KEEP OUT

posted by / News / March 16, 2004

If you’ve been dreaming of driving into the Ranch, paying a few bucks to a friendly park ranger, setting up a tent on the beach and then paddling out to perfect Cojo or Rights and Lefts – keep dreaming.

On Tuesday the National Park Service put an end to a study commissioned in 1999 that was looking into the feasibility of opening up the floodgates of Southern California’s most cherished and also most private surf zone by designating it part of national seashore.

Property owners at the Hollister Ranch were incensed by the proposal, which encompassed 76 miles of coastline stretching from Goleta to Point Sal. They reportedly paid ${{{300}}},000 to a former congressman to lobby against it in Washington D.C. The investment paid off as the Bush Administration put pressure on the Park Service rule in favor of the owners.

Congresswoman Lois Capps of Santa Barbara wasn’t happy with the decision. In an emailed response she wrote, “The Administration dropped the ball by not making any recommendation on steps to ensure that a wild and undeveloped Gaviota will be around for our grandchildren to enjoy.”

She also wrote that Bush has been attempting to open up the nearby Los Padres National Forest to new oil and gas drilling and he also favors off-shore oil drilling in the area. Naming the area as a National Seashore would have effectively killed those efforts.

Ranch owners countered that they are in favor of no new development on their land and are fine stewards of the pristine coastline. Such luminaries as Jim Camerson, Jackson Browne and Rolf Aurness are holders of parcels at the Ranch. The community believes that an influx of tourists and surfers would only overrun the place and disturb the delicate ecosystem. Chris Jensen, a LA surfer whose family owns property just outside of Gaviota, agreed that the Ranch is better in its current hands.

“The private landowners have incredible respect for the place and keep it much nicer than the public would,” says Jensen. “Some things should be kept sacred.”

Bob Keats, Vice Chair of the Santa Barbara Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, says that he supported the effort to protect the area from development, but wasn’t in favor of making the Ranch public. “I just wanted the designation to include the six miles of largely empty land from Goleta to El Capitan where development is a grave threat,” he says. “It’s unfortunate that it got bigger.”

Keats also pointed out that the recent Bocara development in the area might be an ominous sign of things to come. “Those six miles are worth over 250 million dollars and a lot of it is currently up for sale.” Keats also frets that property at the Hollister Ranch will become so valuable in the future that owners will give into temptation and sell to big developers. “There’s nothing like this coast left in Southern Calfornia,” says Keats. “We’ve got to protect it.”

In most cases the Surfrider Foundation supports full public access to beaches but Keats says the Ranch is a special case. “Nobody wants the place to turn into another Trestles,” he says.

If Bush loses the election in November the issue could be revisited, but for now those who want to surf the Ranch will still need to be the guest of an owner or boat in. - Jamie Tierney

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