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Residents share views on the future of the Ellwood-Devereux Wildland

Santa Barbara News-Press 6 November 2003

Officials say they want to balance protection of land with public use

By Thomas Schultz

As a child, Robin Cederlof rode horses up and down Goleta beaches and fondly recalls excursions to the Ellwood Mesa shoreline.

Now the picturesque wildland near UCSB is one of just a few equestrian-friendly beach stretches left on the South Coast. And Ms. Cederlof hopes the popular open space will remain accommodating.

"This is a crucial access point for us," said Ms. Cederlof, 49, who joined nearly 70 people Wednesday night, at Dos Pueblos High School to sound off on management plans for the Ellwood Devereux Coast Open Space 645 acres between Isla Vista to the east and Sandpiper Golf Course to the west.

This was the public's latest opportunity to offer input on managing the area, a place enjoyed for steep bluffs, monarch butterfly migrations, dunes, eucalyptus windrows and the Devereux Slough.

Officials say they want to protect, enhance and restore the Ellwood Devereux zone while making public access, passive play and conservation compatible. Another key goal is to expand awareness of the area through research and education.

A draft management plan is due in February along with cost estimates. In the meantime, authorities have asked the public for comment on preliminary concepts, outlined in an half-inch-thick sneak peak released Friday.

"It's really important" said John Gray, project manager with planning consultant URS Corp. "Today is the just the beginning of a larger process."

It's a process that has some residents worried and watching closely.

UCSB staff engineer Frank Spada, 28, is a regular surfer, hiker and biker at Ellwood. "It's my paradise," he said Wednesday. "I'd prefer it to stay the way it is. There's so few areas left that areas beautiful and open as this."

It's a space that has been used for hundreds of years - as Chumash land, later for cattle and horse grazing and more recently for oil and gas production in the 1920s and 1930s. By the 1960s, residential development had accelerated nearby, along with development pressures that persisted.

Now the zone's future rests on the success of a fund-raising campaign and the outcome of a 2002 land swap involving developers, the city of Goleta, UCSB and Santa Barbara County. Under the agreement, proposed neighborhoods are, located away from the shore and the most sensitive habitats.

Darlene Chirman, president of the Santa Barbara Audubon Society, expressed concern about habitat preservation and restoration.

She said birds and other species could benefit from trail layout changes already proposed.

Redesigned and enhanced paths figure heavily in the early plans. Some existing trails would be closed. Some would gain bridges or boardwalk spanning wetlands.

Seating areas or overlooks would added throughout.

"We're very pleased to see the reduction in the number of trails," Ms. Chirman said, adding that nesting birds need the room. "They really need to have people far away."

About 200 parking spaces are proposed adjacent to six existing access points along the open space perimeter, including a lot near Coal Oil Point.

The skeptical Mr. Spada raised his eyebrow to that "There's no need for more parking lots," he said. "That is my number one gripe."

Project planners said balancing human uses with access restrictions is a big part of their task.

Too few trails could limit walking access for people who enjoy roaming.

Too many, however, could degrade the area.

"This is a work in, progress," said Tim Murphy, a URS assistant manager. "There's a variety of users of there today. Some areas are more intensely used than others."

Some of the parking lots would have all-weather surfaces. Generally, none would be open at night. And spots at existing on-street locations nearby would remain an option - including those near trailheads at Santa Barbara Shores Drive, Newport Drive and Coronado, Drive and along Pebble Beach Drive.

Beach access improvements are also proposed. A new set of bluff stairs would be built to the east of Coal Oil Point, at Sands Beach and at the southwest corner of the UCSB property line. A new ramp or stairs would descend from the eastern Elwood Mesa.

Two permanent restrooms are proposed. Some fencing is proposed to close trails and protect sensitive habitats.

Signs to explain regulations, identify trails and educate the public about the area are expected.

And equestrian access would continue.

A final management plan is expected by next summer, along with environmental impact reports related to the project.