Wednesday, November 14 , 2018, 3:24 am | Fair 50º


Supervisors Set to Hear Appeals Against Botanic Garden Project

The board is expected to make a decision Tuesday about the proposed Vital Mission Plan

Although its Vital Mission Plan development project was approved last October in a 3-2 vote by the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is facing another hurdle in the approval process.

Three community groups have filed separate appeals against the commission’s decision, requiring review by the Board of Supervisors, which will hear the appeals on Tuesday. While county staff has recommended denial of the appeals, the appellants — citing fire evacuation routes from the canyon as well as impacts to Chumash archaeological sites — have chimed in once again to ask that the garden’s leadership scale back the project.

The three appeals were filed by the Mission Canyon Association, Friends of Mission Canyon and Friends of Xana’yan, a Chumash advocacy group headed by Frank Arredondo.

Even before the Jesusita Fire blazed through Santa Barbara’s foothills last year, the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens, located along the creek in Mission Canyon, was a focus of public attention and controversy. In trying to push forward a plan to make several major changes to the garden, its management ran up against stiff opposition from Mission Canyon residents who felt the proposal was too grandiose for a canyon with such limited access.

The garden was issued a stop work order in 2008 by the county when it commenced grading work for the so-called Meadow Terrace — a meeting area that the county’s Historic Landmarks Advisory Commission ruled was part of a 23-acre part of the property listed as a historic landmark. The Board of Supervisors upheld the HLAC’s decision, but the garden’s administration responded by suing both the HLAC and the supervisors. The matter remains in litigation.

The garden’s proposal eventually moved forward, although the Planning Commission trimmed it down a bit by imposing a set of conditions to the approval. Although a kiosk included in the plan was denied, the commission made a provision for events to be held at the garden, allowing an annual 1.8 percent increase in attendance, to be capped at 50 percent growth, or 160,000 visitors annually. The commission also imposed limitations about the amount of the property designated for trail use.

For the project’s opponents, the limitations weren’t enough.

“The proposal that the garden has put forward is out of scale with the canyon,” said Marc Chytilo, an attorney representing Friends of Mission Canyon, one of the three appellants. “This project was designed without taking into consideration the constraints of being in Mission Canyon. There’s only one way in and out.”

Chytilo said that many of the residents he has spoken with said that during last year’s fire, it took an inordinate amount of time for traffic to move out of the canyon as the blaze was pushed down from the ridge by high winds, and he compared Mission Canyon’s road layout to that of a section of Oakland, where 25 people died in their cars as a conflagration tore through the area in 1991. He said many people also have expressed concern about construction that he said would take nearly a decade to complete.

The garden’s staff members have contended that their development proposal would not only repair damage caused by the Jesusita Fire, but would include improvements — fire-resistant, sprinkler-topped buildings, a fire engine turnaround and vegetation management — that would make the canyon safer during fires.

Nancy Johnson, the garden’s vice president of marketing and government relations, said a concerted effort has been made to keep the garden’s plans in line with the canyon’s size.

“We could technically have as many people at the garden as we choose, but we put caps on use based on the science of the fire protection plan,” she said, referencing a study commissioned by the county as part of the project’s environmental impact report. “The Vital Mission Plan makes the garden safer and, by extension, the whole of Mission Canyon. I think we all want to be safer.”

Chytilo maintains that garden management has levied an aggressive campaign against the project’s opponents, taking attention away from the fire safety issue.

“They’ve spared no expense in trying to attack us,” he said. “When a nonprofit sues the county government, it reflects that it’s out of touch with the needs of the community.”

First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, whose district includes Mission Canyon, said his office has received a lot of comments regarding the Vital Mission Plan, but that support and opposition of the project have been fairly evenly divided.

“There’s a lot of discretion by the Board of Supervisors to make sense of all the details, and hopefully we’ll come out with something that’s a win-win,” he said, adding that although the issue has been knocked about for years, it is likely to reach some sort of conclusion at Tuesday’s hearing. “I hope the community comes out and listens closely to what’s being said, and I hope the supervisors listen closely, too.”

Whatever the outcome, a sizable group of people is expected to show up for Tuesday’s hearing, which will begin at 9 a.m. in the board hearing room on the fourth floor of the County Administration Building, 105 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara. However, county officials said the appeals over the Botanic Garden aren’t likely to be heard until the afternoon, after the lunch recess.

Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.