Local activists fighting for the creation of an open-space park on the 6700 block of Del Playa Drive did not get the answer they were looking for at the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday morning.
Seven people, including members of the Santa Barbara County Action Network (SB CAN) and the Santa Barbara Surfrider Foundation, attended the meeting to contest a decision made by 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone to end negotiations over the purchase of private, empty blufftop property between 6709 and 6741 DP. Firestone made his decision in a closed-session meeting last Friday, and declined to discuss the reason for it because the property under consideration is privately owned.
Several of the local residents who attended the board of supervisors meeting requested that the supervisors both disclose the reasoning behind their decision and consider reopening the negotiations.
David Fortson, executive director of SB CAN, said the seven people who attended the meeting argued that the county should take advantage of any opportunity to purchase land because I.V. is already a densely populated area.
“It’s a little disappointing, to say the least,” Fortson said. “To be so close to preserving blufftop open space and have it yanked from you is surprising and disappointing.”
Scott Bull, co-founder of the I.V. chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, said the board of supervisors did not intend to comment on the issue, but said that Firestone decided he wanted to respond to the public comments. Bull said Firestone, who would not comment on any specifics regarding the situation because the board made its decision in private, argued that I.V. already had a lot of open land between Goleta Beach and Ellwood Mesa.
“What he said flies in the face of everything that we do,” Bull said. “He’s totally undermining our work.”
Firestone said a technicality, the nature of which he said he could not disclose, prevented the deal from being completed. He said that there have been setbacks in purchasing the land since negotiations first began in August 1991. If the deal were actually plausible, he said, the county would have already purchased the land.
“It really isn’t fair to lay this all on me when it’s been going on for 14 years, and I’ve only been in it a month,” Firestone said. “If this were a natural, a desirable and a doable deal, it would have been done by now.”
Bull said he thinks the amount of time the county has already devoted to the negotiation process shows how important the land purchase is to I.V. He said Firestone would not have been elected into office without support from I.V., and he said he believes Firestone is already breaking his promises to the community by ignoring his first opportunity to improve the area.
“I think that the residents of I.V. are expecting leadership from Firestone, and he is failing us,” Bull said.
Due to the amount of public interest in the issue, Firestone said he will host an I.V. town
hall meeting Tuesday, Feb. 15, where county and university geologists will answer questions about the land.
Bull said I.V. Surfrider will mount a letter-writing campaign to the board in an attempt to convince them to buy the land. He said he is worried that the land will be developed for housing if the purchase does not go through.
Fortson said nobody is certain about what will happen to the property at this point, but he said the last thing I.V. needs is more overpriced rental units. He said Firestone is the one who stopped negotiations and has the ability to restart them again.
“I encourage I.V. residents to show Firestone how important the land is – and go to the meeting,” Fortson said.