The Story To Save The Gaviota Coast Forever

Anyone who has driven north via Highway 101 through Santa Barbara County surely knows that once you pass UCSB and Goleta, the next stretch of coastline for 20 miles has an unpresedented look and feel for Southern California. No hotels (except for the over-indulgent Bacara), minimal houses and vast open land remain. But keeping this land undeveloped has been a struggle for over twenty years and one that continues today. Below is the story of twenty men, who have made it their life’s mission to keep this pristine stretch of coastline in tact. With the help of the Surfrider Foundation and YOU (via Kickstarter), this battle can be ended forever! 

In just over two generations, 280 of the 300 miles of Southern California’s once unspoiled coastline have been lost to development, FOREVER. Only 20 miles of coastline remain undeveloped and unprotected – for every generation that follows us. 

Twenty men, for twenty years, for twenty miles… This is the story of the Surfrider Foundation, Santa Barbara Chapter’s epic struggle to preserve the Gaviota Coast – Southern California’s last remaining stretch of unspoiled, rural coastline. 

For twenty years, twenty men have withstood a slew of deep-pocket developers, major corporations, and elected officials in their effort to protect the Gaviota Coast’s incredible biodiversity and unparalleled scenic beauty.

“The Twenty” is an inspiring story of ordinary people, fueled by their passion and their love, who stand together against improbable odds to defend one of California’s last great places.

We want to inspire our audience so that they will aspire to join The Twenty and help preserve the Gaviota Coast. Our goal is to connect people with this remarkable area and foster a sense of stewardship for the land, thus empowering them and the preservation campaign to save the Gaviota Coast FOREVER.

  • Create a groundswell of support of “first responders” who will mobilize to block development (SB County Supervisors and Coastal Commission)
  • Create the Gaviota Coast Legal Defense Fund to support ongoing legal expenses for preservation
  • Launch “$20 for 20 Miles” grassroots fundraising campaign for permanent preservation of the Gaviota Coast

Using interviews, historical images, and theatrical reenactments, “The Twenty” will weave Surfrider’s battle to preserve this threatened area from development and urban sprawl together with the Gaviota Coast’s rich history, remarkable biodiversity and incomparable scenic beauty. The animation of Highliner Studios will fully immerse viewers into past and present story-lines to help foster a connection to the Gaviota Coast.

Interview from Sandy Lejune of the Surfrider Foundation Santa Barbara Chapter:

What makes the Gaviota Coast so special and why has the Surfrider Foundation Santa Barbara fought for so many years to save it? 

The Gaviota Coast is unique: in just over two generations, 280 of the 300 miles of southern California’s once unspoiled coastline have been lost to development, FOREVER. Only 20 miles of coastline remain undeveloped and unprotected – for every generation that follows us.  The Gaviota Coast is one of only five Mediterranean-type ecosystems world-wide, and the only one in North America.  Mediterranean climate zones comprise just two percent of the earth’s surface, but contain 20 percent of the world’s plant species.  It’s incredibly biodiverse both on the land and in the ocean, and its beauty rivals anyplace else in the world.  The Surfrider Foundation Santa Barbara Chapter’s members have fought for 20 years to save it because of all these things, because we are personally connected to it, and because we love it as it is.  As farmer/author Wendell Berry has written, “People exploit what they have merely concluded to be of value, but they defend what they love.”

Over the 20 years, what have been the greatest accomplishments and biggest setbacks for this movement? 

Our greatest accomplishment has been to slow or stop developers by challenging every development project on the Gaviota Coast.  For ten years we fought development of a golf course on a key Gaviota Coast parcel, and we lead the campaign to defeat it – twice – at the CA Coastal Commission.  Over our 20-year history, our tactic of “constant pressure, endless applied” is perhaps our greatest achievement.  But we haven’t won every battle.  The development of the Bacara Resort and Spa on a gateway Gaviota Coast parcel is, in the words of one of our chapter members, “an open wound on the Gaviota Coast that will never heal.”  It was a body blow and a wake-up call for us. 

We hear that the Gaviota Coast has exceptional bio-diversity, can you tell us more on the impact that development might have? 

The Gaviota Coast contains over 1400 plant and animal species, 24 of which are threatened or endangered, including steelhead salmon, white-tailed kites, red-legged frogs, and more.  The area is among the top 15 biodiversity “hotspots” on the planet; scientists from around the world come to the Gaviota Coast for study and research.  The large areas of undeveloped land – from the coastal ridgetops to the ocean – allow larger species – foxes, bears, bobcats, mountain lions, hawks and eagles – the chance to survive.  The Gaviota Coast is situated at a key “mixing zone” of cold northern and warm southern ocean currents, which create conditions for a huge diversity of marine life to thrive.  Development – whether through subdivision of larger parcels, disturbing the natural landscape, grading of the land, conversion of farmland and open space to homesites, paving, lighting, waste and water treatment facilities, and so on – will negatively impact plant and animal species, the land, and the fragile near-shore marine environment

Who have been the key players on each side? Developers and those against the development? 

It’s important to understand that when it comes to the Gaviota Coast, there is almost zero support for development.  A huge majority of SB County citizens, the current slow-growth majority on the County Board of Supervisors, and ranching and farming families who own land on the coast, all favor preservation over development.  The Surfrider Foundation Santa Barbara Chapter has been a leader among local environmental groups working to save the Gaviota Coast, along the Environmental Defense Center, the law firm of Marc Chytilo, the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, and the Naples Coalition.  At the national level, the Surfrider Foundation has strongly supported our efforts for more than three years.  Often our efforts reflect a very collaborative process.  As for developers, the last twelve years have seen the rise and decline of Matt Osgood, an Orange County transplant who dreamed of building luxury estates on the Gaviota Coast but ultimately went bankrupt.  The Makar Corporation from Newport Beach has been trying to develop a parcel for more than fifteen years, and currently has a project under review by Santa Barbara County.

How imminent is the development threat? 

There are at least half a dozen development projects on the Gaviota Coast that are pending, under review or in the pipeline.  The entire application process requires approval by Santa Barbara County officials and (for projects in the coastal zone) the CA Coastal Commission.  It can take years for this process to unfold, during which time an applicant’s project must be monitored by the public at various hearings, meetings, and/or workshops.  One of the challenges of working to preserve the Gaviota Coast is maintaining our focus and reminding the public that, just because development doesn’t appear to be an immediate threat, the prospect of development is still very real.  “Constant pressure, endlessly applied” must always be our default position.

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