Overview: Central Coast Region

The Coastal Conservancy’s Central Coast Region extends from northern San Mateo County to southern Santa Barbara County and includes some of the most spectacular scenery on the California coast. Throughout much of this region, agriculture is a predominant land use as evidenced by the world class vegetable farms of San Mateo, Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties, as well as the expansive ranch lands of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties. Beautiful, pristine beaches are found along the entire stretch, many of them backed by the rugged mountains of the California Coastal Mountain Range. As a transition zone from southern to northern California flora and fauna, the region is known for a high degree of biological diversity, and includes many threatened and endangered species, as well as plants and animals known only to this part of the state.

Due largely to its scenic beauty and accessibility, the Central Coast region attracts visitors from all over the world. Some of the more popular destinations are the many beaches where coastal streams form small estuaries, and dunes and mountains provide a picturesque backdrop. Other frequently visited destinations are the mountainous hiking trails of the San Mateo and Santa Cruz coasts and the spectacular Big Sur lands of Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties. Small to medium-sized towns and cities provide quality waterfront experiences with excellent restaurants and other amenities. These include Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel, Pacific Grove, Morro Bay and Santa Barbara.

Over 2,100,000 California residents live in the five counties comprising this region, most of them in cities and towns on or near the coast. Development pressure remains an ongoing threat as more and more people are drawn to the many amenities and more relaxed life-style this region has to offer compared to the more heavily developed areas of the state. This threat presents a challenge to the Conservancy and other entities attempting to preserve the natural and scenic resources found so abundantly in the Central Coast region, necessitating a constant search for new and creative measures to accomplish conservation goals.

Major Issues in the Central Coast

Loss of habitat

Important habitat areas, such as wetlands, dunes, coastal chaparral and grasslands, as well as streams and rivers and their surrounding watersheds continue to be threatened with various types of development, as well as degraded conditions resulting from past destructive land uses or flood management actions. The Conservancy remains highly focused on preventing or repairing damage to these sensitive resources, adopting a holistic perspective that considers the needs of native plants and animals, as well as overall hydrologic and geomorphic functions. A particular need is continued wetland and watershed restoration, as well as protection of open space lands that provide homes or migration corridors for a diverse array of wildlife species. Also needed is the development of floodplain management alternatives that rely less on “hard” structures and provide habitat benefits.

Loss of agricultural lands

The Central Coast region is one of the state’s most productive agricultural areas. Yet agricultural lands continue to be lost as the result of development or incompatible adjacent land uses. The Conservancy maintains an active agricultural preservation program and will continue to seek measures for protecting both vegetable farms and ranch lands in the Central Coast. Acquisition of conservation easements and other conservation measures are needed to ensure continued protection of agricultural lands.

Coastal Access

Public access to beaches and other protected lands remains an important goal in the Central Coast Region. Demand for access continues to grow as the population of the region attracts more residents as well as visitors from other areas. There is an ongoing need to link existing trails and to open new access, as well as to construct support facilities such as restrooms and interpretive facilities. An important element of this is to provide bike trails that will link various communities in the region which will have the added benefit of reducing carbon output.

Conflicts between Agriculture and Natural Resources

Nonpoint Source Water Pollution–Agricultural and urban runoff can have deleterious effects on coastal wetlands, coastal streams and rivers, marine habitats and public access. Impacts to fish and wildlife are well documented and beaches are sometimes closed due to pollution. A need exists for reduction of nonpoint source pollution by developing projects that implement best management practices in surrounding watersheds.

Water Use–An important component of agricultural production is an adequate water supply. The same is true for a healthy wetland system. Projects that address this issue for agriculture and wetlands are needed to assure sufficient water supplies for both important coastal resources.

Climate Change

Changes in global climates as the result of various human activities are now recognized by scientists and others as a reality that must be addressed. Potential sea level rise that will accompany climate change is an important consideration when planning for coastal projects of all types.

Priority Projects

Protect and/or restore Wetlands and Other Coastal Habitats

–Acquire habitat areas, particularly floodplains and endangered species areas
–Restore ecological functions
–Provide wildlife corridors between habitat areas

Restore Watersheds

–Implement Best Management Practices
–Remove barriers to fish
–Restore natural sediment movement
–Improve riparian corridors

Complete Coastal Trail and Other Trail Systems

–Build new sections of trail
–Install signs and interpretive features
–Construct related amenities
–Provide links between trails

Protect Coastal Farms and Ranches

–Acquire conservation easements
–Support low impact practices

Address Climate Change

–Incorporate projected sea level rise into plans
–Support use of low impact restoration technology

Major Projects

  • Coastal Trail development
  • Coastal agriculture protection
  • Pilarcitos Creek Watershed
  • Pescadero Marsh
  • Integrated Watershed Restoration Program
  • Watsonville Slough
  • Elkhorn Slough
  • San Clemente Dam & Carmel River Parkway
  • Big Sur Coastal Trail Master Plan
  • Morro Bay Watershed
  • Irish Hills
  • Gaviota Coast
  • Carpinteria Salt Marsh

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