Jalama County Park to Expand by 36 Acres
(Jalama Beach / Photo: County of Santa Barbara)
By Lauren Bray, edhat staff
The California Coastal Commission (CCC) will return 36 acres of century-old private ranchland in the Jalama area to Santa Barbara County.
On Thursday the CCC unanimously adopted a set of orders penalizing illegal land use activities at the Cojo Jalama Ranches, formerly known as Bixby Ranch, and imposing a series of penalties and restoration requirements. Part of the penalty, agreed to by the owners, is the donation of 36 acres of land adjacent to the County’s 24-acre Jalama Park.
Over the past six years, the Environmental Defense Center (EDC), on behalf of its client, California Native Plant Society (CNPS), have been advocating for strong enforcement in response to environmentally-destructive and unlawful development activities that occurred on the Ranches, which are known as a biologically diverse and unique stretch of coastal land on the Gaviota Coast.
The EDC explains the Cojo Jalama Ranches provide habitat for many rare and protected species, including red-legged frog and Gaviota Tarplantt. They have sought full restoration of the damaged habitats, including restoring oak woodlands, creeks, and native grasslands, and provided support for the CCC to maintain a strong position in its negotiations with the landowners.
“Of particular concern to CNPS was the damage to the Gaviota Tarplant – a plant that occurs only along the western Santa Barbara County coast and that is seriously threatened by energy development projects and invasive weeds – caused by the unpermitted activities,” said David Magney, Rare Plant Program manager with CNPS. “Fortunately, the Orders emphasize restoring this important plant.”
The Gaviota Coast Conservancy and others then encouraged CCC enforcement officers to further investigate the violation and in so doing, Coastal Commission officers uncovered a number of other land use violations, including 37 unpermitted water wells, grading and development in riparian areas, destruction of other habitat and numerous new roadways and road maintenance in highly sensitive areas.
According to the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, the Consent Restoration Order provides for numerous actions to remediate and compensate for the impact of the violations. Addressing a long-standing coastal access conflict, the Cojo Jalama Ranches will donate 36 acres to The County of Santa Barbara that will extend the southern boundary of Jalama County Park to the “Crack”, a bluff access point to the surf break known at Tarantulas. The disturbed areas associated with the water wells, roads, stock pond, and bluff grading will be restored. 200 acres of oak tree habitat will be planted. 300 acres of invasive, non-native ice plant on the coastal prairie will be removed. And a $500,000 payment will be made to the CCC’s Violation Remediation Account.
Mike Lunsford, former President of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy stated: “Enforcement of the Coastal Act is central to protection of the Gaviota Coast. Despite overwhelming evidence, the County refused to enforce its own LCP and Coastal Zoning Ordinance for the destruction of habitat that was created to mitigate the impacts from a prior oil development. We are grateful that the Coastal Commission pursued its investigation and prosecution of these egregious violations to a successful outcome.”
“The expansion of Jalama Park advances a long-standing Gaviota Coast Conservancy goal of completing the Coastal Trail through Santa Barbara County and increased coastal recreational opportunities," said Ed Easton, Chair of the GCC Land Use Committee. "Surfers have long accessed the surf break Tarantulas by parking on the Jalama Road and hiking down ‘The Crack’ trail to the beach, but often returned to find their cars ticketed or towed when Bixby called the Sheriff. We hope the County Parks Department will add the new lands to Jalama Park quickly, and authorize parking on the road to facilitate recreational use of the coast.”