Monday, October 22 , 2018, 1:06 pm | Overcast 66º

 
 
 
 

County, Elings Park in Legal Feud Over Mountain Bike Fest

Officials say they're heeding neighbors' concerns, but supporters say the event has gone on for five years without a hitch

About 100 cyclists gathered outside Santa Barbara County’s administration building Thursday to protest the county’s move to block a planned BMX racing event next week at Elings Park.

The county is seeking a temporary restraining order on the two-day mountain bike and BMX festival, which has been operating for the past five years. This year’s event is slated for June 5-6.

Supporters of the festival say it draws about 500 participants per year, which they say adds to the local economy and helps subsidize upkeep of the trails.

After complaints were received from several neighbors last summer, county officials said they reached out to the Elings Park Foundation, which hosts the festival, to try to address some of the concerns, such as noise. A compromise was never reached, however, and a lawsuit was served May 21.

“Elings Park was never intended to operate solely for the benefit of a small group of its immediate neighbors,” Michael Fauver, president of the board of directors for Elings Park, said as he talked with supporters Thursday.

Proponents of the festival say it’s family friendly and a hugely popular event, and that given the county’s budget woes, spending money on a lawsuit is less than appropriate.

In a statement sent to Noozhawk, the group said, “At a time when the county is strapped for money, what on earth is the point of spending tens of thousands of dollars on a last-minute lawsuit to block an event that promotes healthy living?”

Fauver said the group has been using the land this way for the past five years, and “we never received complaints from the county” during that time.

He called it “unconscionable” that the county released its dismal budget just a few days ago, and is hiring a “large Orange County law firm to come into Santa Barbara and force a local nonprofit to shut down one of its most popular programs.”

The county maintains that the festival violates the agreement of a covenant the foundation must honor. More than a decade ago,  the foundation was awarded nearly $500,000 from the county, and as a condition, the south portion of the property was put under a restrictive covenant.

Restrictions say that 120 acres of 130 should be dedicated to passive recreation and wildlife habitat, and the remaining 10 acres could be used for passive recreation with written approval from the county.

Passive recreation includes activities such as hiking and horseback riding, and consumes no more than 60 parking spaces, according to the covenant. “Passive recreation shall not include activities such as ball fields, tennis courts, outdoor auditoriums and other activities that require alteration of the natural land,” it reads.

Adding to the complexity of the issue, park supporters are also looking to push through park improvements, which have caused controversy among neighbors and are still under review. Some of the improvements include putting in a new BMX track with lighting and a PA system.

“It’s important for us to be good neighbors and to be good stewards of the park,” Fauver told Noozhawk after the rally. However, he also told Thursday’s crowd that the group was willing to challenge the county’s lawsuit in court.

Fauver said the group has left messages for Supervisor Janet Wolf, whose 2nd district includes the park, but has not heard back.

County officials aren’t trying to prevent the festival, they said in a statement released Thursday. However, they said they would like to see the event moved to the northern portion of the park, no amplification used because it could bother neighbors and nesting birds in the area, and that no beer gardens be set up or alcohol distributed.

Communications director William Boyer said the county has never enforced the covenant before with the festival because it only received complaints last year.

“The county has to look at the bigger picture,” he said. “We have to be able to enforce those agreements that are in place.”

He also said the Orange County firm was chosen because it’s a firm that specializes in county covenants.

The case will be reviewed by a judge in Santa Barbara County Superior Court on Friday, when the county will ask the judge to grant the restraining order.

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

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