Special Reports

Top story of 2000: Environment, growth top local concerns

In November 2000, the spectacular 417-acre East West Ranch in Cambria was purchased for $11.1 million, a sale that meant it will be preserved as a park. The purchase capped a two-year effort headed by the American Land Conservancy and community leaders. In 2005, the California Conservation Corp built a new boardwalk along the cliffs at  the ranch. Michael Maciugec and Jose Luis Castaneda bolted down boards at the end of the boardwalk. Photo: Laura Dickinson  11-17-05
In November 2000, the spectacular 417-acre East West Ranch in Cambria was purchased for $11.1 million, a sale that meant it will be preserved as a park. The purchase capped a two-year effort headed by the American Land Conservancy and community leaders. In 2005, the California Conservation Corp built a new boardwalk along the cliffs at the ranch. Michael Maciugec and Jose Luis Castaneda bolted down boards at the end of the boardwalk. Photo: Laura Dickinson 11-17-05

Editor's note: Here is the story Tribune staff chose as the biggest story of the year in 2000. The article, originally published on Dec. 31, 2000, is reprinted below.

The big news for 2000 on the Central Coast seemed to revolve around two major themes: growth and the environment.

After a steady increase in 1999, home prices in the area suddenly surged skyward in 2000, a climb that economic forecasters say is likely to continue. The increase was fueled by people who found life in the region worth paying top dollar for. But the struggle to preserve our quality of life loomed over the fall election, when county voters rejected a measure aimed at curbing growth and protecting farmland. The issue seemed to resonate with voters, but a majority had concerns about how SOAR would play out if it became law.

At the same time, nonprofits, government agencies and voters combined to preserve thousands of mostly coastal acres from development. From the creation of the region's first National Wildlife Refuge to the preservation of Cambria's East West Ranch, 2000 was a banner year for land preservation.

Here's a closer look at each of those stories:

Home prices rise

The dream of home ownership seemed more like a nightmare this year for buyers as the median price of homes sold in the county rose 35 percent to $275,000 — a record — in October.

The median price started the year at $206,000 and fell back to $250,000 in November, the last month with statistics reported.

In a county where the median income was $48,000 a year, only 20 percent of residents earned the $75,500 needed to qualify for a loan to buy a $275,000 home and to afford the monthly payment of $1,850.

The median price is the statistical point at which half the homes are sold for more and half for less.

The record price increase in 2000 followed a 14 percent increase in 1999.

For the second quarter of the year (the last in which statistics are available), the San Luis Obispo, Atascadero and Paso Robles housing market was the sixth least affordable out of 173 regions tracked nationwide.

State and real estate officials fear the trend will get worse because not enough homes are being built. The statewide demand for new homes is now 200,000 to 250,000 annually. That figure will only increase as migration to California is expected to double in the next decade.

Home prices were driven up by a booming economy. San Francisco and Los Angeles residents with more money than county residents bid up the price of housing here, according to real estate and mortgage experts.

SOAR sinks

San Luis Obispo County's most ambitious drive to stop urban sprawl and the loss of farmland suffered a decisive defeat in the November election.

The Save Open space and Agricultural Resources (SOAR) initiative was defeated 58 percent to 42 percent on Nov. 7 following a highly contentious and costly campaign that dominated the news for much of the year.

The initiative would have required a vote of the people before any agricultural or rural open space could be rezoned to more intensive use, such as residential or commercial development. Ironically, people on both sides of the issue claimed they were motivated by a desire to preserve farmland and protect property rights.

The pro-SOAR campaign stumbled early when a series of companion ballot measures that would have established urban growth boundaries around most of the cities in the county were thrown out because of faulty wording. Only the SOAR initiative for Paso Robles appeared on the ballot, but it too was soundly defeated by voters there.

As the campaign progressed, the pro-SOAR camp was outspent about 2 to 1 by SOAR opponents, who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from development and real estate groups. This money was spent on advertising — mostly direct-mail brochures — that claimed that the initiative would have a variety of unintended consequences that would be damaging to the county.

For now, SOAR backers are unsure what to do next, but say they'll use their network of community support to pursue other ways of stopping sprawl including electing slow-growth candidates and election reform.

Conservation booms

While the effort to check growth failed at the polls, land conservation efforts in San Luis Obispo County marked a year of resounding achievement.

A review of the year's land conservation successes shows two distinct patterns.

First, much of the preservation effort was directed at coastal lands, which are scenic and under intense development pressure. Second, a multitude of nonprofit and governmental organizations as well as voters stepped up to the plate to contribute the effort.

These were the highlights:

  • The Central Coast's first National Wildlife Refuge was formed. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took possession of 2,553 acres of coastal dune scrub and named it the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge. It is home to a range of rare and endangered species endemic to the Central Coast.
  • Voters overwhelmingly passed the Diablo REsources Advisory Measure in the March primary election. Although not legally binding, the measure put county supervisors and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. on notice that the people of San Luis Obispo County want the 12,000 acres of land surrounding the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant to be preserved.
  • In a deal brokered by The Trust for Public Land in March, 15 acres of land near Los Osos Middle School was added to Morro Bay State Park.
  • In September in another Trust for Public Land deal, the Los Padres National Forest took possession of the 784-acre Williams Ranch at the southern end of Big Sur, including 20 acres of beach property.
  • The biggest achievement came in November when the spectacular 417-acre East West Ranch in Cambria was purchased for $11.1 million, a sale that means it will be preserved as a park. The purchase capped a two-year effort headed by the American Land Conservancy and community leaders.
  • In December, The Nature Conservancy bought a conservation easement on the 1,500-acre Cambria Coast Ranch, which contains 800 acres of rare Monterey pine forest.
  •   Comments