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Driving north or south on Highway 101, you’re sure to have noticed the scenic ocean vista, swaying Eucalyptus lined paths, and fields of coastal sage and wildflowers known as Carpinteria Bluffs.

One of the prime undeveloped properties between Ventura and Goleta, Carpinteria Bluffs offers spectacular views of Anacapa, Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands.

The property also overlooks a low tide beach and one of the four harbor seal rookeries remaining along the southern California coast. The Bluffs provide grassland and coastal sage that serve as foraging grounds for beautiful birds like the White-tailed Kite, American Kestrel and Loggerhead Shrike. Among this stunning scenery passersby walk their dogs along the tree lined paths, peak at the harbor seals, ride bikes, paint landscapes and stop to capture yet another of the magnificent sunsets melting into the Pacific.

History of the Bluffs

Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs President Ted Rhodes speaking at the dedication of the Bluffs, 2002

There is a pretty amazing story of how this coastal gem came to be preserved. For over 20 years, the citizens in Carpinteria fought against development of the Bluffs. Developers with proposals for hotels, housing tracts, business parks and oil refineries came and went without success. City council elections were won and lost over the fate of the Bluffs.

Weary of fighting against projects, local conservationists formed the Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs in 1996 to raise money and build support fora permanent solution.

In 1997, the Land Trust began meeting with the Citizens, and in 1998 we jointly convinced the newest owner/developer, Shea Homes, to sit down with us to discuss selling 52 acres that they had purchased from Chevron, rather than trying to develop it.

Finally, in August 1998, Shea Homes agreed to sell the property to the Land Trust, and at a price of $3,950,000 – well below the appraised value. But there was a catch. The developer would only agree to sell if we could raise the entire purchase price by December 31. Setting aside all fear of failure, the Land Trust and Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs agreed to team up and try to make this deal. We were faced with the daunting task of raising $35,000 per day!

With a lead grant from the Wallis Foundation, a $1 million grant and $1 million loan from the State Coastal Conservancy and a non-stop grassroots campaign, our two groups succeeded in raising not only the purchase cost, but an extra $500,000 to fund an endowment to maintain the property after its purchase. Over 3,000 people, many local businesses, 15 foundations and four government grants made this campaign one of the largest conservation land purchases in county history.

In October 2000, the Land Trust and Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs completed negotiation to turn the property over to the City of Carpinteria to own and manage it as an open space preserve. The Land Trust holds a conservation easement on the property, limiting development on the Bluffs to walking trails, a bikeway and a six-acre area where soccer and baseball fields are being built by the city to meet the need for more playing field space for youth and adult ball players.

The Community Role

The quaint coastal town of Carpinteria has always thrived on the strength and civic involvement of its active residents. Having a group like Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs and a supportive City Council, made it possible for the Land Trust to join them in accomplishing this project. Local people are dedicated to stewardship of the Bluffs as open space, and are the eyes and ears of the Land Trust watching over the conservation values and our easement. For more information on the Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs, visit their website.

Continuing Conservation

The Land Trust relies on a strong relationship with the City and local citizens to promote long-term stewardship of the Bluffs. With representatives of Citizens, we do a formal monitoring visit annually, and observe work being done by the city, such as mowing, tree trimming and construction of paths and the ball fields to ensure compliance with the conservation easement.

While 52 acres has now been acquired, there is still a 28-acre undeveloped property immediately to the west, which Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs would love some day to add to the Bluffs preserve. That land presently is used for a farm and a golf driving range. When the time is right, perhaps our two organizations can team up to write the final chapter in the story of saving the Carpinteria Bluffs.

Volunteering and Events

The Bluffs are open every day sun up to sundown for walking, hiking, painting and bike trail rides. Approximately once a year, the Land Trust organizes special docent-led hikes and lunches. The Citizens for the Bluffs often sponsor sunrise hikes and other events. For volunteer opportunities or upcoming events, please contact Betty Stein at (805) 684-3712. To find out more about the ball fields and other public improvements underway at the Bluffs, call the City of Carpinteria Parks Department at (805) 684-5405.

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