Two years of fundraising have paid off for the Save Ellwood Mesa campaign, which has finally raised the $20.4 million needed to rescue the scenic coastal property from proposed residential development.

Carla Frisk, project consultant for the Trust for Public Lands (TPL), said the final $307,000 donation came as a “Christmas present” from an anonymous private donor, allowing the campaign to purchase the mesa land from its current owners. Frisk said the anonymous donation helped tremendously after fundraising stalled with the campaign less than $1 million short of its goal, forcing the TPL to request an extension to the Dec. 15, 2004 deadline.

According to a TPL press release, donors have made over 3,800 contributions to the campaign in the last two years.

Goleta City Council member Cynthia Brock said Ellwood Mesa will be renamed the Sperling Preserve in honor of Peter and Stephanie Sperling, who donated $5 million to TPL. Peter Sperling is a UCSB graduate and chairman of local internet service provider CallWave, Inc.

TPL and Friends of the Ellwood Coast first joined forces January 2003 to raise money to purchase the 137-acre property from developer Comstock Homes and the Santa Barbara Development Partnership. In addition to the $20.4 million raised by the Save Ellwood Mesa campaign, the current owners of the mesa will receive a 38-acre parcel of land in the adjacent Santa Barbara Shores County Park.

Frisk said there was widespread community support for the project, despite the land swap agreement releasing some areas for residential housing.

“I think the community has been fighting development on that property for over 20 years,” Frisk said. “We asked them, ‘Are you willing to live with some development if the Mesa will be protected forever?’ and the overwhelming majority said, ‘yes.'”

Though they have acquired all the money necessary to purchase Ellwood Mesa, Frisk said the campaign is still accepting donations until the end of January.

“Even though we do have enough money, there are other needs,” Frisk said. “The first thing we’ll need to do is signage and an honor recognition plaque. We also may start an endowment [for long-term maintenance of the mesa] … the city may eventually do habitat restoration or improve trails.”

Friends of the Ellwood Coast President Chris Lange said she was pleased with the local contributions to the campaign, as well as the dedication shown by local political figures like 35th District State Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson in the struggle to preserve the area.

“The proudest thing is [that] we started locally, just rabble-rousing, and then the state kicked in $10 million thanks to Hannah-Beth Jackson,” Lange said. “Eventually, the [federal government, which isn’t] particularly friendly under the Bush administration, gave us $800,000, and it all goes back to the community.”

Brock said the natural diversity of Ellwood — including eucalyptus groves that provide a roosting place for thousands of monarch butterflies every winter — allows Goleta residents access to open spaces uncluttered by development. She said the mesa, located west of the Devereaux Slough, is a popular destination for joggers, cyclists and horseback riders, as well as sightseers and artists who appreciate the sweeping views of the coastline and abundant wildlife.

“The whole idea of saving the Ellwood Coast really caught people’s imaginations – they need to feel there is somewhere they can go and not be surrounded by traffic and buildings and noise,” Brock said. “We want to keep it as natural as possible and not turn it into a manicured urban park. We want to keep it as the same kind of experience and keep the community involved in management.”

The purchase of the Mesa, as well as the land swap arrangement, still requires approval from the California Coastal Commission, which will consider the proposal at their Jan. 12 meeting. Lange said she is confident that the coastal commission would approve the swap.

“They do have some recommendations that would change things, like a 24-hour parking lot,” Lange said. “But they’re not deal-breakers, and we’ll see some minor modifications.”

The land swap is included in the Joint Proposal for the Ellwood-Devereaux Coast, a comprehensive plan involving UCSB, Santa Barbara County and the City of Goleta for managing the local coastline. All the participants of the proposal currently own land on or around Ellwood Mesa.