Nearly 25,000 acres of pristine coastal uplands and a fair share of surf spots were sold last week when a Los Angeles-based corporation purchased the Jalama and Cojo ranches.
The two ranches – which stretch from the Gaviota Coast to the Jalama Beach County Park – were worth a combined $155 million, although the actual sale price has not been disclosed. The land was purchased by Coastal Management Resources, LLC, with money provided by Boston-based investment advisor Baupost Group.
Costal Management Resources has no set plans for the land’s future, according to a statement released by the buyer’s attorney, Steven Amerikaner.
“We have no preconceived plans for the property and believe that any future plan will only be possible after extensive consultation with the public, community leaders, elected officials, environmentalists, government officials and longtime local ranchers,” Chief Operating Officer for Coastal Management Resources, Linda Miller said.
Although the land consists of 52 legal parcels available for development, the possibility of housing developments being approved for construction any time soon is slim on either ranch, said Michael Feeney, executive director of the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County.
According to Feeney, development would require approval from many different organizations, including the California Coastal Commission and the County of Santa Barbara. In addition, since the land’s former owners previously signed an agreement with Vandenberg Air Force Base, the U.S. Air Force also has the right to restrict where land can be developed on CRM’s new property.
Infrastructure is also lacking in the area, Feeney said, which he believes will stall development.
“I can’t imagine buying [the land] and selling off lots immediately, there’s not the infrastructure there, and it’s a long ways from anywhere,” Feeney said.
Kerry Mormann, one of the listing agents for the two ranches, also said he does not believe the purchasers will make any major changes to the property in the near future.
Miller said that the Coastal Management Resources would use a “team of expert advisors” to determine the best usage for the land. The statement does not present a timetable for development, or other activity.
“We are going to take our time, to learn about the property and its resources and to listen to what people think,” Miller said.
Feeney said the land is zoned for agriculture, so the LLC building possibilities are limited to a ranch house, housing for workers and a guesthouse on each of the 52 land parcels. But Feeney said that development is not possible on all parcels.
“Just because they’re legal parcels doesn’t mean that’s the best place for development,” Feeney said.
The land, which was listed by Mormann & Associates to include over eight miles of coastline and more than 20 square miles of hilly countryside, also houses at least two endangered species, Brian Trautwein, an Environmental Analyst for the Environmental Defense Center said. The steelhead and red-legged frog both have designated habitats in creeks on the ranches, Trautwein said.
“This means that these are very significant creeks, important for the species’ survival and recovery,” he said.
But more than just acres of land were sold to Coastal Management Resources, at least two world-class surf breaks – Cojo and Government Point – were included in the deal, Mark Morey of Santa Barbara Surfrider said. The spots, along with the countless other breaks along the coast, are only accessible by boat, Morey said.
Morey said he and the Surfrider Foundation are worried about potential development, but there is nothing they can do.
“SB chapter of Surfrider will be on the fight, but its quite a ways off, so right now we’re just waiting to see,” Morey said.
Feeney said developers could potentially make money without building new ranches throughout the land. The property owners could use government grants to set aside parts of the land for conservation and potentially would not lose money, Feeney said.
“I would maintain that there’s a great conservation opportunity for an owner that wants to build less rather than more,” Feeney said.
Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone, whose constituency includes both Jalama and Cojo Ranches, said he hopes the land will remain untouched, but he also noted that the CCC and the county are conservative about coastal development.
“Basically, I like the coast the way it is,” Firestone said.