For decades, surfers, divers, hikers and others have accessed beaches along the Gaviota Coast by parking along Highway 101, crossing the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and often trekking across private property.
The Gaviota Coast Plan, which Wednesday spent its second day under review of the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission, would include improvements to that access and plan a series of public access trails over the 39 miles of coastline and coastal foothills between Goleta and Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Exactly where those trails will be located, including the California Coastal, a not-yet-finished public access trail that some day would stretch from Mexico to the Oregon border, is so far one of the most controversial portions of the long-range planning document.
Currently, the only local portion of the California Coastal Trail that has been completed is a 4.5-mile stretch from the east side of El Capitan Ranch to Refugio State Beach.
The plan will update the county’s Parks, Recreation and Trails map that was developed more than 30 years ago. According to members of the Gaviota Coast Planning Advisory Committee, which helped develop the document, and the county’s long-range planners, it also would give impetus to more trail development on public land and supply coastal property owners with notice that portions of their land would be subject to trail easement if they someday develop their property.
The coast plan features a series of potential trails that would connect into existing trails at El Capitan and Refugio state beaches, Gaviota State Park, Jalama Beach County Park, and Los Padres National Forest along West Camino Cielo.
While most of the trails in the county’s plan from the 1980s have never been realized, both property owners and planning commissioners didn’t believe there was enough specific information in the plan to begin drawing trail maps.
Paul Van Leer, representing Las Varas Ranch, said approving a map with the California Coastal Trail would jeopardize the ranch’s offer to dedicate property to the county for public trails and would be a burden on all coastal property owners.
“It’s not just a line on the map. It has long-range repercussions to me and a lot of people,” he said.
Fifth District Commissioner Dan Blough agreed.
“For me, it’s ridiculous to decide where the trail is today,” Blough said. “For us to sit down and try to figure out where that line might be just isn’t appropriate.”
Blough suggested the potential route for the coastal trail be a wide “swath” that stretches from the mean high tide line on the beach to the north side of Highway 101. That would allow for a wide range of possible routes for the coastal trail, which could embrace the safest and most feasible route.
Blough wasn’t alone in his apprehension to start drawing lines on a map. Several Gaviota Coast property owners objected to the idea of trails bisecting their properties.
Richard Rozzelle, district superintendent with California State Parks, said the plan concerned him for several reasons, one of which was that it shouldn’t be approved before the state updates its park planning. He said planning the coastal trail through the El Capitan and Gaviota areas is like “threading a needle” because of the narrow gap between the highway and the beach.
Rozzelle also said any plan embracing specific trail lines on a map across state park property isn’t appropriate.
The plan proposes to maximize vertical access to the beaches at: Naples/Paradiso del Mara, Dos Pueblos Canyon, Las Varas East, Edwards Point, Tajiguas Creek, Caltrans Vista Point, Canada de Guillermo, Canada del Molino, Canada San Onofre and the Gaviota Marine Terminal.
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