Local preservationists and developers alike gathered to celebrate the opening of the San Marcos Foothills Preserve last week.
The 200-acre preserve, located just northeast of the conjunction of Highway 154 and Highway 101, belongs to a greater 377-acre expansion. The Santa Barbara County Parks Dept. and local developer Jeff Bermant have discussed the land for years and finally reached a dually beneficial compromise for the allotment of the property. Under the final agreement, the parcel will see approximately 50 acres made into single family housing, while the remainder will remain undeveloped.
Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf attended the ceremony and commended the successful preservation of the land. According to Mary O’Gorman, the supervisor’s chief of staff, there has been opposition to the development of the foothills for years.
“There have been many housing development plans that have been shot down because they’re just too much development for the locals’ preference,” O’Gorman said.
According to O’Gorman, however, financial hurdles made development of the land inevitable.
“It’s very difficult to raise enough money to restrict development completely,” O’Gorman said.
Erik Axelson, deputy director of the Santa Barbara County Parks Dept. and the person responsible for developing a plan for the preserve, said he hopes what has been decided upon will satisfy both developers and preservationists.
“Our plan is to be very conservative in being good stewards of the land,” Axelson said. “We’re always looking for low-impact ways to use it.”
Of the 150 acres Bermant owns, he aims to use 30 percent to build approximately 20 single-family homes. The other 70 percent will be heavily deeded to ensure the prohibition of future development. The remaining 200 acres encompassed in the parcel – which consist of natural rolling hills and panoramic views of Santa Barbara’s oceanic and mountain landscape – will be put away in the preserve.
Axelson’s plans for the preserve focus on the upkeep of the natural landscape, including light trail maintenance and erosion-preventing procedures to fortify the land.
Axelson and other park officials are also concerned with maintaining the Chumash spirituality of the land. At the opening ceremony, Art Cisneros, a member of the Barbareno Chumash, closed the service with a traditional blessing over the land to encourage the “healing and proper keeping of mother earth.”
Future preservation plans include Chumash-inspired signage and a possible natural amphitheatre.