December 2007

As the year comes to a close, we would like to share some highlights of MMPC’s work in 2007:

  • More Mesa was offered for sale in early January, at an asking price of $110 Million.  There seem to be no serious buyers at this time. However, if the developable area on the 265 acre property were larger than currently allowed 40 acres, it is likely that prospective buyers would be extremely interested.  The only way to change the allowable development envelope is if a new Biological Evaluation were conducted.  In October, the owner of More Mesa requested that the County of Santa Barbara arrange for such an updated Biological Evaluation.  MMPC has already made suggestions about what should be included in the Scoping Document for this study and is following this activity very closely.

  • MMPC has committed to the creation of a multipurpose More Mesa Handbook dealing with its resources, history and constraints.  The handbook is being funded by a generous grant from the Goleta Valley Land Trust.  We expect it to be published in early 2008.

  • We have completed the analysis of more than 300 Usage Surveys submitted by members of the community who regularly visit More Mesa.  The results of this survey will be posted on the web site in 2008.

  • In mid July, a fire broke out on the eastern edge of More Mesa.  MMPC is monitoring the recovery of native and non-native plants in the five-acre burn area on a bi-weekly basis.

  • Finally, in pursuit of our mission to preserve More Mesa forever, the More Mesa Preservation Coalition (MMPC) has presented several illustrated talks tailored to the needs of the specific audiences.  We are planning many more for 2008.  In addition to illustrated talks, we have also produced a useful and concise press packet for distribution to local media.

Thank you all for your wonderful support and for loving this very special place.
Our warmest holiday wishes to all of you.

Community use of More Mesa on Sunday evening, December 2, 2007.

November 2007

New Biological Study Sought

Some History: As you all know, More Mesa is the last, large, undeveloped, open space in urban Santa Barbara.  This coastal treasure is known for its outstanding biological and visual resources, and has been a recreational haven for Santa Barbara residents for almost six decades.  Large developments on More Mesa were proposed, and denied, during the 1960s and 1970s.  Then, a landmark biological survey, done under the auspices of UCSB, and led by Wayne Ferren, documented the site’s habitat value, particularly for white-tailed kites.  As a result of this study, Santa Barbara County recognized the need for an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat (ESH) overlay on More Mesa.  This overlay was formalized in the 1993 Goleta Community Plan, which specifies that development of up to 70 residences may occur only on the northeastern most 40 acres of More Mesa; the remaining 225 acres being designated as ESH.

For about ten years there have been no development proposals of any kind concerning More Mesa.  However, the property was openly put up for sale early this year, with an asking price of $110M.  So far, there seem to be no buyers.  However, if the developable area were larger than 40 acres, or should the entire ESH overlay be removed, it is likely that prospective buyers would be extremely interested.  The only way the ESH overlay can be changed, is if a new Biological Evaluation were conducted, and failed to show environmental sensitivity.  Last month, the owner of More Mesa requested that the County of Santa Barbara arrange for such an updated Biological Evaluation of More Mesa.

Consequences: The consequences of reducing or eliminating the ESH are intensive development.  If all 265 acres are defined as “developable”, building could occur over the entirety of More Mesa, similar to the proposals of the 1960s and 70s.  Alternately, there are distinct possibilities that the development area, as currently defined, could be reduced (rather than increased), since there are more wetlands on the eastern edge than were there 25 years ago. Further, many species currently found on More Mesa that were not of special concern in the early 1980s, are now shown on special lists, becoming rare and are declining relative to their status.

Previous Study Was Very Well Done: The 1982 study collected data for an entire year and resulted in a 333 page report that has been a model of environmental analysis for the whole Santa Barbara area.  Recommendations contained in the study were embedded in the 1993 Goleta Community Plan, and policies in that document concerning More Mesa are very specific.  Moreover, the 1993 Goleta Community Plan received approval from the Board of Supervisors for Santa Barbara County, and the Coastal Commission as well.

What Next? In coming weeks, County staff will be preparing a Scoping Document to define what studies will be included in the proposed new Biological Evaluation.  Subsequent to this determination, and in concurrence with the owner’s representatives, a Request for Proposal (RFP) will be issued to those organizations qualified to perform the work.  Based on guidance in the Goleta Community Plan, the proposed evaluation will have to be comprehensive, detailed and lengthy. The public will be involved at several stages in the process and we will alert you to these opportunities.  Moreover, we (MMPC) have already submitted a list of suggestions about issues that we feel should be treated as part of the study.

American Kestrel, male, along eastern border of More Mesa, November 7, 2007.
Shorebirds from the cliffs of More Mesa, November 7, 2007.

October 2007

In addition to our permanent bird population, some fall migrants are stopping over on More Mesa, and many of our winter residents have already arrived.  In the past two weeks, the following birds have been observed on More Mesa:

  • Northern Harrier
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • American Kestrel
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Wilson’s Warbler
  • Blue Gray Gnatcatcher
  • Black-throated Gray Warbler
  • Cassin’s Kingbird
  • Say’s Phoebe
  • Wood Pewee
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Northern Flicker

And, of course look for our ever present, beautiful White-tailed Kites.

Also, while out on the East side of More Mesa, notice how the burn area is already recovering. Shoots of many native plants (coyote bush, willow and oak) are making their appearance from the fire blackened earth … and after only 0.3 inches of rain last month!

Say's Phoebe
Say’s Phoebe catching insects in the burned area, More Mesa, October 9, 2007.

September 2007

In June of this year we reported that the permit submitted by developer, Jack Maxwell, to convert the “remodel” in the Hacienda Vieja project to a duplex, was approved by the Planning Commission.  This disappointing decision allowed what will be, in effect, a sixth residence in a very environmentally sensitive area.  Because MMPC believes it is the responsibility of our elected and appointed officials to speak for us, protect our environment and act as guardians of the community’s best interest, we filed an appeal to the Board of Supervisors.

We used the appeal as an opportunity to let the Board know that we are extremely concerned about the cumulative impact of County decisions in the past few years, and remind them that we look to our representatives to protect and preserve More Mesa.  We stressed three points:

  • The community cares about More Mesa.  We value its outstanding visual, biological and recreational values.
  • We want to be involved in any proposed development on or around More Mesa, and we want to be involved early in the process.
  • We want the County to rigorously enforce both the letter, and intent, of adopted polices in the Goleta Community Plan and other applicable county documents.

Unfortunately, the Board of Supervisors voted against the appeal, 3-2 and allowed the permit. During deliberations, Second District Supervisor, Janet Wolf reviewed the history of the project clearly, factually and with extreme thoroughness.  She pointed out that it was not the intent of previous governing bodies to have six residences on the project.  She also stressed that hundreds of hours had been spent in arriving at a solution that was accepted by all stakeholders, and further that the County needed to be true to the integrity all of the processes involved.  It was clear that Supervisor Wolf had spent many, many hours familiarizing herself with the details of this project and was very cognizant of what had transpired over the years of deliberation on Hacienda Vieja issues. First district Supervisor Salud Carbajal echoed Supervisor Wolf’s comments and joined her in voting for the appeal. We would like to extend our sincere thanks to Supervisors Wolf and Carbajal for all their effort and support.

More Mesa Preservation Coalition

turnstones A group of 7 or more Black Turnstones on More Mesa beach seen from cliffs, Sep 17, 2007 cassins Cassin’s Kingbird – a group of about 5 seen on central More Mesa, Sep 17, 2007

August 2007

In mid afternoon of July 18th a fire broke out on the eastern edge of More Mesa.  Winds were potentially very dangerous. In fact, at first assessment, it appeared it might be difficult to contain the fire, which was spreading in a northwesterly direction.  However, within less than ten minutes, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department was on the scene. A helicopter assigned to the Zaca Lake fire was also temporarily diverted and joined in fighting the blaze. This dedicated and efficient team, working on the ground and from the air, had the flames extinguished within 15 minutes.  To insure that there were no remaining hot spots, firefighters stayed on the scene for another 2-3 hours.  The investigation conducted by the Fire Department estimates the burn area to 5 acres (see below), and concludes that the fire was probably caused by sparks from a motorcycle exhaust pipe.

We all can help prevent any future recurrence of this kind.  This year’s rainfall was significantly below average and all our open areas are extremely dry.  Therefore we urge all of you who recreate on More Mesa to be extremely vigilant about not smoking or introducing other potential fire risks (motorized vehicles) to this precious remaining open space.  Also, please point out potential fire danger to others out on More Mesa who might be unaware of the high fire risk.

The whole community extends our heartfelt thanks to our fire fighters for responding so quickly and, most importantly, for the wonderful job they did.  THANK YOU SANTA BARBARA COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT!

Map of the July 18, 2007 fire on More Mesa.

july fire
Aftermath of the July 18, 2007 fire on More Mesa.