County planners presented a proposal to put in a 40-space parking lot at Coal Oil Point and the end of Del Playa Drive, as well as a paved multi-use path across the Ellwood Bluffs, in a Tuesday-night community meeting on the future of the Ellwood and Devereux coast.
The plan is a joint effort between the university, the county and developers to combine environmental protection, development and beach access in one proposal. Close to 200 Ellwood residents, UCSB faculty and staff, environmental activists, and county employees, including 3rd District Supervisor Gail Marshall and Goleta Mayor Margaret Connell, listened to the proposal by County Planner Dianne Meester in the Ellwood Elementary School multipurpose room.
The proposal would shift a 131-unit housing development, planned by Santa Barbara Development Partnership, further north to the county-owned Santa Barbara Shores Park next to Sandpiper Golf Course and away from the Ellwood area. The Ellwood coast, from Sandpiper to the Coal Oil Point Reserve and east to Isla Vista, would be permanently preserved as open space.
To increase access to the area, the county suggested installing a multi-use paved trail from the end of El Colegio Road, across the Ellwood Mesa and up the bluff top to the Santa Barbara Shores Park. Along the trail, the county would put seating, overlook spots, a restroom and an interpretive center.
Audience members clapped enthusiastically as Meester outlined the open space part of the proposal, but their enthusiasm faded quickly as she introduced the planned location for seven new parking lots.
Meester jokingly said she would have preferred not to reveal the placement of the parking lots and when she did the audience attacked the plan.
“Not going to happen,” someone said almost as soon as Meester pointed to the first location, a 70-space lot next to the Ellwood eucalyptus grove.
The plans are still only proposals and Meester and County Planner John Patton said they just wanted to give the community a chance to see them. A final copy will be prepared in February and the plans will eventually have to be approved by the California Coastal Commission.
“We thought we owed it to the community to let it be known what the proposal is all about,” Patton said. “But, this is not to say the plan is unchanging.”
Any of the groups involved can pull out of the proposal and essentially terminate the project.
“There are so many groups that can torpedo this proposal,” Meester said to a resident who asked about the possibility that the developer would decide not to go along with the plan.
Another audience member asked whether the county was proposing the parking lots in anticipation of an increase in the number of people going to the beach, but Meester said the parking lots were not based on traffic studies and were just suggestions.
The audience members, who appeared to be mostly Ellwood residents, objected most strongly to the parking lots in the Ellwood area and less to the two parking lots near I.V. Both lots would have 40 spaces; one would be at the end of Del Playa Dr. and one would be – along with an interpretive center and restrooms – at the Cliff House at Coal Oil Point Reserve.
The area in between Del Playa Dr. and the reserve would stay open.
In exchange for preserving the West Campus bluffs, the university would be allowed to put in faculty housing around the Ocean Meadows Golf Course. The course would relocate its driving range for 151 units of new student family housing and another 236 units of faculty housing on the northern part of Ocean Meadows.
The advantage, Meester said, is that the environmentally-sensitive bluffs would stay protected. Right now, the entire Ellwood Mesa is designated for development, which would build over the popular Ellwood eucalyptus grove where thousands of monarch butterflies gather every year to mate.
The existing land use designation calls for 351 residential units north of the Coal Oil Point Reserve and up to the new Goleta city boundary, and another 162 units inside the city borders.
“Our goal is to preserve and enhance some of the property at hand,” Meester said. “This plan will provide community access, hiking trails and access to the beach.”
Alissa Anderson also contributed to this story.