Isla Vista Recreation and Park District (IVRPD) members will decide at a meeting today whether to independently pursue the creation of an open-space park on the 6700 block of Del Playa Drive.
The meeting, which is open to the public, will begin at 4:15 p.m. at the IVRPD office, located at 961 Embarcadero del Mar. IVRPD board member Diane Conn said the board will take public comment and then decide whether it wants to take up negotiations over the purchase of several parcels of privately owned DP land – negotiations that the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors terminated at its meeting Feb. 1.
Conn said the land purchase is the sole item on IVRPD’s agenda today. She said the IVRPD decided to host the special meeting in response to the public outcry that arose in response to the board of supervisors’ decision to abandon its dealings with the Yankwich family, which owns the five parcels of land in question.
“The only issue we’re discussing is whether we will try to pick up the slack,” Conn said. “We’re going to see if we can pick up with where the county dropped the ball on this.”
In a closed-session board of supervisors meeting on Jan. 28, current 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone announced that the board had voted unanimously to back out of the negotiations – which began in August 1991 – and said he could not divulge the specific reasons for the county’s withdrawal.
In a public statement, Firestone later cited issues including erosion and legal difficulties as factors contributing to his decision to withdraw from negotiations.
Since then, protests from groups like the Shoreline Preservation Fund and I.V. Surfrider – which began a letter-writing campaign last week urging Firestone to reverse his decision – have drawn considerable public attention to the 0.7-acre open space, recently dubbed Claire’s Park by those fighting for its purchase.
Conn said she and the other IVRPD members were disappointed to hear Firestone had ended negotiations, and she said she felt personally obligated to pursue the creation of the blufftop park.
“We’ve been supporting the acquisition of this property for years,” Conn said. “It’s been screwed up twice by supervisors now – once by [Willy] Chamberlain, and now by Firestone.”
IVRPD General Manager Derek Johnson said the board must seriously consider whether the IVRPD will be able to acquire the funds to purchase the properties. He said the board will request that the county transfer money previously earmarked for the purchase – including grants from the California Coastal Conservancy, the county’s Coastal Resources Enhancement Fund, the Goleta Valley Land Trust and the Caltrans Environmental Enhancement Mitigation Program – to the IVRPD.
Johnson said these grants, in addition to some IVRPD funds, would be enough to purchase three of the five parcels for sale, and he said the remaining two parcels would cost an estimated additional $1 million. He said he feels that obtaining the extra funds from the county may be difficult but that the board will decide whether it is worth attempting.
“This is a matter of feasibility,” Johnson said. “I think it’s likely the [IVRPD] will pursue this, but if we don’t think we can get the money, then there’s no reason for us to spin our wheels.”
Due to limited staff and resources, pursuing the land negotiations would require the IVRPD to put other projects on hold, Conn said. She also said deadlines for disbursement of several of the grants are approaching, but she said she felt this project merited the extra attention.
“We just thought we needed to consider taking over, because it’s so important to the community,” Conn said. “Isla Vista doesn’t have a lot of big open space, and the spaces we have are all small. We just thought we owed it to the community to at least try, so [at the meeting] we’re going to decide whether or not we can do this.”
Conn said she encourages students and I.V. residents to attend today’s meeting and to contribute to the board’s discussion. She said she is concerned that the only people who attend will be those who are opposed to the acquisition of the bluffs and that she wants the board to hear both sides of the argument.
“We’re your park district – tell us what you think,” Conn said. “If this is worth it to you, come and let us know.”