Cambrian: Opinion

Ranch Update: The effort to save ‘The Ranch’

Editor’s note: RanchUpdate appears in The Cambrian monthly in this, the 10th anniversary year of acquisition of what was then known as the East West Ranch.

—Bert Etling

We ended our last column on the history of the effort to “Save the Ranch” with the Fiscalini family’s sale of their historic Town Ranch to a developer, out of necessity to pay inheritance taxes. This segment was contributed by Doug Buckmaster, former President of Friends of the Ranch- Land. Friends of the RanchLand played a very important part in fighting the development of the Ranch and its acquisition as public open space.

— Jo Ellen Butler, executive director, Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

The new owners of the Fiscalini Town Ranch, Rancho Pacifica, began planning for the development of its new property in 1979. Plans for homes and a golf course were repeatedly turned down by County Planning. This went on for years. The ranch trails were open and cattle grazed.

In 1985, Cambria Residents United (CRU) was founded to study environmental issues including water, and began to challenge Rancho Pacifica. In the early 1990s, CRU became inactive and a new group, including some CRU members, was formed, calling itself Friends of the Ranch- Land (FRL) and getting proper IRS certification as a nonprofit organization. Don Villeneuve was an early leader of the group.

About the same time, Rancho Pacifica filed for bankruptcy. In February 1993, an offshore foundation bought the ranch in Fresno bankruptcy court for almost $3 million, announcing plans for three ranchettes, one for each of the principals. They named it East/West (E/W) Ranch.

One year later, the owners filed a declaration giving their consent to permit ranch access, but discourage any prescriptive rights claims. In July 1994, they began allowing access only to the bluff trail, insisting on photo IDs and badges for entry. There were several arrests and even denial of access to some individuals who had used the ranch trails for many years. Harry Farmer circulated petitions to gain public access from August to November of that year.

In October 1995, FRL contacted Environmental Defense Center (EDC) in Santa Barbara to assist in gaining public access and convincing county planners to resist ever larger E/W Ranch plans. In December 1996, county supervisors approved a North Coast Area Plan Update, which called for 60 residence sites on East Ranch and 130 sites plus a school on West Ranch. Shortly thereafter, E/W Ranch filed an alternate grid for the property, asking for 50 parcels of 5 to 7 acres each, with no open space, trails or roads.

In March 1997, E/W Ranch filed a lawsuit against the county, claiming 730 homes in what would be a gated community. In June, supervisors voted to approve a 240-home development on the ranch. This brought formation of the North Coast Alliance, a group of about 15 environmental organizations to fight this approved plan.

Ranch owners reneged on a promise of a trail easement along Santa Rosa Creek, dashing the community’s hopes for a Cross Town Trail. An EDC lawsuit in October, on behalf of FRL, sued the county to complete a periodic review of the Local Coastal Plan. The same month, E/W Ranch claimed that their water rights in Santa Rosa Creek were superior to those of the community of Cambria.

In response to over 300 letters from individuals and organizations, the California Coastal Commission (CCC) agreed to review the Area Plan Update. So, on Jan. 15, 1998, the CCC recommended tighter restrictions on E/W Ranch. Over 1,000 supporters attended, the largest audience ever for a CCC meeting.

Friends of the RanchLand voted to try to buy the ranch. Ann Picker sent letters (spending $3.20 in postage) to 10 land conservancies, pleading for help. American Land Conservancy, won over by Julie Eliason’s video about the ranch, agreed enthusiastically. They contacted the E/W Ranch owners who refused to talk to Friends of the

RanchLand, so a new group— North Coast Small Wilderness Area Preservation (now known as Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve) — entered the scene, including a few Friends of the RanchLand members.

An appraisal was ordered with a resultant price of $11.1 million. In November 1999, the campaign began. Two million dollars was the responsibility of the community, which had only one year to raise the funds. The fundraising race had begun!


One of our fundrasising events to raise money for the purchase was the first kitchen tour in Cambria. Be sure to save the date this year:

• July 31, 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. - 10th Annual Great Kitchens of Cambria Kitchen Tour. Visit eight great kitchens with gourmet treats, wine tasting and other beverages, kitchen-related demos and displays and chances to win terrific prizes. Tickets, $30, are available at the Cambria Chamber of Commerce, A Matter of Taste, Cambria Farmers Market and Forden’s in San Luis Obispo.

Contact FFRP at ffrpcambria . org, 927-2856, or P.O. Box 1664, Cambria 93428.