July 2007

Geology and Sensitive Species
Why do some parts of More Mesa support few, and generally familiar, animals, while others are home to some of the more sensitive species in our region?  The answer lies partly in past geologic activity in the Santa Barbara region.

Santa Barbara is underlain with many fault systems, the activity of which has resulted in land-altering movement such as subsidence or uplift. Some of the more notable uplift areas are the Santa Ynez Mountains, Mission Ridge, the Mesa, and the coastal bluffs from UCSB to Hope Ranch including More Mesa. This variety of land forms has contributed to the many beautiful and diverse ecosystems in the region.

The uplift areas are “south side up” (south side is higher than the north side) and tend to impede groundwater movement toward the ocean. In the case of More Mesa, the catchment area is along the northern edge where the More Ranch fault is found, generally along Atascadero Creek, with many seeps and springs around the fault line. On the flatter portions of More Mesa, heavy rainfall results in the pooling of water. These wetland areas influence the activities of vertebrate and non-vertebrate species in the area.

There are a variety of habitat types on More Mesa, including grassland, riverine, marsh wetland, and oak woodland. In particular, there is a large ravine on the east-central side in which water collects in winter, even in this year of low rainfall. Along the western side of the large ravine, a remnant of native Purple Needlegrass has been found. It was also in this general area, that some special bird species were recently seen and heard.

A greater variety of living things, including bird insect prey, are found in wetland areas. The proximity to these wetland areas of other habitats, seems to allow the residents of the latter to fare better.

The large double-forked ravine funnelling down toward Atascadero Creek, with native grass in the foreground.

On June 10th, 2007, along the western bank of the large double-forked ravine on east-central More Mesa, two grassland bird species were seen – two Grasshopper Sparrow and two Blue Grosbeak males. Also, on June 10th, 2007, further along the More Ranch fault, near the county owned portion of northwest More Mesa, another sensitive species, the Swainson’s Thrush, was heard.

In 1978, California Department of Fish and Game prepared the BIRD SPECIES OF SPECIAL CONCERN IN CALIFORNIA, a document that still guides California in its management priorities. The authors chose to not grant Grasshopper Sparrow Special concern status, but wrote “ . . . there is no indication of any population decline, except perhaps in the southern coastal area, and birders seldom visit this species’ habitat to assess its true status”. This observation still applies, in that the status in coastal areas is largely unknown.

Over the last several years, the last time a Grasshopper Sparrow was seen on More Mesa was in 2005. Blue Grosbeak have been seen in this grassland area almost regularly over the years. In 2005, a newly fledged Blue Grosbeak was seen bathing in Atascadero Creek area adjacent to the ravine.

The use of these areas for nesting by the above species indicate that their habitats are in reasonably healthy condition.

Grasshopper Sparrow
The Grasshopper Sparrow is a small, shy songbird found in open grasslands. It nests and feeds mostly on the ground. The Grasshopper Sparrow name is derived not only from its diet, but also for its grasshopper-like song, which consists of two sharp notes followed by a buzz. Photo of Grasshopper Sparrow, More Mesa, June 10, 2007


Blue Grosbeak
The Blue Grosbeak is a medium sized songbird. Both the male and female have chestnut-brown wing bars, but the male is a beautiful dark blue while the female is mostly brown. Blue Grosbeak is an uncommon species that nests near riparian areas in shrubby grasslands, such as this portion of More Mesa ravine. The top photo is of a male adult Blue Grosbeak, taken on More Mesa, June 10, 2007. The lower photograph is of a fledged Blue Grosbeak, in a break between feather splashing, Atascadero Creek, July 9, 2005.


Swainson’s Thrush
The Swainson’s Thrush is a woodland bird that has a flute-like, upward-spiraling, song. In coastal California, it breeds in riparian woodlands, foraging mostly near the ground, and nesting in understory shrubs.

June 2007

Many of you may remember the long and protracted campaign concerning the Hacienda Vieja Project.  From 2004 to 2006, the More Mesa Preservation Coalition fought through all the public processes to ensure that this development was appropriate for More Mesa.  We were deeply concerned about the size, bulk and scale of the proposed structures, as well as the impact of five families in this small area abutting a sensitive wetland and More Mesa.  The decision makers and the community expressed their desire to have no more than three families on the parcels in question.  However, it was finally, and reluctantly, agreed to permit four new (large) houses and a 4500 square foot remodel, which was essentially a tear down and rebuild.  A compromise had been struck and was accepted by both MMPC and the community. Final permitting occurred in mid 2006.

A few months later, the developer, Jack Maxwell, applied for a permit to convert the “remodel” to a duplex, and then proceeded to build the remodel as if the permit already had been approved.  We were surprised and disappointed when the current Planning Commission voted to allow what is, in effect, a sixth residence.  Apparently, the logic behind their decision was that “If it’s legal, we must approve it.”

We depend on our elected and appointed officials to speak for us, protect our environment and be guardians of the community’s best interest (not an individual’s). The ability and wisdom of these officials to interpret laws on our behalf is critical to shaping a  community for people, not a community built by, and for, developers.   Because of this belief, the MMPC has filed an appeal of this decision to the Board of Supervisors. We feel that Planning Commission approval of a project that was vehemently opposed by the community and previous decision makers, while technically legal, was wrong.  Citizens look to our governing bodies to do, not only what is legal, but what is right! Santa Barbara County has broken trust with the community.  We are looking to the Board of Supervisors to rebuild that trust.

May 2007

Earlier this year, in the February News, the More Mesa Preservation Coalition reported that More Mesa was for sale … for $110 Million.  Shortly after this sale offering appeared in the “Multiple Listings”, the owner contracted with a local company to survey the property.  The “poles” and flags” that may be seen in various areas of More Mesa, are the result of that survey work.  These markers delineate the six parcels that comprise the 265 acres of More Mesa; parcels that range in size from 12.9 acres to 106.6 acres.

 A parcel map of these six areas is shown below. The sale offering states that any of these parcels may be purchased separately, or they may all be purchased together as a block.  The only “developable” 40 acres of More Mesa lie in an “L” shaped area along the eastern and northern edges of the property (see /development-threat/). This developable area is within Parcel #8, the largest parcel of the six.

More Mesa Survey Map – Click on map for a larger version

April 2007

Spring has come to More Mesa.  Kites on the east side are nesting and we are expecting chicks soon.  Many hawks are also nesting on, and around, More Mesa. And although the Northern Harrier was seen on More Mesa on April 10, it should be leaving in the near future for its breeding territory.

While this year’s rains were not enough to produce an abundance of wildflowers ( there is a very good display of blue-eyed grass), the land is green and glorious … the cottonwoods are full, the willows have all their leaves and the grasses are green, lush and tall.  It is a great time to go out and enjoy the wonders of spring.

Cottonwoods in the winter and on April 10, 2007 

March 2007

In pursuit of our mission to preserve More Mesa forever, the More Mesa Preservation Coalition (MMPC) constantly strives to reach the broadest spectrum of our community with our message.  One technique we have used in the past is illustrated talks tailored to the needs of audiences such as Homeowners Associations, Fraternal and Service Organizations and Environmental Groups.  We are currently preparing to accelerate these types of activities, so that we are able to connect with even more members of our Santa Barbara community.  Supporters can help by letting us know of any organization or group that would welcome a talk on More Mesa.  We typically focus on ecological values, recreational resources or history, but can adapt the length and content of any presentation, as appropriate to the particular audience.

Please contact us via the Contact page.

Spring is in the air on More Mesa.