The History of Carpinteria Bluffs

One can trace the Carpinteria community’s effort to preserve the Carpinteria Bluffs at least back to 1968, when groups such as the Carpinteria Valley Association mounted a successful opposition to a large oil refinery proposed for the site. Since then, at least five proposals for intensive residential and commercial uses have been denied through fierce opposition from residents of Carpinteria. Beginning in 1975, Chevron and others proposed a number of intensive residential/commercial developments for the Bluffs. The 1980 Carpinteria Local Coastal Plan supported the priorities of the California Coastal Act and acknowledged that the best land use for the Carpinteria Bluffs was public open space and recreation.

In 1988, when a Serena & Brown proposal to develop the Bluffs was still at a conceptual stage, over 3000 signatures in opposition to the development were gathered in Carpinteria in less than 3 weeks. The Bluffs subsequently became a key campaign issue in the Carpinteria City Council election of 1990, when three incumbents lost their seats to three new council members supporting the preservation of the Carpinteria Bluffs as open space. The Bluffs continued to figure prominently in subsequent local elections. The future of the Bluffs was also the focus in 1994 of a major Local Coastal Plan Amendment, later adopted by the city and approved by the State Coastal Commission.

Support for preservation of the Bluffs is widespread in the Carpinteria Valley as is evidenced by the 4,000 people who have signed up to help with the acquisition effort. There was also consensus in the recent City-sponsored community visioning process for the year 2020 that one of the community’s future actions should be public acquisition of the Bluffs. Community sentiments to preserve the Bluffs in passive or active recreational open space remain strong to this day. Preserving the Bluffs is simply an issue that will not go away.

In 1996, the Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs was formed after two nights of public hearings before the City Council, when hundreds of people from the community showed up to voice opposition to yet another development proposal for the Bluffs. The purpose of the Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs was to secure public acquisition of the Carpinteria Bluffs. Although our group was new, it consisted of many enthusiastic, dedicated, credible individuals with a long and proven commitment to preserving the Bluffs. We were granted tax exempt status from the state and federal governments.

We were encouraged by the successful acquisition efforts in Santa Barbara of the Wilcox property by Small Wilderness Area Preserve (SWAP). The SWAP group worked for years to keep the Wilcox acres in open space and finally hit the jackpot in 1996 when the owners of the property made an offer to sell. With a deadline of only seven weeks, SWAP rallied all their supporters from over the years and raised the $3.5 million needed to purchase the land.

In the fall of 1997, the Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs contracted with the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County to conduct negotiations on their behalf with Bluffs’ landowners and to assist us in our fundraising efforts. At that time, Shea/Vickers, the owners of the largest portion of Bluffs properties, indicated they were willing sellers [see maps & aerial photo on next 2 pages], and negotiations for a “fair” purchase price began in earnest. On August 5, 1998, a purchase option of $3,950,000 for the Shea/Vickers property was approved by the landowner, the Land Trust and Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs, with escrow to close by December 31, 1998.

The purchase price was below the value for the property determined in an appraisal from a year ago – and well below, we believed, the property’s current market value. It seemed doubtful we would ever be able to negotiate a price more favorable to the community. However, the amount we needed to raise seemed staggering. It meant raising over $35,000 a day for the rest of the year – a seemingly impossible challenge for a community as small as Carpinteria.

Many outsiders and onlookers expressed their doubts about the community being able to realize such a goal. Yet, in just four months time, we launched a massive grassroots effort to acquire the Carpinteria Bluffs in partnership with the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County. Offering honorary deeds to the property starting at $174 for 100 square feet on up to the opportunity to name the property itself for a 1 million dollar donation, we gathered support from the entire community that, by the end of December, became astonishing.

By year’s end, we had gathered over 3.55 million dollars in cash and grants–just $400,000 short of the purchase price. We were, however, able to close escrow on December 30 taking advantage of an interest free loan from the Coastal Conservancy. The Coastal Conservancy also gave us their endorsement along with a generous grant of $500,000, our largest to date.

Acting on our behalf, the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County held title on the property pending Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs ability to pay off the Coastal Conservancy’s land and to raise a $500,000 endowment fund, so that the property not become a burden upon the city or the taxpayers. Having now paid off the land and successfully raised the endowment fund, Citizens and the Land Trust formally transferred the 52-acre Bluffs property to the City of Carpinteria in October 2000, for permanent stewardship.

We remain grateful to Shea/Vickers for publicly supporting our acquisition efforts. This is the first time a landowner has reached out to the community in the spirit of cooperation to become a partner in the fulfillment of a community’s dream to preserve the Carpinteria Bluffs.

With most coastal property between Goleta and the Ventura county line already either developed or pending development, preservation of the Carpinteria Bluffs is a crucial priority.

La Carpinteria Plaque

Tar boils to the surface near here, and has for centuries. It forms big, billowy black mounds on the edge of the sand just south of Carpinteria State Park. The Chumash used this area for boat-building, using the tar for waterproofing. Because of the Indian boats built here the Spaniards called the area “Carpinteria”, or carpenter shop.

The Spanish named the area Carpinteria because the Chumash tribe, which lived in the area, had a large seagoing canoe-building enterprise, or “carpentry shop” there. The tribe had chosen the location because of naturally-occurring surface tar which was used to seal the boats. Seals and sea lions can be seen in the area December through May, as well as an occasional gray whale.

The Chumash indian village of “Mishopshnow,” discovered by Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo, August 14, 1541, was located one-fourth mile southwest of
here. Fray Juan Crespi of the Gaspar de Portola expedition named it “San Roque,” August 17, 1769. Portola’s soldiers, observing the indians building wooden canoes, called the village “La Carpinteria” – the carpenter shop.

Carpinteria Bluffs

Current Zoning

The 51.8 acres of the Bluffs property, originally zoned as Planned Unit Development (PUD), was saved in 1998 from development through the efforts of Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs in partnership with the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County. With the help of an intense, community-wide grassroots campaign, these two organizations were able, successfully, to raise the money needed to purchase the land from Shea Vickers Development LLC. Shea Vickers had acquired the Bluffs property in 1996 when they bought statewide holdings of Chevron Land and Development.

The current land use designation of the Carpinteria Bluffs site is Open Space Recreation (OSR), under the City of Carpinteria’s General Plan Local Coastal Land Use Plan.