Ranchers attack Gaviota proposal: Landowners speak up for property rights

News-Press Senior Writer
Santa Barbara News-Press

Santa Barbara, CA - 8/20/02 - About 200 people, most of them private landowners, attended a forum in Buellton on Monday to discuss how to save ranching on the Gaviota
coast while keeping the National Park Service out.

In Marin County, they learned, a private, nonprofit land trust of ranching
families is buying up development rights, conserving wildlife habitat while
generating family income.

Sam Dolcini, a director of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, said his group
was more successful in helping ranchers to prosper than
the Park Service, which runs the nearby national seashore at Point Reyes.

Agricultural land within the seashore boundaries has remained in grazing, Mr.
Dolcini said, while land trust participants outside the park boundaries can
put in vineyards and olive orchards and build processing plants.

"In Marin County, the term is, 'Show me the money,' '' Mr.
Dolcini said. "We are doing a much better job of keeping agriculture growing
and continuing to produce food for a growing population."

Monday's forum was organized by the Santa Barbara Region Chamber
of Commerce to provide alternatives to a national park on the Gaviota
coast from Coal Oil Point to Point Sal.

At the request ofCongress, the Park Service is preparing a study to determine
whether the area  merits designation as a national seashore, preserve or
historical area.

A draft is due to be released in January for public review and hearings.

Many in the audience on Monday said they would like to prevent it from coming

"What is the difference between the National Park study and stealing?" asked
Lompoc resident Lorin Bronson.

Mr. Dolcini replied, "A feasibility study is the federal government
casing out your home by driving down the street and taking a look
at it."

Lynn Scarlett, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of  Interior,
told the crowd she "inherited'' the study and could not stop it, but would
make sure it included the landowners' views.   Only one of three Park Service
studies results in a park designation, she said.

"I have a commitment to the ability of folks to pursue their dreams on their
property," Ms. Scarlett said. "Really what this nation needs is the
self-motivation of private stewards. ... We're deeply committed to local

Michael Feeney, executive director of the Land Trust for Santa Barbara
County, said that a voter-approved tax measure would be needed to provide
funds to buy up ranchers' development rights on the Gaviota coast.

"I don't think any of us wants to see the Malibu coast here," he said.

But during the past five years, only three Gaviota coast landowners
have negotiated with the Land Trust for the sale of their development rights.

The California Rangeland Trust, run by cattle ranchers, has not completed any
deals on the coast.

On Monday, many speakers from the audience seemed more interested in
attacking the Park Service than in getting information about saving land.

Among them were several landowners from Hollister Ranch, a private enclave on
the coast that has been excluded from the study.

The ranch owners spend about $150,000 per year lobbying against Park Service
involvement on the coast.

"What are the environmentalists bringing to the table, besides a
mask and gun to steal property?" Bob Duncan, a Hollister Ranch
property owner, asked.

The only Park Service representative to speak on Monday was Diana
Maxwell, a partnership program manager, who said the agency often
works well with landowners, bringing funds and scientific expertise to the

"I've seen a lot of distrust and anger and bad feelings today, but I want
people to know that it is possible for the federal government to be a good
partner," Ms. Maxwell said. "There are resources there that local people
don't have."

But the ranchers were not persuaded.

"What I see as the growing threat to the Gaviota coast right now is those who
want to save it," said Nancy Crawford, president of the
Santa Barbara Cattlemen's Association. "Who's going to give up what? What are
we going to get in return?"

Outnumbered at the forum, a smattering of environmentalists
spoke briefly about the march of urbanization westward from Coal Oil
Point  -- the Bacara Spa & Resort, a proposed golf course, and the plans for
dozens of homes at Naples.

Diane Conn, a member of Citizens for Goleta Valley asked, "What
do you do with the people who own the land and want to develop it? What do
you do with the next generation that doesn't want to farm?"

Mike Lunsford, president of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, and one of the
last to speak, told the audience that he was disappointed in
the "negativity" he had been hearing all day.

"I think it's a shame that we're so centered on ourselves and our
personal interests," he said.

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