higher than my head, were once completely anchored in soil. Palm tree trunks and roots are incredibly fibrous, but the soil that nurtures them is porous, eroding easily given the power of storm surges riding on a rising ocean.

The end result are palms adrift.

©Reeve Woolpert / Reevewoolpert.com

Palms in Storm Surge


Less dramatic, but equally telling in the tales of land lost on the Gaviota Coast are the government survey markers at Naples (aka Santa Barbara Ranch). The marker below was set on the bluff near the ocean by the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey in 1927. These benchmarks record survey points the government established when they were mapping the country. The benchmarks were set in bunches of three. The “triangulation station” was the precise point being established. Two other “reference marks” (denoted as “RM”) were set with arrows pointing to the triangulation station. If the triangulation station was lost, the reference marks would point to its location. At Naples the triangulation station was lost to bluff erosion.

©Reeve Woolpert / reevewoolpert.com

©Reeve Woolpert / reevewoolpert.com

Survey Markers at Naples


Many thanks to Reeve Woolpert, photographer extraordinaire, who has documented the Gaviota Coast and provided the Conservancy with his images, knowledge, and good cheer for many years. Reeve tells me that the original government survey of the West Coast of the United States was begun in 1850 near Point Conception, a logical place to start measuring the breadth of this land.

A brief introduction to benchmarks can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survey_marker


GCC Action Alert! Gaviota Culvert Project


You're invited to participate!

WHAT:           Board of Supervisors Hearing on GCC’s appeal of Caltrans Gaviota Culvert Project

WHEN:           Tuesday September 1, 2020

WHERE:         Virtual participation only

CONTACT:           Doug Kern, (805) 222-6184; [email protected]

REQUESTED ACTION: Please email the Supervisors at [email protected], and/or testify remotely at the Board hearing (suggested talking points below).  Instructions for virtual participation are listed on the Agenda, which is available at https://santabarbara.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx#current (see page 16, Item 3) along with the hearing materials.  Written comments must be submitted by 5pm Monday 8/31 if 1 page or less, or by noon Friday 8/29 if longer than 1 page.

PROJECT OVERVIEW AND KEY ISSUES:  Caltrans has requested County approval of a Development Plan, Coastal Development Permit, and Conditional Use Permit, to authorize the replacement of an existing culvert off Highway 101 in the Canada del Barro drainage on park land just east of Gaviota State Beach Park

Culvert Project Site MapCalTrans HWY 101 Gaviota Culvert Project

The portion of Highway 101 where the Project is proposed has an extraordinary level of wildlife-vehicle conflicts, documented by studies done by Dr. Stratton and others of UCSB’s Cheadle Center for Biodiversity & Ecological Restoration (CCBER) and Dr. Shilling of UC Davis.  Caltrans’ own Wildlife Crossings Guidance Manual[i] identifies culvert replacements as an “opportunity to enhance existing rates of crossing and decrease rates of vehicle-animal collisions if the new culverts are larger than the existing culverts and include wildlife ledges, fencing, and vegetation to enhance their use.”  However, for the Gaviota Culvert, Caltrans maintains (incorrectly) that there are no wildlife corridors to consider, and has declined to accommodate wildlife crossing in its project, even though they propose habitat restoration that could attract additional wildlife to the area. 

Wildlife Deaths near Project Site (Red cluster at bottom of map)

Most of the Project site is zoned for recreation and is currently owned and managed by California State Parks.  Several public trail segments exist on or adjacent to the Project site including the proposed California Coastal Trail (CCT) primary alignment along the coastal bluff, and an existing trail segment north of 101.  As part of the Project, 5 acres of State Park land will be transferred into Caltrans’ jurisdiction for construction and maintenance access, including over 2 acres of the “Gaviota Village” property.  The Gaviota Village property was acquired with funding from the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program (CELCP), Santa Barbara County Coastal Resource Enhancement Fund (CREF), and the Goleta Valley Land Trust, and is deed restricted for use as open space, habitat restoration and conservation, and passive recreation including trails.  Caltrans has not provided adequate information about the proposed transfer, and has not demonstrated that the Project is authorized on the deed restricted portion.  Moreover, Caltrans proposes no recreational amenities or Coastal Trail (CCT) segment to mitigate impacts of the 5-acre loss of state parkland. 

California Coastal Trail near Culvert Project site ((just above the words Figure 4.3 lower left)

The environmental review Caltrans conducted for the Project is clearly inadequate.  The County must rely on Caltrans’ Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND), which was prepared and adopted before the Gaviota Coast Plan was fully implemented in the Coastal Zone and without considering its policies.  Since the MND’s adoption, new information of substantial importance including the CCBER and UC Davis wildlife studies and Gaviota Village deed restrictions have come to light and necessitate subsequent environmental review.  New mitigation measures/conditions are necessary to reduce the recreational impact of the land transfer out of State Parks jurisdiction, to reduce indirect and cumulative impacts to wildlife, and to achieve consistency with the Gaviota Coast Plan.  Additionally proposed off-site mitigation in Refugio Creek is adjacent to a Monarch aggregation site which requires evaluation and mitigation.  As a Responsible Agency, the County has a duty to ensure that these environmental impacts are adequately addressed before approving the requested permits.

The Planning Commission approved the Gaviota Culvert Project over the objections of GCC and the Coastal Ranches Conservancy (CRC), downplaying the significance of CCBER’s study and glossing over the land transfer issue.  GCC and CRC each appealed the Planning Commission’s approval to the Board of Supervisors, and are asking that the Board uphold our appeal, direct subsequent environmental review, and support Project modifications to accommodate wildlife passage under Highway 101 and passive recreational uses.   


  • Caltrans’ Highway 101 facilities have severely impacted Gaviota Coast wildlife including bobcat and deer, which have been recently observed at the mouth of the culvert proposed for removal.
  • New expert studies confirm the need to reevaluate the Project’s impacts to wildlife, including whether the proposed habitat restoration activities will attract wildlife and increase wildlife-vehicle collisions.
  • The culvert must be redesigned to accommodate wildlife passage as described in Caltrans’ own Wildlife Crossings Guidance Manual.
  • Land under the control of State Parks must not be transferred to Caltrans without offsetting mitigation such as provision of a California Coastal Trail (CCT) segment.
  • Unless and until State Parks has secured approval to transfer or encumber the Gaviota Village property, the transfer is not permissible and the Project cannot proceed as proposed.
  • The Project cannot be approved as proposed due to conflicts with the Gaviota Coast Plan including with recreation policies requiring that existing and proposed trails be preserved and provided for in discretionary development projects, and policies protecting sensitive wildlife and wildlife corridors.
  • The GCC and CRC appeals raise serious flaws in the Project design and environmental review, and should be granted.

Thank you for considering this Action Alert and for making your comments to the Board of Supervisors!

With best regards,

Doug Kern, Gaviota Coast Conservancy, Executive Director

[i] Caltrans Wildlife Crossings Guidance Manual: https://roadecology.ucdavis.edu/files/content/projects/CA_Wildlife%20Crossings%20Guidance_Manual.pdf


Hollister Ranch Coastal Access Program, Public Survey #3

The State is engaged in the Hollister Ranch Coastal Access Program (HRCAP), a planning process to create responsible public access across the 8.5 mile coastline of Hollister Ranch. This planning process began with the 1982 Hollister Ranch Access Plan, which was never implemented.  

This process is proceeding quickly so it is important to make your opinions known now. The State has created the 3rd in a series of online public surveys, this one to examine the HRCAP's Objectives and Evaluation Criteria. We encourage you to read through the HRCAP's eight (8) Objectives and provide input on the Evaluation Criteria at the following link:

Do the Objectives and Evaluation Criteria make sense?  What has been omitted and what ideas will you contribute to make this a better plan?

Make your voice known so this vital link in the California Coastal Trail can be realized.  Sign up at the end of the survey to receive notices and updates.

The California Coastal Commission has a comprehensive website outlining the elements of the present planning process, historical documents, photographs, court records, and more.


Thank you for your participation in this survey, and for making your voice heard in this process!

Executive Director

PS – the Gaviota Coast Conservancy has taken the laboring oar to make public access to Hollister Ranch a reality. Please send a contribution, consider us in your estate planning, or volunteer with GCC. As Peter Douglas immortalized, "the coast is never saved, it’s always being saved."


Hollister Ranch Coastal Access Program Begins!

Hollister Ranch Coastal Access Program (HRCAP) Begins!

The State is engaged in the Hollister Ranch Coastal Access Program Planning Process (HRCAP) to create responsible public access across the 8.5-mile coastline of Hollister Ranch. This planning process began with the 1982 Hollister Ranch Access Plan, which was never implemented.

With the legislation AB-1680, authored by Assemblywoman Monique Limón, and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in October 2019, the California Coastal Commission, in collaboration with the State Coastal Conservancy, the Department of Parks and Recreation, and the State Lands Commission, by April 1, 2021, will develop a contemporary public access program for Hollister Ranch that will replace the existing coastal access program for Hollister Ranch that the commission adopted in 1982.

I represent GCC as a member of a large and enthusiastic Working Group working on the program. We had 100% attendance at our first Zoom meeting, which included public members, state officials, and consultants. The group is diverse and includes representatives from a wide variety of interests and will provide input on the program elements leading to an adopted Final Plan next year.

Everyone in the public will have multiple opportunities to comment and participate along with the Working Group members as three Public Surveys and two Public Workshops are planned between now and February 2021.

Gaviota Coast Conservancy is encouraged by the program and we're participating actively. We will forward official announcements regarding the upcoming Public Workshops and Public Surveys as soon as they become available and GCC encourages everyone to contribute your time and ideas.

We're looking forward to a plan that provides for thoughtful, respectful, and well-planned public access to the coastal areas of Hollister Ranch.

We've waited a long time for this moment. Over the next seven months Working Group meetings, Public Surveys, and Public Workshops will come along at a rapid pace to produce a Hollister Ranch Coastal Access Program Plan next Spring.  Buckle up!


Gaviota Coast Conservancy

Executive Director



A New Crop on the Gaviota Coast

The Gaviota Coast has been “anchored” by agriculture for centuries. Cattle grazing was the mainstay of the Spanish land grants. Dry-farming followed with crops such as wheat, tomatoes and beans. Orchards were created with large plantings of avocados and lemons from the 1950s to the present day. Unique crops such as macadamia nuts, cherimoyas, and abalone are also produced here. And did you know that the commercial production of the cymbidium orchid was pioneered at Dos Pueblos Ranch in the 1950s?

But coffee? Yes, coffee!

At 650 feet, near the Los Padres National Forest boundary, Jay Ruskey of FRINJ Coffee is exploring the nuances of coffee production, applying regenerative agricultural techniques, and mimicking the native habitat of the coffee tree. Jay began developing the first commercial coffee farm in California in 2002 on his ranch, Good Land Organics, with test plots of 13 arabica varieties planted under various conditions on the ranch.

The coffee tree grows best in rich, well-drained soil with mild temperatures, frequent rain, and shaded sun. Not all of these conditions naturally occur on the Gaviota Coast, but the fundamental characteristics, good drainage, and mild temperatures are found on the ranch. Soil amendments and irrigation can compensate for the missing necessities of rich soil and frequent rain and shade can be creatively provided. The fruit of the tree, known as the “cherry,” named for its visual resemblance to that fruit, contains the coffee bean. Too much heat and sun can cause the cherry to ripen too quickly, producing an inferior bean; sun is essential, but shade is necessary to produce high quality beans.

Tending to Coffee Plants on the Gaviota Coast


After years of study and experience, Jay has created a growing environment that mimics coffee’s native habitat. Two varieties of tropical trees will be inter-planted with the coffee trees and pruned to provide the coffee tree with filtered shade and a windbreak from the down-canyon drafts. The coffee tree can grow to 30 feet. In commercial production the tree is pruned to a human height to concentrate its energy and facilitate selective harvesting by hand, providing wonderful synergy with the companion planting of the tropical trees.

The Gaviota Coast Conservancy was very pleased to provide important financial assistance to realize the development of a demonstration coffee agroforest of 1.13 acres on the Gaviota Coast at Good Land Organics. This planting will demonstrate new and scalable cropping systems that have the potential to enhance and expand the viability of Gaviota agricultural operations. Through regenerative agricultural techniques, the planting will improve soil management protocols for healthy orchard ecology. Data will be produced to study practices to increase soil water retention, carbon sequestration, and nutrient exchange between diverse plant polycultures.

For the first time in history, coffee is being grown commercially on the U.S. mainland and it was pioneered on the Gaviota Coast!

The undeveloped site of the coffee grove, a south facing hillside, with remnants of an avocado planting



National Coffee Association

Good Land Organics

FRINJ Coffee

A great read; The Monk of Mokha, Dave Eggers




One Man's Trash is Another Woman's Treasure

Beach Clean Up


Some time ago, before “social distancing” mandates were imposed across the lands, a group of hearty Gaviota guardians were called upon to remove a large amount of plastic debris near Driftwoods Cove. This volunteer group toiled for the good part of a day dragging irrigation tubing and various other rubbish from the picturesque beach. Jim and Susan Deacon filled their truck full of trash. Warren Powers filled his van with an 8 x 3 ½ foot piece of corrugated plastic tube and drove to the dump to see if it could be recycled. No dice. The transfer station could not repurpose it.

Jim and Susan Deacon moving "one man's trash"


Knowing the landfill was not a good home for plastic, Warren put his creative Powers to work and came up with a solution. He called his wife Eva, a landscape designer who is also the volunteer President of the Board of the Santa Ynez Valley Botanic Garden. Eva knew this beach blight could be used for something at the Garden, but she was not sure exactly what: A culvert? A play tunnel for the visiting children?  Something for the potting shed?

New Play Tunnel


The tube sat behind the tool shed for a while . . . An idea finally came:  it could be turned into a play tunnel for the kids. A generous grant was procured from Montecito Bank and Trust. This grant allowed the botanic garden folks to hire a mason to create a retaining wall with local river rocks around the plastic tube. Next, native flora was planted.  And so this trash was converted to treasure. A perfect example of the environmental mantra:  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Buellton Department of Parks and Recreation offers an outdoor summer program at the Garden under the leadership of Kyle Abello. Children are encouraged to crawl through this tunnel and then talk about underground critters. At the Garden, there are other great projects going on such as the creation of a medicinal plant garden and construction of a Chumash willow and tule hut, ”tule ‘ap”, under the guidance of tribal member Julio Carrillo.

Santa Ynez Valley Botanic Garden Play Tunnel


If you want to be inspired by the transformation of this trash to treasure, you might consider visiting the Santa Ynez Valley Botanic Garden in Buellton. See their website for more information at santaynezvalleybotanicgarden.org

And next time you see a plastic out in the wild, remember Warren’s creative Powers and imagine how this trash could become treasure.

Thanks for cleaning the beach!

- Janet



Gaviota Coast July 2020

Gaviota Coast


Hello nature lovers! Exploring the Santa Barbara area, I have been captivated by the beauty of the Gaviota Coast and have been motivated to preserve this gorgeous coastline that runs 72 miles from Coal Oil Point near Isla Vista, west to Point Conception and then north to Point Sal.

Early on in my move to the area, I discovered the Gaviota Coast Conservancy (GCC), an environmental non-profit with a mission to protect the Gaviota Coast for present and future generations. I attended several GCC educational group field trips and started to develop a deeper understanding of the coast. I began to explore up and down the coast, to learn its history, and to understand the diverse and unique ecosystem of this precious region.

Access to walking the coast in certain areas takes a very low tide. Other areas have very limited access to the beach. Respect for the ocean and it's "whims" is essential…especially the rogue waves.

On the day I took this photo, I recall driving west from Santa Barbara in the torrential rain to our planned access point. My emergency lights started blinking on my 17-year-old (but reliable) car – they got my attention!

After giving my car "Big Blue" a pep talk, she finally deposited me at the state park access point. Still raining, I opened the door to meet my friend for the hike. We peered out toward the ocean "Could that be a clearing in the clouds? ... should we try?" We had only a narrow window of time to hike the coast due to the changing tide.

After a brief wait and with the rain calming to a slow drizzle, we headed onto the beach and west up the coast. The view was stunning...ahead were seagulls hunting for dinner, unusual rock formations rising out of the sand, and the silvery grays and blues of the ocean. Behind us, the dark clouds were lingering and slowly moving inland.

Gaviota Coast


The breath-taking sights took us further than we expected. Being mindful (sort of) of the tides, we knew it was time to turn around to the eastward journey. With only a few more bends of the coast, the sky's lower sun gave way to distractions and more photos. The meditative coastal scene and photography lulled me into a dreamlike state, only to be brought back to awareness by a rogue wave! Yikes! It won't be the last time... but I have to be careful. Though the weather was unpredictable, the hike turned out to be a beautiful afternoon on the coast.

Right now, much access to this beautiful coast is unavailable due to temporary closures. I am mindful of restrictions ... but I look forward to the day when I can continue my explorations. I love this area and will continue to conserve its beauty for future generations.

See you on the coast!

- Sally



Hollister Ranch Coastal Access Program (HRCAP) Survey #2


The State is engaged in the Hollister Ranch Coastal Access Program Planning Process (HRCAP) to create responsible public access across the 8.5 mile coastline of Hollister Ranch. This planning process began with the 1982 Hollister Ranch Access Plan, which was never implemented.  

Public access at the Ranch became a “live” issue in 2018 when the Gaviota Coast Conservancy initiated the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance, https://www.gaviotacoastaltrailalliance.org/, with three allied organizations to oppose a proposed sweetheart court settlement between the State of California and Hollister Ranch Owners Association. Alliance lawyers convinced the court that the settlement was not legal or fair.  Subsequent State legislation mandates that four state agencies conduct a public planning process, the HRCAP, to develop a program for public access at Hollister Ranch by April 2021 and implement the first phase of public access to Hollister Ranch by April 2022.

This process is proceeding quickly so it is important to make your opinions known now. The state has created an online survey concerning elements of this access plan at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HRCAPSurvey2.

We strongly encourage you to complete this survey. Make your voice known so this vital link in the California Coastal Trail can be realized.  Sign up at the end of the survey to receive notices and updates.

Read more

Capturing the Beauty of the Gaviota Coast

Painting up on the Bill Wallace Trail

Painting up on the Bill Wallace Trail

For the past seven years, Gaviota Coast Conservancy has celebrated the splendor of the Gaviota Coast with an art show fundraiser at the Bacara Resort featuring paintings of the Gaviota Coast by members of SCAPE (Southern California Artists Painting for the Environment).  SCAPE's mission is “to promote camaraderie and artistic growth for their members while helping to raise money for non-profit environmental organizations through a variety of events.”

Many of the painters go on location, “en plein air,” which is French for outdoors.  They hike in with their easels and paints or pastels in tow.  They face an array of challenges including animals, bugs, onlookers, and environmental conditions such as wind, rain showers, heat, and cold.  The artists are truly in the moment, interpreting light, shadow, and atmosphere in rendering the landscape. 

Each week there are scheduled “paint-outs”

Each week there are scheduled “paint-outs,” opportunities for artists to meet with others in a chosen location for collaboration and company.   Jane Hurd, Filiberto Lomeli, and Jerry Martin organize the paint-outs, and often in early Spring, you will see painters in various locations on the Gaviota Coast. 

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An Earth Day 2020 Celebration - "Hiking In"

“Hiking In”  by Mike Brown


Hiking In  photo: Eric Wilmanns

The anticipation starts when I make the turn off the highway onto the dead-end road and park near the start of the trail. Stuffing my pack with gear, I grab my board, and I scoot across to the trail. I love this hike in.

My surfing life is divided into distinct parts—my teen years in the longboard era learning to surf in beach breaks, my college years getting acclimated to waves of some consequence in cold water conditions, a decade plus on the east coast rarely surfing, and the last 25+ years surfing all kinds of waves here and across the globe. I’ve surfed a few all-time waves, some good waves, a lot of average waves, and more than my share of crappy waves.

It’s easy to be a curmudgeon after 55 years of surfing. Every surf spot feels more crowded, “kids” out paddle me for waves, SUP riders take every wave the kids don’t get, and every person under 25 who lives within a half hour drive of the beach seems to be learning to surf. These days, it seems that everyone is going surfing at all hours of the day (and the night!) no matter how small or how funky the conditions.

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