Santa Cruz County History - Places

Coast Dairies Property: A Land Use History

[Excerpt from Coast Dairies Long-Term Resource Protection and Use Plan: Draft Exiting Conditions Report for the Coast Dairies Property, Section 1.0.
Figures and photos referenced in text are not included in this online version.]

1.4 - Into the Present

The Davenport cement plant (it became Pacific Cement and Aggregates in 1956, Lonestar Cement Corporation in 1965 and RMC Pacific Materials in 1988), brought immediate military attention to the North Coast following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Believing that Japan might attack the U.S. mainland, the military quickly posted guards and lookouts around Davenport and imposed stringent blackout requirements on its residents. Later in December, when the ship Agiworld was attacked by a Japanese submarine off Cypress Point south of Monterey, security along the coast was heightened (Lydon, 1997). A Japanese submarine was also sighted off the coast a few miles north of Davenport, resulting in a brief skirmish between the submarine and a single plane from the Army Air Corps (Lud McCrary Interview, Appendix 1.2.1). Eventually a segment of the all-black 54th Coast Artillery was stationed at Davenport and regular night canine patrols were instituted at all the area beaches. In addition, four shore mounted guns were placed strategically around the Cement Plant. Two 75mm guns were mounted overlooking the pier and two 155mm Howitzers were mounted just to the east of Newtown. Many of the young people living in the area at the time became airplane spotters, spending long hours in the lookout stations posted along the coastal hills (see Appendices 1.2.2 and 1.2.4, McCrary and Tomares Interview) (see Photo 1-11).

Perhaps the most disruptive part of the early months of the war was the removal of many Italians from the coast, along with all persons of Japanese ancestry. Beginning in February of 1942, all Italian aliens living inland from Highway 1 south of Laguna Creek were required to move inland from the highway, and since many of the Italian families living on the North Coast had elderly unnaturalized parents and grandparents, the military orders brought extreme hardships to the farmers between Laguna Creek and the city limits of Santa Cruz. For the few families of Japanese present since the 1920s, the removal from the North Coast to a concentration camp in Arizona was devastating. Very few of the Japanese returned to the North Coast after the war.

Taking the Loops Out of Highway 1

During the 1920s and 1930s Californians developed their definite and persistent preference for automobile transportation over rail, and ridership began to decline on Santa Cruz County railroads. As truck and automobile traffic increased, the North Coast retreated back into its pre-railroad isolation, the meandering and dangerous Coast Road keeping out all but the most adventurous drivers. World War II interrupted the plans by the state of California to straighten out Highway 1 through the North Coast, but by the late 1950s, the various segments of the highway were realigned and the curves that used to loop back into each of the canyons became secondary roads, or in some cases, private roads with gates at both ends.

The realignment of Highway 1 both in Santa Cruz County and San Mateo County cut many minutes off the drive from Santa Cruz to Half Moon Bay. Continuing work on the Waddell bluff made it more passable, and by the late 1950s, Highway 1 had its current alignment.

Coast Dairies & Land Co. as Absentee Landlord

Under the management of Swiss-born Fred Pfyffer, the Coast Dairies & Land Company continued to lease its various ranches for livestock and agriculture. Income from the Property made it self-sustaining, but the profit sent back to the Swiss owners was never large, rarely exceeding $100,000 per year. According to Robert Bosso, there were two main reasons that the property continued to be managed as a single entity. First, the fact that it was structured as a corporation. As such, it was difficult to sell the property piecemeal; the options that were negotiated from the 1960s on were attached to the entire property. Corporate ownership also made the tax consequences of selling the land separately very costly. Proceeds would be taxed twice - first at the corporate level and second as personal income for the owners. Thus, any sale would have to involve the entire corporation, reducing the tax burden to just one event. Second, the fact that the owners all lived in Switzerland meant that negotiations of options and the sale of the Property had to involve all the owners (seven in 1998), and all this, exacerbated by the distance, made selling the Coast Dairies Property something of a challenge.

The owners were quite willing to entertain options on the Property, however, and the first came from the oil companies that returned to prowl Santa Cruz County looking to develop the oil that was certainly beneath the ground (Bosso, 2000).

The Second Oil Boom

There had been periodic oil flurries along the North Coast (following the one discussed earlier in this section), but by far the largest and most serious occurred in the 1950s when Shell Oil Company and Texaco negotiated several oil leases on the North Coast. In the mid-1950s, Texaco negotiated an oil lease with Coast Dairies to drill on the terrace near Davenport. Between June and December of 1956 Texaco drilled the deepest exploratory well in the history of Santa Cruz County, probing 9,135 feet down. Though they found periodic evidence of oil and gas, it was insufficient to warrant further exploration. The well is known to geologists as Poletti #1, named for the family that was farming that particular section of Coast Dairies at the time (Griggs and Weber, 1990; Weber, 2000). Shell Oil drilled in a number of North Coast locations in the 1950s and 1960s, including on property owned by the cement company, and on land south of Laguna Creek.

The Coming of the University of California to Santa Cruz, 1964

Meanwhile, the wider context of Santa Cruz was being transformed by the opening of the University of California campus northwest of downtown. The university community quickly discovered the scenic beauty and relative solitude of the North Coast. University faculty members built homes in the Bonny Doon area, and the beaches and canyons became the de facto recreation area for the university. And with the university came an attitude toward development that was quite different from that held by some old-time Santa Cruz residents. The university set off a mini-housing boom on Santa Cruz's Westside, and developers began to plan large-scale housing projects along the open coastline.

The PG&E Nuclear Power Plant Proposal

In the late 1960s, Pacific Gas and Electric approached Coast Dairies and negotiated an option to purchase the property. PG&E's intent was to build a nuclear power plant on El Jarro Point on the terrace north of Davenport. This impulse was not unlike that followed by William Dingee in 1905 when he sought out the isolated reaches of the North Coast to locate an industrial operation unpopular with the people of Santa Cruz. In this instance, the public perception of nuclear power plants required that they be located in remote places-- Diablo Canyon in San Luis Obispo County, for example. PG&E's plan was to build a 6,000 megawatt generating facility on El Jarro Point and then exercise its option and purchase all of the Coast Dairies Property.

The proposal acted as a lightning rod for the burgeoning environmental community in Santa Cruz County, and protests were launched against it. Many now see the protest against PG&E proposal as the beginning of the modern conservation/preservation movement in the county (Scott and Wayburn, 1974). Eventually, seismic studies suggested that the site would not be appropriate for a nuclear power plant, PG&E shelved its plans and let their option on the Coast Dairies Property expire.

Wilder Ranch

Meanwhile, just south of the Coast Dairies property another proposal, this one for housing, was floated in 1969. The Wilder family sold the 2,000-acre ranch to the Moroto Investment Company and in 1972 the company announced its plan to build between 9,000 and 10,000 housing units on the property over the next 30 years. Fresh from their success with the PG&E nuclear power plant proposal, environmentalists formed Operation Wilder, and by 1973 the State of California allocated $6 million to purchase the land for a state park. Wilder Ranch State Park opened in the late 1980s (Jones, 1999).

Publication of the North Coast Bible, 1974

Following the example of other large-scale environmental movements, such as the move to save the redwoods or the Grand Canyon, a group of local authors and scientists collaborated in a book titled In the Ocean Wind: The Santa Cruz North Coast published by the Glenwood Press in 1974. Laden with photographs, poetry and essays, the book was a paean of praise for the North Coast. It is difficult to measure the impact that the book had on public sentiment, but it certainly was a reflection of the opinion held by a number of county residents at the time.

The Coastal Act

Put on the ballot as Proposition 20 and passed in 1972, the Coastal Zone Conservation Act put wheels in motion that eventually lead to the establishment of the California Coastal Commission in 1976. The Coastal Zone Act and the Commission rendered any further developments (such as those proposed for the Wilder property) difficult at best; probably impossible. The manager of the Coast Dairies property, Fred Pfyffer, and the corporation's attorney, Robert Bosso, were convinced that any development proposals for their Property would be extremely difficult, and they believed that the property would be increasingly difficult to sell. However, as the shareholders aged, their interest in selling the property increased (Bosso, 2000).

Over the next 28 years the Property entered into a number of option agreements, none of which resulted in sale. The following list was provided in an interview with Robert Bosso in December, 2000:

Outright Sale to Lonestar Cement, 1986

The Coast Dairies shareholders placed a price of $12,000,000 on the property and offered it to Lonestar, but the company was not in an economic position to purchase the Property and the opportunity passed.


In 1988 a Texas development company secured a three year option on the Property which contained an automatic accelerating sale: $11,000,000 if they exercised the option the first year and up to $15,000,000 if they did so at the conclusion of the three years. When the economy softened in Texas, Zemex's option expired around 1993.

The Bond Act of 1994

The purchase price of $17,500,000 was included in a state bond act offered to the voters of California in 1994. Meanwhile, the Nature Conservancy purchased an option on the Property (for $1) to hold it until the bond act passed. The act failed, however, and the option expired.

Bryan Sweeney and Nevada Pacific

In 1996, Nevada developer/businessman Bryan Sweeney (Nevada & Pacific Coast Land) took out an option on the Coast Dairies Property for a sale price of $20,000,000. His intent was to swap the Coast Dairies for land under the control of the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada. Mr. Sweeney was not able to resolve the complicated details on the federal end of the transaction. His option to hold the Property was costing him approximately $1,000,000 a year.

Meanwhile, eager to sell the property outright, Sweeney promulgated the notion that there were 139 separate and distinct parcels within the 7,500 acres, and that he could and would sell those parcels to individuals for coastside homes (Sweeney, 1997). After a prodigious job of surveying each of the alleged parcels and preparing its history, Sweeney made the 139-parcel document, a blueprint for very high-end housing, public. Sweeney's document got everyone's attention, especially the Save-the-Redwoods League. Eventually, in a cooperative effort with the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Trust for Public Land, the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, and the Nature Conservancy, the Coast Dairies Property was purchased from Nevada & Pacific Coast Land. The stage was set for its future as a unique natural and cultural asset, owned by those who will, hopefully, cherish both its present and its past.

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