According to a story last week in the Santa Barbara Independent the more than 1,600 local land trusts in this country will soon be reduced by one with the wholly expected demise of the Goleta Valley Land Trust. Located just north of Santa Barbara, Goleta is the home of the University of California at Santa Barbara and the southern entrance to a particularly wild, scenic, and undeveloped stretch of landscape known as the Gaviota Coast.
Local and regional land trusts are the heart and soul of community conservation. Typically, they raise funds and may purchase or accept donations of land or easements. One of their ongoing responsibilities is to monitor easements, legal agreements that prevent development or stipulate land use, being sure that subsequent landowners honor them over time.
So, in general, it is very bad news when a local land trust goes out of business. But the Goleta Valley Land Trust was not your typical land trust. According to the Independent‘s story, the trust was set up specifically to disburse funds generated by a public interest lawsuit against a local resort.
The money was the result of a hard-won 1997 settlement between the Bacara and the Citizens for Goleta Valley, which sued the resort for not including a parking lot and access to Haskell’s Beach. The court-ordered mediation talks were notoriously tense, with one attorney literally grabbing another by the lapels at one point, but the citizens eventually won out, getting the parking lot, public access, and cash.
Armed with $5.5 million the land trust set out to support land conservation in its community. Among it many grants, the trust gave funds to support two TPL projects, including a million dollars toward the successful $20.4 million of protection of Ellwood Mesa, home of the seasonal butterfly community pictured above.
Now the money is almost gone, and soon the land trust will be as well.
The trust’s happy ending . . . was always in the plans, said co-founder Harriet Phillips, who both spearheaded the Bacara suit and then managed the funds with the trust’s board. “We had no fundraisers,” she explained. “We didn’t want to compete with anyone. We did not want to build a bureaucracy. We just wanted to do the best to save whatever land we could save.”
The paper speculates that whatever funds remain after the land trust dissolves could go to the Santa Barbara County Land Trust, a traditional land trust working in the area.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead’s dictum on the importance of an engaged citizenry is so familiar these days that it is losing a little of its punch. But in this instance, I’m going to risk floating it once more: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
More information on local land trusts can be found on the website of the Land Trust Alliance, a land trust umbrella organization that TPL helped to start in the 1980s.