Twenty men fighting for twenty years to save the last twenty miles of coastline… sounds like something from a movie. What would it be like to stand cliff side overlooking a massive stretch of ocean without structures blocking the view? Imagine standing amongst nature’s incredibly diverse flora and fauna in an open landscape… then a developer pays a pretty penny to rip it all down and bring in the bulldozers. This frightening tale is the day-to-day reality, and the Surfrider Foundation wants to educate about it so they are Kickstarting a project to share the true stories of “The Twenty” men that are fighting to save the Gaviota Coast for generations to come. The film’s character development navigates through the leaders of the fight, portrays their efforts and dedication to saving what is left of Southern California’s undeveloped beaches.
United by the Surfrider Foundation‘s mission to protect and enjoy the world’s oceans, waves and beaches, directors of the project have been working tirelessly for the past two decades on what will now be compiled into a feature film. “The Twenty” is the translation of the passion, efforts and determination of these twenty men into a film that will raise awareness and funds for Surfrider to purchase parcels of land that are at risk of development. These dedicated men are now reaching out to you, their fellow ocean enthusiasts, to help them complete the film. You can watch the trailer and consider donating to the project by going to www.thetwenty.org to help save this pristine land.
The Surfrider Santa Barbara Chair, Sandy Lejeune, and producer of the film from Highliner Studios, Scott Walker, took the time to explain the project and Surfrider’s need for your help in an exclusive interview:
Can you tell us about the title of the project, ‘The Twenty’?
Sandy Lejeune: For the last twenty years, the Santa Barbara Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation has been involved in a struggle to preserve the last twenty miles of undeveloped and unprotected coastline in Southern California on the Gaviota Coast. Throughout those years, the core activists who have been working on this campaign have been predominantly men, so when I was first conceiving of the project for a film, the number twenty just kept knocking around in my head. We have roughly twenty miles between Gaviota and Goleta (that’s the stretch of coast we are talking about), and the Surfrider chapter here has been around for twenty years… It started to have a nice ring to it.
You yourself are one of “The Twenty” men; how are you connected with the others?
SL: Surfrider‘s chapters are predominantly volunteer driven. We are average citizens, we’re volunteers, we freely give our time to this effort and none of us are going to be land owners on the Gaviota Coast if they preserve it. This is a labor of love and passion many of us have connected with this coast in our own ways over the course of our lives and the connection has been deep enough to propel this effort forward for the last twenty years. I am a farmer, we have a university professor as one of our twenty, we have county employees, a map maker… We are a varied group and all of us share a love of this area in common and a passion to preserve it.
What stage of production is the film in?
SL: We completed the trailer in June of this year and started working on the film in November of last year. We are involved in the Kickstarter project to make a longer documentary. Once we are successful in raising funds, we will be getting right back to it. Our projected release date is Summer/Fall of 2013. What we want to do is make a short documentary about 20-30 min in length that will go into greater detail telling the story of “The Twenty,” tell the story of the Gaviota coast and the campaign that is going on to save this very treasured area.
What is the overall goal for the film?
SL: It is awareness and fundraising. As one of the local environmental groups in Santa Barbara, we have been working on the Gaviota Coast Preservation but there are many others, like an environmental law firm called the Environmental Defense Center, the Naples Coalition and the Gaviota Coast Conservancy. All of those groups have been working tirelessly for twenty or more years to try and protect the Gaviota Coast. Our goal is permanent preservation of the most threatened land; a lot of the land up there is in private hands. Ranching and farming families have been there for generations and yet there are some very key parcels that are at risk of development because they are owned by the bank or a development corporation. Speculation has driven on the Gaviota land with threats looming, because some of these parcels are slated for development.
How can surfers be directly involved in the awareness and the preservation of the Gaviota Coastline?
SL: Anyone who really loves the coast and is active even in small ways to try and preserve it can really help a lot by becoming a member of Surfrider. The other thing that surfers can do to save the Gaviota Coast is to get in touch with our Santa Barbara Chapter. We have been active for twenty years and can make people more aware of the overall issue that is at stake… help by spreading the word. The reason we want to make this film is because we want to take this very local campaign and build a ground swell of support to save the Gaviota Coast… one of only five Mediterranean climates in the whole world, important because while they only comprise 2% of the earth’s surface, Mediterranean climate zones contain 20% of the earth’s known species.
How will the approved Naples development project effect Goleta?
SL: That parcel is about 1,000 acres. Some of the houses that were approved by that project are over 10,000 sq ft in size. These are “mega-mansions” that have been approved for development on land that has never seen anything like that in all of its history. It would forever alter the landscape, it would have negative effects on creeks and wildlife corridors and on the fragile marine environment that is just at the base of bluffs where they want to build. That is an approved developmental project.
When you drive North on the 101, you pass the city of Santa Barbara and the city of Goleta and eventually you get to what is called the “urban limit line.” It is a current boundary that exists between rural and urban settings. Right next to where you have tracked homes and golf courses that are within the city limits of Goleta, just next door are large agricultural lands, thousand of acres of these parcels that boggles the mind when you see it. You go from looking at residential suburbia to this beautiful landscape of open coastal terraces, mountains and foothills. Just two miles from the urban limit line is where this mega-mansion project is planned, a very key spot on the Gaviota Coast due to its proximity to vast landscape, so it would open the door to other Gaviota Coastal development projects. Once a developmental process begins, it is harder to say no to other projects because someone has gotten their major project through.
What are some of the effects that the Gaviota community might not be aware of if development does occur?
SL: Urban sprawl. Anybody who knows Southern California is very familiar with what urban sprawl looks like and feels like. I have no doubt that if a developer is allowed to do the kind of thing that is proposed for Naples, or is allowed to build homes on other parcels, that will lead to leap frog development and urban sprawl on other Gaviota Coast parcels. What is important to understand is that the large majority of land in the twenty miles between Gaviota state beach and Goleta (the stretch of coastline we refer to in our film trailer), a large bulk of those lands are held in private hands, ranching and farming families that go back for generations, and the majority of those landowners don’t want to see the Gaviota coast developed. They are going to feel the effects of sprawl nipping at the edges of their ranches, farms and family’s home sites.
The coast as it exists right now along those twenty miles is a rural paradise in comparison to the remainder of the Southern California coastline. In my lifetime, I have seen much of the undeveloped coastal areas that I knew as a child handed over to development in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and in the Malibu area. Since these lands on the Gaviota Coasts and unprotected, that’s going to have a huge impact on the residents of the area and natural environment… It is a known fact that when large undeveloped tracks are cookie-cuttered up into smaller parcels, the result is species decline sometimes leading to extinction. Once the wildlife corridors have left, large species such as what we have on the Gaviota coast – Black Bears, mountain lions, wild pigs, coyotes – those species move on. What you end up with is a diminished diversity of species and it has its effects all the way down the chain. In addition, the very fragile near-shore marine environment that exists right near the Naples property and, all along the Gaviota coast, will be impacted if development is allowed to go through.
What type of pollution could the development cause?
SL: We run the risk of losing some of our natural streams in our local environment, which can be negatively affected by runoffs from hardscapes – roads and highways, patios and that kind of stuff. Right now you see undeveloped land, ranch land and range land, typically that have been used to raise cattle and some farms over the years, so when it rains the land acts like a sponge absorbing rain water and starts the nutrient cycle for plants to grow, creating habitats for a wide variety of species. Development typically results in more storm water runoffs due to greater amount of hardscape – rain water hits concrete and has nowhere to go but to runoff. That water ends up in storm drains with chemicals and pesticides that get used in people’s landscaping.
In turn, we end up with more polluted ocean water. It’s a big problem, referred to as a “non point source pollution” in environmental circles. Southern California is rifling it because of the great amount of development that exists. It would have an effect locally here on the near shore marine environment and on the land itself. As for the greater effect on Southern California, there may be heavier traffic on Highway 101 that could result in more air pollution.
How will the film contribute to the preservation of Gaviota long term?
SL: We hope to raise awareness about the need to preserve the Gaviota Coast, reaching the widest audience possible. Several years ago, Surfrider Foundation and the surf industry helped drive thousands of people to a coastal commission hearing on the issue of the toll road at Trestles. That is the kind of effort that we want to see behind the Gaviota Coast preservation. If one of these developmental projects does moves forward, the coastal commission has the final jurisdiction. We believe that the Gaviota Coast is Trestles times ten in terms of its significance to the rest of Southern California…
The film will help us raise funds contributing to a larger fund used to help purchase parcels of land that are threatened by development, under what is called a Conservation Movement, preserved in perpetuity. One of the project goals is to create a preservation fund that we are going to call the ‘Twenty for Twenty’ Fund that would be based on the simple premise that anyone that wants to donate $20 to save the last 20 miles. I think there are people out there that can actually resonate with that. Long term we will have to find ways to work with land owners or to actually find permanent solution to preservation if we want to see these parcels protected on this beautiful stretch of coast. That’s the long term goal.
Where can our audience learn more about the film?
SL: For the next few days, they can go to www.thetwenty.org directing to our Kickstar page where we have information about the Gaviota Coast and where people who want to pledge for the project can do so. That website will also be the place where longer term resources and information after the Kickstar effort will be; that’s where we will have the trailer while we are working on the longer film as well.
The Surf Channel also had the opportunity to speak with the producer of the film, Scott Walker, who gave us some honest feedback on what the project means for him.
There must be a personal connection for you to the project?
Scott Walker: Yes, I have spent so much time up on the Gaviota Coast. Whenever I am driving up the freeway, the second I get to the Winchester exit where the urban sprawl ends, something changes inside of me… my temperature, my energy… I immediately feel relaxed. I sink into the driver’s seat. It’s just the most amazing drive… To know that open land is there, and you can access it, is a valuable thing.
What kind of equipment will you be using during the project?
SW: Most of the time, I have been working with the Canon 5D and 7D, but my friend has graciously donated his scarlet, his RED camera for the use of this project. I’m really excited to be able to produce the kind of quality that Gaviota deserves.
Besides funding, how can surfers be involved in the project?
SW: Develop a connection. If it’s not Gaviota, find any piece of land that is undeveloped and spend time there, investigate it, find the nooks and crannies, especially by yourself. How you experience land solo is unique… because you can experience it in a very pristine way.