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Thursday, January 24 , 2019, 5:58 am | Fair 42º


Michael Bennett: Support the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act

While my career has taken many shapes over the years, my work has never strayed from the path of public service. I was a firefighter for almost 40 years before becoming a Goleta City Council member and mayor. Looking after the people of my community is at the core of my life’s work.

Michael Bennett Click to view larger
Michael Bennett

But my job is about more than just caring for people. It’s about caring for the places that matter to them.

Our region’s public lands belong to the people I serve, and to their children and generations to come. That’s why I support legislation known as the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act, an extraordinary opportunity to protect special places on the Central Coast and further elevate our region’s world-class quality of life.

This legislation, championed by my good friend, Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, and an environmental luminary, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., will protect 245,500 acres of wilderness, create two scenic areas encompassing 34,500 acres, and safeguard 159 miles of Wild & Scenic Rivers in Los Padres National Forest and the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

This month marks the 80th anniversary of Los Padres National Forest, a time for us to honor and recognize the legacy and impact of this special place.

The legislation’s balanced approach has attracted powerful community support in Goleta and around the region, with elected officials, business owners, mountain bikers, veterans, faith leaders, anglers, conservationists and others voicing their support for conservation of these public lands.

I became an early supporter of this effort because I was inspired by Rep. Capps’ commitment to public lands. Preserving these special places is crucial to businesses, our economy and the health of our communities. Goleta is one of the fastest-growing cities in Santa Barbara County, and it’s crucial that we preserve the adjacent lands to ensure that growth is balanced and sustainable.

It’s no wonder our region’s growth is so robust — the Central Coast boasts a world-class quality of life thanks to its mild climate, clean air, clean water, plentiful open space and easy access to the outdoors.

The Central Coast Heritage Protection Act will help sustain the area’s quality of life by ensuring clean water for communities, supporting valuable wildlife habitat and stimulating a vibrant local economy.

With Goleta being one of the major cities on the border of Los Padres National Forest, residents here have a lot to gain from the bill’s passage. Increased tourism and outdoor recreation opportunities will provide an economic boost to local communities, including the area surrounding Los Padres National Forest, where annual visitor spending already tops $24 million.

Preserving nearby wilderness and Wild & Scenic Rivers will offer locals and visitors an even wider array of outdoor experiences, as with the new Condor National Recreation Trail.

The 400-mile hike along the spine of the coastal range, from Los Angeles County to the northernmost point of Los Padres, is unlike any recreational opportunity in coastal California. This stretch of land is one of the few places in the world where you can witness desert species growing alongside redwoods. It’s an experience you simply won’t get anywhere else.

It has been more than 20 years since we’ve had such an opportunity to safeguard our wilderness. Now more than ever, it’s critical for legislators to prioritize these lands and ensure that current and future generations can continue to enjoy and treasure these unique places.

Rep. Capps and Sen. Boxer have long been the Central Coast’s champions for cherished public lands, but they are retiring at the end of this year. Rep.-elect Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, will be succeeding Rep. Capps, and Sen.-elect Kamala Harris, D-Calif., will follow Sen. Boxer; I encourage our new leaders to take up the cause of their predecessors.

Preserving these areas would pay tribute to the valuable contribution Rep. Capps and Sen. Boxer made to conserving California’s natural heritage, and lay the groundwork for their own environmental legacies.

This bill’s success would be a historic way to honor Rep. Capps’ and Sen. Boxer’s leadership and kick-start the legacies of our incoming legislators. Join me in supporting the protection of our beloved public lands through the passage of the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act.

Michael Bennett is a Goleta city councilman. The opinions expressed are his own.

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