After receiving $19.4 million in grants and donations over the past 22 months, the campaign to save Ellwood Mesa is just $1 million short of its goal.
The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and Friends of the Ellwood Coast, a local environmentalist group, have been working together since January 2003 to raise the $20.4 million needed to purchase 137 acres of the mesa from developer Comstock Homes. The groups, which have until Dec. 15 to come up with the rest of the money, distributed fliers last week asking local residents to help as much as possible during the final two months of fundraising.
“We have really strong faith that the community will come through,” said Mary Menees, public affairs director for the TPL. “People really care about the property.”
Efforts to save the mesa, which attracts thousands of migrating monarch butterflies each winter, have been taking place for more than 20 years, Menees said. However, she said, the campaign to purchase the land was initiated in January 2003 after Bob Comstock of Comstock Homes announced he would be pursuing plans to develop the land into a residential neighborhood.
Diane Conn, a director of the Isla Vista Recreation and Park District, said along with the $20.4 million, the City of Goleta will be swapping 36 acres of what is now Santa Barbara Shores Park for Comstock’s larger parcel of land. Comstock will be able to build approximately 70 housing units on the 36-acre property.
Conn said the white-tailed kite, red-shouldered hawk and bobcat are among the animals that would be at risk if the land were developed.
“We can’t allow development on an environmentally sensitive habitat,” Conn said.
The TPL fliers sent out last week said the land is home to the largest butterfly migration in California, and anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000 butterflies stop there on their flight down the coast from Northern California each winter.
Carla Frisk, a project consultant for the TPL, said approximately $8 million of the money raised so far came from the public, and the rest came from various private and federal groups such as the California Coastal Conservancy and the California Wildlife Conservation Board.
Frisk said the support the campaign has received so far reflects the importance of the land to the community.
“People walk on the bluffs and paint, bird watch and there is a safe trail to the beach,” Frisk said. “You don’t see any development from 90 percent of the property … it’s so serene.”
With only two months left to raise the necessary money needed to preserve Ellwood Mesa, Frisk said she believes no one involved in the campaign is worried that their efforts will end in failure.
“I just don’t think that’s in our vocabulary,” Frisk said. “You just don’t walk away from a deal this close.”
Frisk said the remaining money will most likely come from community members.
“People are already sending in their second checks,” she said.
Conn said she too is confident the campaign will be a success.
“If any community is capable of finding a million dollars, we are,” Conn said.
Those interested in contributing to the Save Ellwood Mesa campaign can contact Suzanne Moss at (415) 495-5660, ext. 402.