It would be the largest development project in Mission Canyon history, and the most extensive modification in terms of scale and public usage at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden since its founding in 1926. The proposed expansion plan was passed in October 2009 by a 3-2 vote of the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission, but not without strong opposition from the community and serious reservations from the two dissenting planning commissioners, who believe public safety and other critical issues were not adequately addressed.

Many argue that the 10-year project would develop the Botanic Garden significantly beyond what is actually needed to upgrade aging facilities and provide for future operations. Three community organizations — the Mission Canyon Association, the Friends of Mission Canyon and the Chumash People — have filed appeals to the expansion plan with the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. They are asking that the plan be downsized and that sacred tribal grounds remain undisturbed.

The appeals will be deliberated by the supervisors on Tuesday at the County Administration Building, 105 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara.

Leading the issues of concern are Mission Canyon residents’ fears that the small, two-lane road and only escape route out of the narrow box canyon for hundreds of families would be endangered by 10 years of heavy construction and increased usage of the Botanic Garden. Residents fear a scenario similar to the 1991 Oakland fire, where in one hour a wind-driven fire consumed 790 homes and killed 25 people, many of them trapped in their cars while trying to escape.

Garden management seeks to expand and intensify public activities and events such as weddings, festivals and catered parties with an annual growth of 1.8 percent per year and up to a 50 percent increase in visitation over time. Documents produced by the project planners estimate an excess of 91,000 additional vehicle trips to and from the garden each year. Mission Canyon residents assert that this would make congestion on the only escape route a permanent condition, and they are asking the supervisors to reduce the size of the project, place limits on occupancy and move some of the garden’s operations such as administration, evening lectures, and management of archival collections, to off-site locations.

Other concerns include degradation of the ambiance, character and historic authenticity of the 84-year-old garden, 23 acres of which has been designated a County Historic Landmark. The size, bulk and scale of the new buildings, destruction of scores of mature trees, over seven acres of new hard-paved surfaces including the paving of natural trails, fencing, food service and added lighting would all compromise the much loved Santa Barbara treasure, community representatives say.

Over the past five years, the Botanic Garden’s Board of Trustees has reported spending more than $1,730,000 on architects, attorneys and public relations firms, including paid signature gatherers, phone banks, advertising campaigns and glossy mailers in an effort to win the approval of public officials and the people of Santa Barbara County. Cash-strapped community members find themselves up against a massive public relations Goliath.

Mission Canyon residents believe they could live with a more reasonable upgrading of facilities for research and education, but to date, promoters of the expansion plan have been unwilling to negotiate.

Comments should be directed to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors:

» Clerk of the Board of Supervisors: 805.568.2190 or

» First District, Salud Carbajal: 805.568.2186 or

» Second District, Janet Wolf: 805.568.2191 or

» Third District, Doreen Farr: 805.568.2192 or

» Fourth District, Joni Gray: 805.737.7700 or

» Fifth District, Joe Centeno: 805.346.8400 or

Stephen Sherrill
Santa Barbara