Hollister Ranch Coastal Trail Group Letter

As covered in this recent piece in the Santa Barbara Independent, below is the group letter that was sent to the CA Coastal Commission before their hearing on the Hollister Ranch Settlement. We invite donations to the Hollister Ranch Coastal Trail Campaign. Thank you for your support.

Hollister-Ranch-Coastal-Trail-Campaign-logo-header4.pngHonorable Coastal Commissioners,

This letter is submitted on behalf of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy (GCC), California Coastal Protection Network (CCPN), the Los Padres Chapter of the Sierra Club, Coastwalk/California Coastal Trail Association, and the Santa Barbara County Trails Council (SBCTC). Together we are committed to effectuating a continuous Coastal Trail from Gaviota State Park to Jalama Beach County Park, including appropriate vertical access to the ocean.

The public’s right to access the ocean is guaranteed by the California Constitution, and the California Coastal Commission (CCC) is charged by the Coastal Act to maximize public access to and along the coast. However, 36 years since the legislature specifically directed the State Coastal Conservancy (SCC) “to implement, as expeditiously as possible, the public access policies and provisions of [the Coastal Act] at the Hollister Ranch”, there is still no public access whatsoever to any portion of the 8.5 miles of beach fronting Hollister Ranch.

The YMCA OTD (Offer to Dedicate) is, to our knowledge, the only OTD that exists that could be used to provide public access anywhere at Hollister Ranch. The YMCA OTD is admittedly limited in scope, but if effectuated would allow up to 50 members of the public to access the Cuarta Canyon Beach at Hollister Ranch over land per day. The ability to access this beach over land is especially important. First, the public already has the legal right to access the beach from the ocean up to the mean high tide line.

The small amount of dry sand opened to the public at Cuarta Canyon Beach will disappear as sea level rises, so the only permanent public benefit that can be gained from the YMCA OTD is access by land. Second, ocean-only access can be extremely dangerous and available only to the most able-bodied and experienced individuals, not to the public at large.

The Settlement Agreement requires the CCC and SCC to permanently relinquish the public’s right to access Cuarta Canyon Beach over-land, conveyed by the OTD, without providing any substitute access for the general public. The Managed Access Program provided for in the Settlement Agreement is extremely limited both in the number of individuals that could access Hollister Ranch (maximum 880/year as opposed to 18,250/year that are allowed under the OTD), and in the narrow category of individuals that qualify for the Program (school children as part of the Tidepools program, disabled individuals, children, and individuals from underserved communities to the extent they are chaperoned by an approved non-profit). Moreover, while the Hollister Ranch Owners’ Association (HROA) currently funds a similar managed access program,

1 Art. X, § 4
2 Public Resources Code § 30001.5
3 Public Resources Code § 30610.8

the Settlement Agreement shifts the burden of funding the program to the State by diverting “in-lieu access fees” collected from individual development permits at Hollister Ranch that were intended to fund a public access plan required by the Legislature in 1982. Once depleted, the approximately $295,000 of in-lieu access fees currently in hand will no longer be available for public acquisition of public access easements at Hollister Ranch, denying critical funding for easements to complete the California Coastal Trail, which significantly could include portions of the Rancho Real Road easement relinquished by the Settlement Agreement.

The HROA would have us believe that the OTD conveys no public rights, but we have independently evaluated the issues and evidence relevant to the HROA litigation over the YMCA OTD, and agree with Judge Sterne that there are material factual issues that are yet to be resolved. Judge Sterne has previously ruled that while the easement contemplated by the OTD may not itself be enforceable, there exists an “irrevocable implied license” for the public to access and enjoy Cuarta Canyon Beach. This important ruling should not be abandoned in exchange for, at best, temporary public use of a sliver of dry sand and an invitation for the HROA to exhaust the Hollister Ranch-specific in-lieu access fee funds. Given the importance of the potential public access rights at issue, it is critical that the public have an opportunity to weigh in in a substantive way regarding what constitutes safe and appropriate public access to Cuarta Canyon Beach.

Accordingly, we ask that the Coastal Commission first, not oppose intervention by the public in the Pappas v. State Coastal Conservancy, et al. litigation; second, direct its attorneys to withdraw from the Settlement Agreement; and third, direct its staff to immediately develop and implement an action program for the completion of the Coastal Trail across Hollister Ranch.

Respectfully submitted,

Phil McKenna, Land Use Committee Chair
Gaviota Coast Conservancy

Susan Jordan, Executive Director
California Coastal Protection Network

Cea Higgins, Executive Director
Coastwalk/California Coastal Trail Ass’n

James Hines, Chair
Sierra Club, Los Padres Chapter

Otis Calef, President
Santa Barbara County Trails Council


Alert: Last chance for Hollister Ranch Comments


Public Access at Hollister Ranch:
Please Email the Coastal Commission

Hollister Ranch Owners’ Association (HROA) and the California Coastal Commission (CCC) have formulated a wildly imperfect settlement that seeks to resolves a long-standing dispute about public access to a portion of the Ranch. It’s a very long story, stretching back to 1973 with a changing cast of characters, but always a firm resolve by the HROA to thwart the public’s ability to gain appropriate public access to the coastal portion of the Ranch.

The settlement has been agreed to by the HROA and the CCC, but awaits judicial approval that will involve a hearing in Santa Barbara Superior Court on July 23, 2018. 

In the meantime, the CCC will accept public testimony about the settlement. This is your opportunity to express your opinion. 

Please send a brief email by 5 pm on Friday, July 6,

to the CA Coastal Commission at [email protected]

Talking Points:

  • The Commission should withdraw approval of the settlement as it fails to reflect the objectives of the Coastal Act and the desires of the broad public.
  • Why has public access at Hollister Ranch, as clearly intended by the Legislature, been blocked for 35 years?
  • The settlement disregards the interest of the general public. Those without the financial resources of an owner and/or the physical capacity to land on the beach from the ocean will be unable to make use of the beach.
  • The settlement provides very limited access to the general public, i.e., access to the sand above the mean high tide to the bluff toe over the 3880 feet of Cuarto Beach. The public’s access to this “dry sand” is hazardous, as it is only accessible through the surf after of voyage of 2 miles from Gaviota State Park.
  • The limited increase of a maximum of 480 individuals per year to Cuarto Beach through a Ranch-managed access program will be paid for by public funds earmarked for the realization of the CA Coastal Trail and beach access at the Ranch. The settlement allows for the inappropriate use of public money.
  • The parties to this agreement (CA Coastal Commission and Hollister Ranch Owners Association) explicitly tried to exclude the public from commenting or participating in the settlement when it was clear that the public has a strong interest in the matter.
  • An important easement for access across the first 3.5 miles of the Ranch will be waived in the settlement.


Please take our Hollister Ranch Survey


Here are the main elements of the settlement:

  • Allows the public to use a 3,880 foot section of dry coastal sand (we already have the right to the wet sand) that can be accessed only by sea after a 2 mile voyage from Gaviota State Park, braving the gale force winds of Gaviota Canyon and the surf of the Ranch.
  • Uses public money collected over decades that is intended to be spent on the Coastal Trail and coastal access, for Hollister Ranch expenses in bringing 480 school children and 400 underserved or disabled individuals per year onto the Ranch in a managed access program.
  • Voids potential road access for up to 50 people/day to 3.5 miles of the Ranch access road.
  • Creates a “poison pill” that eliminates the modest benefits of the settlement if condemnation is ever undertaken to secure an easement for the trail.
  • Sets a very bad precedent.

Very little is gained by the public and much is precluded.

You can review the emails submitted a https://www.coastal.ca.gov/meetings/agenda/#/2018/7 to gain a sense of the broad statewide opposition to this settlement; scroll down a page to item #5 “Hollister Ranch” and click on “Correspondence”.

While on that web page if you click on “Hollister Ranch” you will find the staff report providing background and a summary of the settlement. The “Exhibits” page provides maps of the Ranch and photos of Cuarto Canyon, the site of the access under consideration.

You can attend the Coastal Commission meeting and speak directly to the Commissioners on Friday July 13, at the Scotts Valley Hilton, 6001 La Madrona Drive, in Scotts Valley. The item is first on the agenda and will be heard about 9:30.
You can view a real time video of the meeting at http://www.cal-span.org/.

This is an historic moment to inform the Commission of the public’s objection to a settlement that will void appropriate public access at Hollister Ranch, potentially forever.

Please make your voice heard. 


Alert: New Tajiguas Resolution and Policy


On June 19, the Board of Supervisors is considering adopting a resolution and policy that they won’t expand the Tajiguas Landfill or site a new landfill on the Gaviota Coast when Tajiguas reaches capacity. This is an important step to protecting the Gaviota Coast into the future.

In addition, the Board is also preparing to approve and fund a new trail on the Gaviota Coast at Baron Ranch. The new trail will connect the coast to Camino Cielo above in the Los Padres National Forest. Once completed, the trail will be opened to public for hiking, biking and equestrian use 7 days a week. The Board will commit up to $130,000 to fully fund and expedite completion of this project.

Finally, the Board will initiate the preparation of a comprehensive master plan for the 1000 acre Baron Ranch, including opportunities for public input. The final plan will focus on expanding recreational opportunities, protecting open space and promoting agriculture on the County’s Baron Ranch.

Action Requested:

Send emails to: [email protected] for the Board of Supervisors hearing, Monday, June 19

Message: I support the resolution pledging to not expand Tajiguas Landfill, opening the Baron Ranch Trail and initiating a master planning process for Baron Ranch

Sample Email Message:

  • I support the proposed actions for Item # A-46 on the Board’s June 19 agenda.
  • The Gaviota Coast has provided a location for our solid waste for many decades, and should be closed when filled.
  • I/we support opening the Baron Ranch Trail to Camino Cielo as quickly as possible. Our community needs more trails, especially in light of the closure of other trails in Montecito.
  • The County should dedicate Baron Ranch for public recreational use.

SeaVees Gratitude



We're grateful that SeaVees, a Santa-Barbara based shoe company with an international following, has again chosen to support Gaviota Coast Conservancy as a donation partner through 1% for the Planet, "a global network of businesses, nonprofits and individuals working together for a healthy planet." 

Gaviota Coast Conservancy is honored to count SeaVees among our community of supporters, and grateful for their valuable and important support for a second year. Their contribution forwards our mission to protect the rural character and environmental integrity of the Gaviota Coast for present and future generations. Their support helps us protect this spectacular biodiversity hotspot from development. 

We'd also like to recognize our gratitude to SeaVees for generously supporting our local community during the tragic flood in Montecito. It has been traumatizing, and together we're growing stronger. Thank you for the shoes and all the love. 










Hollister Ranch Settlement


Limited Public Access to Hollister Ranch

Coverage by the San Diego Union Tribune

Public Notice of Settlement, Hollister Ranch HOA et al v CA Coastal Commission

Today, the Hollister Ranch stands as one of the few privately owned sections of the coast inaccessible to the public. Unless you are an owner or know one that will invite you as a guest, you cannot legally go above the mean high tide line on the Hollister Ranch beaches. A rock formation that extends into the sea blocks people from walking down the beach from Gaviota State Park on all but the lowest tides, and a gatehouse and security force keep the public at bay.  

Virtually all general public access to Hollister Ranch today is by boat. Repeated and sustained acts of vandalism have rendered the Gaviota hoist inoperable for extended periods of time, leading people to either launch small inflatables from Gaviota State Park or boat in from Santa Barbara harbor. Conditions in the Santa Barbara Channel can change rapidly and the waters can be quite dangerous at times. Hollister’s famed surf breaks and empty beaches are typically only enjoyed by owners, invited guests, and those with boats that beach-launch from Gaviota State Park or make the long ride from Santa Barbara harbor.

While the Coastal Act requires the provision of maximum public access to the coast, that provision is not self-executing, and rights of public access are typically granted as conditions of development approvals. Depending on how effective local governmental agencies are, how engaged the public is, and how resistant the landowner is, there are a wide variety of access rights along part of Santa Barbara County’s coastline. Hollister Ranch is one of the least accessible privately owned areas of Santa Barbara’s coastline.

The YMCA Easement

In 1970, the YMCA purchased a 160 acre parcel, including road access easements and easements to access a 3880 foot stretch of beach as part of a planned recreational facility. In 1971, the Hollister Ranch was subdivided to create the Ranch as its known today. In 1979, YMCA applied for a Coastal Development Permit for a recreational lodge on their parcel that was approved, subject to condition including a mandated public access program for up to 50 people per day to be shuttled in for day use of the 3880 foot stretch of beach. The permit was exercised and some development started on the lodge, but it was never completed and the mandated public access program never completed.

In 2013, Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors declined to accept the YMCA’s “Offer to Dedicate” the easement for access to the beach, and as required by law, the California Coastal Conservancy accepted the easement and was immediately sued by Hollister Ranch. Hollister argued the OTD was invalid, along with a host of other claims.

The Lawsuit and Settlement Agreement

The case has been in litigation since, and in Spring of 2018, a settlement was proposed whereby the public could go onto the private 3880-foot stretch of dry sand beach for day use, accessed by boat only, subject to a number of restrictions. The Santa Barbara Independent published that Hollister Ranch settles with State to provide limited public access. Practically, this would allow the non-boat-owning public to kayak or paddle board from Gaviota State Beach to the 3880-foot beach and to pull onto the dry sand. From there, it's possible to walk in wet sand (below the mean high tide line) or paddle to surf Drakes and Razors.

The Settlement Agreement also makes an on-going voluntary Hollister Ranch managed access program permanent. This program invites up to 44 groups annually of K-12 school groups, groups of disabled, special needs and disadvantaged youth, as well as disabled groups such as wounded warriors, to visit the Ranch and surf.  

The Public Access License Agreement describes the terms of access to the 3880-foot beach. Here's the Tentative Ruling, Tom Pappas et al v CA Coastal Commission. The Hollister Ranch Managed Access Program is described in the HROA Stipulation and Agreement of Settlement. Here are the YMCA Easement Maps.

The Public’s Role

Although the Coastal Commission and Conservancy, along with Hollister Ranch, had proposed to enter this settlement quietly, Judge Colleen Sterne, while making a preliminary determination that the Settlement was a fair resolution, ordered the parties to publish notice of the Settlement in newspapers and allow objecting parties to file to intervene in the lawsuit by July 23 and to lodge objections to the settlement.

A final hearing in court to consider the settlement has been scheduled for September 10. The Coastal Commission has created a website for the public to review documents and provide comments to the Commission, https://www.coastal.ca.gov/hollister-ranch/, however the Commission and Conservancy Boards have each approved entry into the Settlement Agreement in closed session. There has been no public Commission or Conservancy hearing on the settlement.

People concerned with the Coastal Commission’s closed door approval can contact the Coastal Commission and ask that they schedule this issue for a future public hearing. Their website is https://www.coastal.ca.gov/. The Coastal Commission’s Executive Director is at [email protected].

Gaviota Coast Conservancy is investigating the terms, considering the pros and cons of this proposed settlement, and exploring related issues concerning public use and access to Hollister Ranch. The YMCA easement is not the only authority for obtaining public access to parts of the Hollister Ranch, but it’s the one that is in play right now.

We welcome public comment and input about Hollister Ranch access

Public Opinion Survey: Hollister Ranch Settlement


Thank you for supporting Gaviota Coast Conservancy’s work on the Coastal Trail, public access, saving Gaviota Coast open spaces, promoting regenerative agriculture, stopping the industrialization of the Gaviota Coast and fighting development by making a contribution here. You keep us in action!


Gaviota Coast Conservancy Endorses Yes on 68

For Clean Water and Safe Parks

On June 5th or by mail, help ensure clean, safe drinking water and protect natural resources by voting Yes on 68!





Find out more: https://yes68ca.com/learn-more/

California must lead the way. Our state is feeling the effects of climate change—from severe droughts to devastating wildfires — yet our federal government is refusing to act.

We are proud to support Yes on 68, as it takes a smart and efficient approach to protecting California’s natural resources. Proposition 68 will invest $4 billion in securing our state’s water supplies and ensuring every Californian has access to clean drinking water and safe, quality parks. Notable supporters include Governor Jerry Brown, The Nature Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land, the Association of California Water Agencies, The California Chamber of Commerce, League of California Cities, American Lung Association in California and other advocates for California’s public health. Now, more than ever, we must protect our water and parks. If we won’t, who will? Learn more at http://yes68ca.com and follow Yes on 68 California on Facebook and Twitter.


Gaviota Conserved

Happy holidays for the Gaviota Coast:

The Cojo-Jalama Ranch (Bixby Ranch) goes to the Nature Conservancy



Illegal grading on the Bixby Ranch photographed by Gaviota Coast Conservancy former president Mike Lunsford

In a stunning development, The Nature Conservancy has announced that it has acquired the 24,364-acre Cojo-Jalama Ranch, aka Bixby Ranch. Cojo-Jalama Ranch surrounds Point Conception, extending from Jalama County Park to near the western boundary of Hollister Ranch. Ownership by The Nature Conservancy eliminates threats of the conversion of this historic property for residential development, oil extraction or mineral development.

“Cojo-Jalama Ranch is one of the crown jewels of the Gaviota Coast!” exclaimed Gaviota Coast Conservancy President Michael S. Brown. “Preservation of the Cojo-Jalama Ranch has long been one of the GCC’s leading goals. Cojo-Jalama is the largest privately owned ranch on the Gaviota Coast, and has faced significant development threats in the past.”

The Nature Conservancy’s purchase of Cojo-Jalama Ranch was made possible by a single donation of $165 Million by Jack and Laura Dangermond, whose company, Esri, played a major role in developing GIS methodologies. “The generosity of people like the Dangermonds have played a critical role in the preservation of the Gaviota Coast and other threatened coastal lands,” explained Phil McKenna, GCC Past President and Board member (see his recent OpEd in the Santa Barbara Independent on this issue), “GCC applauds their vision and generosity, and invites others to support GCC’s ongoing work to preserve our precious coastline.”

The Gaviota Coast Conservancy is the only non-governmental organization focused exclusively on the Gaviota Coast. Spanning 76 miles of coastline from Coal Oil Point in Goleta to Point Sal west of Santa Maria, the Gaviota Coast was studied to be a National Seashore in the early 2000’s. The National Park Service found that while the visual, biological and recreational resources made the Gaviota Coast suitable as a National Seashore, but opposition from the George W. Bush Administration and landowners made it infeasible. The 2004 Report suggested local efforts should be undertaken to protect and preserve the Gaviota Coast.

Cojo-Jalama was adjacent to the site of a proposed LNG plant in the 1970’s, which led to a pitched battle lasting for years. The lands surrounding Point Conception were occupied by protesting Chumash from June 1978 to March 1979 who were dedicated to protecting the area’s spiritual significance as the “Western Gate” in their culture. The LNG plant was never built.

Cojo-Jalama was subject to a set of Air Force easements restricting uses and development along the western edge of the ranch in designated “debris zones” where development is prohibited to accommodate Space Shuttle launches in the 1980’s. After the Challenger shuttle disaster, the program was curtailed and VAFB never launched a shuttle.

In 2007, Cojo-Jalama was purchased by Baupost Group, a Boston hedge fund, for the then extraordinary price of $135 Million. Shortly after that, the 2008 Recession deflated the value of the land, and while many rumors of different development projects circulated, no substantial development projects were formally proposed.


Point Conception aerial photo by Rich Reid

Controversy surrounded Cojo-Jalama when Gaviota Coast Conservancy and others uncovered illegal destruction of habitat for the endangered Gaviota Tarplant, leading to a protracted enforcement effort by the California Coastal Commission, which recently adopted an enforcement and Restoration Order, finally resolving the violations.

Baupost agreed to restore over 500 acres of habitat, pay $500,000 in fines to the Commission’s enforcement account, and offer to donate 36 acres of land adjacent to Jalama County Park to the Santa Barbara County Parks Department.

Gaviota Coast Conservancy has closely monitored Cojo-Jalama for decades, as it is among the most significant ranches on the Gaviota Coast. GCC applauds The Nature Conservancy’s acquisition of the property and expects that this could eventually result in public access to Point Conception, allowing the public to enjoy the 1985-era County recreational use easements on parcels near Point Conception.

Michael S. Brown, GCC’s President stated, “Preservation of Cojo-Jalama Ranch is an enormous achievement. While numerous development schemes have been put forward over the last few decades, none have succeeded. Conservation ownership with public access is the best possible outcome we could imagine. We look forward to working with The Nature Conservancy as they develop their management, restoration and access plans for Cojo-Jalama Ranch, one of the crown jewels of the Gaviota Coast.”

Happy holidays, with this amazing gift! Despite fires and power outages, our work at Gaviota Coast Conservancy continues until the rural character of the Coast is permanently preserved.

You can keep this work alive by contributing to the Gaviota Coast Conservancy. GCC has been selected for SB Gives!, a new year-end fundraising program sponsored by The Fund for Santa Barbara and The Santa Barbara Independent for nonprofits serving Santa Barbara County. Your contribution by December 31 will help us secure additional funds through SB Gives! matching grants.

On behalf of the board and staff of Gaviota Coast Conservancy, thank you to our community, supporters, friends and allies, and especially to Jack and Laura Dangermond and the Nature Conservancy for this bold conservation of our beloved coast.


Bixby Ranch Settlement Creates New Gaviota Public Lands

Gaviota Coast Conservancy supported the Coastal Commission for this Settlement

The deal includes an expansion of Jalama County Park by 36 acres

This 24,500-acre ranch surrounds Point Conception extending from Jalama County Park to near the western boundary of Hollister Ranch. It is a working cattle ranch and possesses significant environmental and cultural resources while offering tremendous recreational potential.


Government Point and Point Conception, photo by Rich Reid


Bixby Ranch was owned for about 100 years by the Bixby family of Southern California until it was sold for 135,000,000 in 2007, at the height of the real estate bubble, to the Baupost Group, a hedge fund from Boston.

The development potential of the Ranch at the time of the Baupost purchase was considerable as it was eligible for special treatment under the 1982 Local Coastal Plan (LCP) which allowed up to 500 residential units and a 200 unit hotel. This one-of-a-kind zoning concession was contentiously debated and ultimately eliminated by the Gaviota Planning Advisory Committee (GavPAC), the community body that developed the County approved (2016) Gaviota Coast Plan which updated the 1982 LCP for the region. The Gaviota Coast Plan is currently being reviewed by the California Coastal Commission. Several Board members of Gaviota Coast Conservancy served on the GavPAC.

In early 2011, Mike Lunsford, then the Conservancy’s President, heard that the Ranch had illegally plowed-under endangered Gaviota Tarplant, a protected species ironically planted to mitigate the destruction of the plant on the property by Union Oil Company in the 1970s. Mike contacted Santa Barbara County and the California Coastal Commission (CCC). The County responded that there were no apparent regulatory violations. The CCC, however, sought to conduct an on-site investigation, which the property owner opposed. Mike contacted LightHawk, a non-profit that connects pilots with environmentalists, to view the conditions from the air with a CCC enforcement officer. They flew over a broad swath of land denuded of previously restored Gaviota Tarplant. The CCC had cause for further investigation.


After years of Cojo-Jalama Ranch obstruction and illegal actions resulting in “very significant delays in resolving this matter” (CCC Staff Report 10/27/17), Baupost’s management team recently signed a settlement with the CCC in the fall of 2017. The settlement agreement requires extensive remedies including restoration of disturbed Gaviota Tarplant areas and unpermitted roads, removal of most water wells, and planting of oak trees and removal of invasive ice plant and habitat restoration on over 500 acres. In addition, the Ranch agreed to “donate” 36 acres of coastal property to Santa Barbara County for inclusion in Jalama Beach Park and pay $500,000 to the Commission’s Violation Remediation Account.

Bixby_Ranch_to_Conception_photo_by_Mike_Lunsford.pngA portion of the destroyed Gaviota Tarplant habitat is in the foreground. Government Point and Point Conception are in the background. Photo by Mike Lunsford, 2011


Cojo-Jalama Ranch is an extraordinary landscape. It sits in the transition zone between the California Southwestern and Central Western Jepson Ecoregions and as a consequence exhibits considerable floral diversity. Point Conception was the “Western Gate” for departing Chumash souls and is sacred land for the Chumash. The Point Conception Lighthouse still functions as a navigational aid. The geography of the ranch varies from the coastal bluff, to the extensive marine terrace to the mountains of its interior. It is a beautiful land that anchors the West Coast of our continent.


GCC Sues County on Tajiguas



On Thursday, December 14, Gaviota Coast Conservancy (GCC) filed a lawsuit challenging Santa Barbara County’s approval of the Tajiguas Resource Recovery Project. The project was approved without an environmental impact analysis and in violation of the County’s own procedures. 

The Tajiguas Resource Recovery Project is a flawed project that is unlikely to meet the County’s financial or environmental targets.  China’s decision this summer to ban the import of most recycled materials undermines the project’s financial viability. Moreover, the County’s diversion goals can be accomplished through readily available, less expensive programs. And in a time of rising concerns over the impacts of climate change, the project squanders an opportunity to sequester atmospheric carbon by diverting the use of clean food scraps and organic waste from creating high-quality compost for carbon farming. 

GCC’s lawsuit demands that the County prepare a supplemental environmental impact report and provide advance release of all the documents considered by the Board of Supervisors when they consider the project again. More information will be available after the new year. 

In the meantime, the Gaviota Coast Conservancy’s board, staff and volunteers thank all the firefighters, first responders, and public employees for their incredible efforts in protecting lives, property and the environment in the face of the Thomas Fire. We wish all of our supporters a safe, healthy and wonderful holiday season. 

--- Michael S. Brown, President

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County Board Extends Tajiguas Landfill’s Life by 20 years

Tajiguas_Gaviota_landfill_by_Bill_Dewey_12_28_16.jpgIn a terrible and momentous decision, the Board of Supervisors re-approved the Tajiguas Resource Recovery Project (TRRP) on a 5-0 vote on November 14, 2017. They made this decision in the worst possible way by withholding critical documents until the last minute (in violation of County rules), relying on questionable if not inaccurate “facts,” and sweeping significant environmental issues under the rug.


The re-approval relied on a deeply flawed environmental analysis that ignored evidence of new significant impacts from both the coastal zone boundary error (that placed the anaerobic digester in the coastal zone) and the emergence of the federally threatened California red-legged frog on landfill areas that will experience increased vehicle traffic and night-lighting. Rather than address these issues head-on, the County chose to ignore them.


Staff disclosed, for the first time, that their coastal zone error will increase the project’s cost by 18%, or $20M, to a total $130M, plus interest.  Before the error, tipping fees were slated to increase by 26% over 3 years, followed by unknown future annual increases as a result of the TRRP’s “Put or Pay” contracts. Rates could go even higher as the County has a $10M deficit in the funds needed to close the landfill. 


While Project documents claim a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the deployment of the anaerobic digester (AD), new regulations will accomplish much of this reduction without the AD. More importantly, the TRRP imperils the creation of high-quality compost that can be used for carbon farming; an agricultural process that sequesters atmospheric carbon in the soil.  By eliminating the TRRP, improving source separation of the waste stream, making compost with food scraps, and building robust community participation in recycling we can achieve a carbon negative project. As recently reported in The Economist, forward-thinking communities and businesses must focus on creating net negative emissions. The TRRP’s problematic reduction in GHG emissions squanders the opportunity to achieve much better GHG results. 


The TRRP may have made some sense at some point, but not as it is configured, and not in current market conditions. In 2016 the Board of Supervisors signed contracts with Mustang, the investor-team, to have Mustang build and operate the TRRP. The County also entered into contracts with the four participating cities. The deal was signed and sealed, and ready to take the final step of issuing $120M in municipal bonds when the coastal zone blunder was discovered.  Now the County has revised the project to avoid placing the TRRP in the coastal zone, but numerous new significant coastal zone issues remain unanswered.  More importantly, China recently closed its market for contaminated recycled materials, which is the main output from the dirty materials recovery facility which produces a contaminated feedstock for the anaerobic digester. 


A group of five solid waste experts knowledgeable about current legal and regulatory requirements, recycling markets and the suite of available technical and programmatic options have concluded the TRRP is not the correct approach for the South Coast. The inflexible “Put or Pay" contract locks each participating city into this system for 20 years. This contract is extremely expensive and can already be replaced by simpler, more efficient and proven alternatives. The best way to maximize the reuse and recycling of our waste stream and avoid contaminating reusable materials is to separate at the source and compost. At the end of the day, we as a community need to produce less waste. This is the best way to reduce GHG emissions and lessen our impact on the planet and the Gaviota Coast. The TRRP’s “Put or Pay” contract conflicts with this basic premise. The next best way to lessen the impact of our solid waste is to sort it at the source to minimize the cost of processing and avoid contamination. Many communities have enhanced the effectiveness of their collection and sorting systems, and we should take a page from their book.