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Drive Underway To Buy, Preserve Prime Santa Barbara County Foothills Land

It’s a scenic hike in the foothills of San Marcos Pass just three minutes off of Highway 154.  The San Marcos Foothills Nature Preserve just outside of Santa Barbara has grasslands, wildlife, and panoramic views of the Santa Ynez Mountains, as well as the Pacific Ocean.  Now, there’s an effort underway to expand it.

The preserve is some 200 acres of land in the foothills just east of Highway 154.  Santa Barbara County owns the land, which is protected from development.  But, 104 acres of hilly grassland sandwiched between the highway, and the preserve is slated for development. 

Ken Owen is Executive Director of the non-profit group Channel Islands Restoration.

Elihu Gevirtz is a senior ecologist with the non-profit.  He says the hilly grassland is a resource which needs to be preserved.  But, saving the land could be an expensive effort.  A developer, the Chadmar Group, has county permits to build eight luxury homes on the property.  They made a major concession to get the permits.  Years ago, the community was given the 200 acres of land which make up the existing San Marcos Preserve in exchange for permission to build some homes around its edges.

Some members of the community are hoping to raise enough money that they can convince the developer to cash out, and walk away from the project.

Owen admits they don’t know what that figure would be, but they’ve been raising money.  He says they paid for an assessment which put the value of the land at $5.5 million dollars.  But, he says the developer feels the land could be worth two to three times that.  If the homes were built, they would sell for a few million dollars each.

The non-profit has an offer on the table, but at this point, the details are confidential.  A just launched fundraising campaign has raised more than $1.3 million dollars.

Supporters of the effort says if the developer agrees to a deal, the funding will have to come from the community.  If the price tag ended up being more than the assessed valuation, it would be ineligible for government funding. 

But, they say once people experience the land, and see the spectacular views, they will see it’s a resource worth of protection.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.