The Goleta City Council voted unanimously yesterday to accept a $4 million grant from the California Wildlife Conservation Board to aid the city in the preservation of Ellwood Mesa.

The conservation board is a state organization that allocates funds for the purchase of land in order to preserve habitats, protect wildlife and support recreational activities such as bird watching, biking and jogging. The grant was awarded to the city of Goleta in mid-February on the condition that the Ellwood Mesa property would become a wildlife habitat preserve and serve as a wildlife education and research center.

“It’s not every day that we get $4 million from a source,” city councilwoman Margaret Connell said.

In 2002, California voters passed Proposition 50, which gave the conservation board $940 million to allocate to local governments for the purchase of land in or adjacent to urban areas to protect environmentally sensitive habitats.

Ellwood Mesa is a 137-acre property located adjacent to UCSB’s West Campus. It is bordered by the Sandpiper Golf Course to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the south, Devereux Creek to the west and Goleta to the north.

Including the grant, Goleta has raised $13.3 million out of the total of $20.4 million it needs to purchase Ellwood Mesa from Bob Comstock, the private developer who currently owns the land. Because the property is worth over $20.4 million, the city has agreed to give 36 acres of Santa Barbara Shores Park to Comstock Homes Residential Development to make up the difference.

Ellwood Mesa is one of the most valuable biological transition zones in California, according to the Trust for Public Land, a state-funded organization that helps conserve open lands for recreation and public access. The property includes seasonal wetlands, a coastal lagoon and sand dunes and is home to a variety of coastal wildlife. It is also home to over 40,000 monarch butterflies that shelter in Ellwood’s eucalyptus groves during their annual winter migration.

On March 23, the city of Goleta, UCSB and Santa Barbara County released their joint plan for how the Ellwood Mesa property will be utilized after enough money is raised to purchase it.

The plan includes the transfer of a portion of Santa Barbara Shores Park to Comstock Homes to complete the land swap agreement, in addition to a relocation of UCSB’s planned faculty and family student housing project away from the coast. The proposal also includes the rezoning of a portion of the Ocean Meadows Golf Course from a residential area to a recreational area, thus limiting the extent of future development.