The Hollister Ranch Cooperative
There is no greater visual transition along the coastline of Southern California than that found on U.S. 101 at Winchester Canyon Road in Goleta. The urban boundary is abruptly passed, and the pastoral lands of the Gaviota Coast begin. It is no accident that the rural ambience is intact along the south coast all the way to Point Conception. The landowners have sought to preserve and protect the agricultural way of life for the past 250 years, and various governmental policies have assisted in the achievement of that goal.
One of the systems in place to support the landowners in their efforts at conservation is the Williamson Act. Under the terms of this state statute, property owners of at least 100 acres can participate in the Agricultural Preserve program that is managed by the county government. In return for significant regulations and limitations on land use that result in continued agricultural pursuits and the protection of open space, the landowner receives a property tax reduction. In a time when agriculture is less and less profitable, this property tax reduction is critical in the preservation of farming and ranching activities.
Many environmental groups - including the Gaviota Coast Conservancy – have pointed to the Agricultural Preserve program as a critical linch pin in the effort to preserve the rural nature of the Gaviota Coast for the visual enjoyment of future generations. There is no question that uncollected taxes that result from the tax reductions amount to far less than what it would cost government to establish protection agencies that would undoubtedly be less efficient in the preservation of the landscape. The Agricultural Preserve program is a notable example of the general public receiving a bargain for an investment in the future.
Many, if not most of the agricultural properties along the Gaviota Coast participate in the Agricultural Preserve program. Some of the ranches and farms at the eastern end near Goleta are in orchards or row crops. Most ranches on the western end of the Gaviota Coast remain cattle grazing operations that result in the most effective sense of open space and the experience of coastal California “the way it used to be”.
The largest cattle ranch on the western end of the Gaviota Coast (and the forth largest cattle ranch in Santa Barbara County) is the Hollister Ranch. Typically over 1,000,000 pounds of beef annually are shipped from the Ranch. Subdivided into 135 parcels of 100 acres or larger in 1971, Hollister Ranch remains primarily a cattle grazing operation. Wishing to maintain the cattle ranching heritage that has spanned over 250 years, the owners opted into the Agricultural Preserve. Having done so, they committed to devoting over 98% of the 14,000+ acre ranch to commercial agriculture… over 99% of which is cattle grazing. Since then the Hollister Ranch Cooperative has actively pursued a “best practices” grazing program, and the owners have jointly funded a watershed improvement project that successfully lures cattle from streambed water sources to well placed water troughs throughout the ranch. This results in significantly less riparian traffic and prevents overgrazing of areas near the creeks by encouraging a more even grazing pattern throughout the hills.
The owners at Hollister Ranch cope with the inconveniences that come with living on a cattle ranch. Cattle and cowboys on horseback are often on the roadways, and vehicular traffic must yield to the four-legged kind. The cattle also leave “gifts” on the roadways that can affect the paint jobs of vehicles. Owners must fence the cattle out of the 2% of their property that they are permitted to use for development. The primary enjoyment they can derive from the remaining 98% of their property is passive and visual. However, the owners are rewarded for the limitations on use of their property. It is an extraordinary experience to live in the middle of a full scale, honest-to-goodness working cattle ranch. The cowboys do all of the work, and the owners take pleasure in the ranching ambience and from the knowledge they are helping to preserve the cattle ranching heritage on this part of the California coast. Furthermore, the cattle function as a free lawnmower service, and cut the range grass to a level that results in far less of a fuel load in the event of a grass fire. And, of course, the owners benefit from reduced taxes for having acquiesced to the restrictions of the Agricultural Preserve program.