The Ellwood Bluffs are going to get screwed up – just not as badly as before.

In the bad old days, out-of-town greedheads, clothed in a legal fiction called the “Santa Barbara Development Partnership” and represented by local greedhead Randy Fox, wanted to build a ton of homes (eventually negotiated down to 130) out on the Ellwood bluffs. A few houses would have been a stone’s throw away from the monarch butterfly groves. For over a decade, local enviros badgered and sued the developers to a standstill. Meanwhile, UCSB looked at the Ellwood area as a faculty-housing site, and bought up some coastal land but never did very much. Now, the greedheads, the university and the county are all working on a plan to “save the Ellwood Bluffs,” and it will – kinda.

The county is brokering a land swap in which the greedheads trade their bluff-top land for grasslands on the west edge of the Ellwood neighborhood, and UCSB swaps its property by the Devereux slough for land around the golf course (giving it 270 more homes than it was planning on before). Why is the county brokering the deal and swapping its land? Because it wants to save the Ellwood Bluffs – and because the greedheads and UCSB have it by those short and curly purse strings.

The greedheads, being good capitalists, want to make a lot of money. By now they’re fairly well convinced that a bunch of loopy butterfly huggers will make building on the Ellwood Bluffs impossible. They can, however, threaten to sue the county if they aren’t allowed to build on their land and aren’t compensated for it. So, they’ll trade for land they can build on, but first they’re going to see if they can squeeze some extra “compensation” out of the deal.

UCSB wants faculty housing. Every department on campus is bitching about attracting professors. The university has land out by West Campus they could build on, but it’d probably have to build there at low density to mitigate the wetland damage, whereas if they build inland they can build more. UCSB can push the county around because the county wants UCSB money to redevelop I.V. If it came to it, UCSB could also bully Goleta by threatening to screw up the Old Town Goleta redevelopment by not playing nice on Highway 217.

The county wants the whole Ellwood Bluffs mess to go away in a politically acceptable manner, to play nice with the university and maybe to get some property taxes off the greedhead-built houses. To do this, it has to broker the land swap and sweeten the deal by, ahem, improving the Ellwood Bluffs with restrooms and a paved trail. That concrete obscenity of a trail would stretch from the greedheads’ homes in the west, down across the bluffs and around UCSB’s new faculty housing – improving the greedheads property values and making UCSB’s faculty ghetto more attractive. Now, to sell this to the state’s environmental agencies, the county wants to drop in a bunch of parking lots at the trailheads so the ugly concrete thing can be passed off as public access to Sands Beach.

If the county’s deal works, it’ll be a heck of a deal. The greedheads, the University and the county will all make out well once the details are hammered out. Goletans might object to all the new parking lots, but the city is too young and disorganized to pay much attention. The plovers out at the Coal Oil Point probably won’t like their parking lot either, and the bluffs will be trashed with a two-mile strip of road and bathrooms.

Get out to Ellwood and enjoy while you can the bluffs and the beach and the birds and butterflies. Asphalt’s a comin’.