Monday, September 24 , 2018, 5:06 pm | Fair 69º

 
 
 

Letter to the Editor: Garden Plan a Viable Compromise

The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a cherished place to go birding or botanizing or to walk in quiet beauty. Artists like myself enjoy painting by the meadow. Previously I taught Chumash basketry at the garden and can vouch that the classrooms, lab, library, herbarium and other facilities are sorely insufficient for the magnificent work being done in education, research, conservation and horticulture.

For decades there has been a drastic need for upgraded facilities. Everyone who knows and loves the garden would agree.

Yet there’s heartwrenching controversy about the Vital Mission Plan with dear friends on opposing sides. The other day I went to look at the plan. It’s modest and beautiful, with sandstone and glass architecture set into the same natural contours as the present buildings. The downward slope minimizes visual impact. New square footage is only 25,180, including second stories. The total footprint is about 19,000 square feet, tucked into 1 percent of the garden’s 65 acres. The entrance designed by Isabelle Green leads to a majestic view with mountains in the distance. Restrooms will move away from the meadow and the kiosk removed.

Why the fuss? Twenty years ago, Barry Berkus designed a plan twice as big. Another ambitious proposal followed. Neither went forward. Both scared the neighbors, who apparently are still reacting. What is being decried is like the old proposals, not the current plan.

While I was perusing it, a woman asked where the Meadow Terrace was. She had heard how big, ugly and intrusive it was, but couldn’t find it. Imagine her surprise when she learned she’d just been there! The Meadow Terrace is simply a small open space beside the meadow with knee-high sandstone curbing, where in the early days they would drive to fundraising picnics. The garden has historic photographs showing cars parked in the meadow. Lockwood de Forest was “picnic chairman.” This is a historically appropriate place to have gatherings.

The most controversial part of the plan is ... pavers! Disabled people have the right of access to public places. Pavers are practical for folks with wheelchairs and walkers, families with strollers, the elderly, schoolchildren and docents. Resembling natural stone, pavers are permeable, all-weather, long-wearing, and easy to maintain and remove. I liked the old dirt paths, but after pushing my mother’s wheelchair was delighted to see the pavers.

Emotional opposition comes from a few inflaming their neighbors with fear of fire. Yet the County Fire Department says the plan increases fire safety, with a new turnaround, hydrants, sprinklers and closure on high fire days.

The plan has been approved by the Planning Commission and the Historic Landmarks Advisory Committee, with more than 100 conditions. The garden has compromised and cut. What’s left is the minimum needed to fulfill the garden’s important mission in this time of climate change and endangered flora.

The Vital Mission Plan should be upheld by the Board of Supervisors and the appeals denied. Then friends on both sides can relax and enjoy the garden together.

Anna Campbell
Santa Barbara

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