The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors will hear today from several people who say they are angry about Brooks Firestone’s decision to end negotiations for the purchase of empty land on the 6700 block of Del Playa Drive.
Meeting at 9:15 this morning at the County Administrative Building, supervisors will hear complaints from members of the Santa Barbara County Action Network (SB CAN) and local members of the Surfrider Foundation. Representatives from both organizations said they are upset with Firestone, the 3rd District supervisor, who made a decision during a closed session of last week’s supervisors meeting to back away from a county proposal to purchase seven-tenths of an acre of land on the ocean side of DP. Firestone said the proposed land deal was further away from being sealed than its supporters claim.
The plan, inked by former 3rd District Supervisor Gail Marshall, proposed to join several county-owned parcels of undeveloped land between 6709 and 6741 DP with several privately owned parcels on the same blufftop. Owned by the Yankwich family, the sellers were willing to give the county a good price so it could turn the area into a large park.
Dave Fortson, executive director of SB CAN, said Marshall had been working for five years to purchase the land. The decision, slated to come to a vote on December 2004, was postponed at Firestone’s request until he took office January 2005. Fortson said he thought the Board of Supervisors granted Firestone his request out of deference to the supervisor.
“They were essentially going to seal the deal at the last meeting [in December],” Fortson said. “Firestone asked them not to go through with it, and without saying much more than that, put the whole deal on hold.”
Scott Bull, co-founder of the Isla Vista chapter of Surfrider and grants manager for the Shoreline Preservation Fund, said he was disappointed at Firestone’s request to postpone the negotiations and said he thinks the 3rd District supervisor owes his constituents an explanation for the action.
“That is total bullshit,” Bull said. “Yes, it is private property, but the person who owned it died, and the county was going to get an incredible rate – Yankwich wasn’t out to make a buck. They had an incredible opportunity and Brooks said, ‘No, wait for me.'”
Firestone said he will be at today’s meeting to answer questions from the public, but cannot comment directly about last Friday’s meeting because the land in question is privately owned.
“I cannot speak specifically on this negotiation, and that’s why it’s done in closed session,” Firestone said.
He said there has been a large amount of public interest in the issue, but the situation is complicated. He said the county treasurer reported that the measure could not have been passed in December 2004 because of several technicalities. While Firestone said he supports saving parkland on the coast, he said the deal was far from being approved, with only 40 percent of the funding needed to buy the land having been secured.
Firestone said in terms of making a county decision, it was important to consider how much public coastal land was already available to I.V. residents. He said public land totaled about four miles of length along the coastline, including the UCSB campus, Ellwood Mesa and Goleta Park. Firestone said 25 percent of the bluff-top land in I.V. is publicly owned at present.
Bull said he is concerned that existing open space will be used for housing developments.
“When Firestone says that the four miles of public coastal land should be taken into account as a reason not to make [the parcels] public land, it’s like saying Central Park in New York City is a bad idea because there’s a lot of open space around the city,” Bull said.
Fortson said he would not pass judgment on Firestone’s decision until he heard why the decision was made, and what future plans the county has for the area. He said the land was literally one round of votes away from protection, and he said he wants to make sure the measure to secure the open space was rejected for a good reason.
Bull said he thinks Firestone’s decision was an error that needs to be corrected.
“Obviously, it was a mistake,” Bull said. “And it was a mistake that Firestone was elected if this is how he will treat I.V.”