Members of the Isla Vista Recreation and Park District (IVRPD) board decided that they are going to need more than just good intentions if they are to revive the county’s abandoned plans to create a new open space park on Del Playa Drive.
At a special meeting Feb. 9, the board met to consider taking up where the county left off when the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to end negotiations to purchase five empty, privately owned parcels of land on the 6700 block of DP for conversion into a park. After discussing the property deal at length and hearing comments from several of the approximately 15 community members who attended the meeting – including 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone – the board elected not to go ahead with the proposal in the immediate future.
At the beginning of the meeting, IVRPD General Manager Derek Johnson presented a summary of the five sources of funding secured by the county for the property deal. Johnson said the total cost of the five DP parcels was $2.5 million, about $1.5 million of which was to be covered by grant funds and the remainder of which was to be financed by the sale of three other pieces of county-owned property.
Johnson said the IVRPD would be able to take over the land negotiations and pursue the creation of the new park if it were given access to all of the funds raised by the county for the project.
“The easiest way would be if the county were to assign the project and all the funding sources over to us, but that doesn’t seem to be a viable option,” Johnson said.
Of the five funding sources, Johnson said the biggest grant by far – totaling over $760,000 – comes from the county’s Coastal Resource Enhancement Fund (CREF), and is thus still controlled by the board of supervisors.
Even if the IVRPD was able to convince the county to allow the use of the CREF funds, Johnson said, $200,000 of the grant has already been allocated elsewhere, and he said only a small portion of the funds secured by the county were guaranteed to be available to the IVRPD.
“I just don’t think, given the situation of the funding right now, that we’re in a position to move onward with the acquisition at this time,” Johnson said. “For now, I think it would be very wise for the board to do some assessments of the property.”
During one of the public comment sessions, meeting attendees asked Firestone to shed some light on the board’s decision to end the negotiations, which was made during a closed-session meeting last week.
The board weighed several factors in making its unanimous decision, Firestone said, including the stability of the bluffs and past legal disputes surrounding the property.
“This property has been subject to significant erosion – it’s rather startling,” Firestone said. “That puts a cloud over the purchase of any blufftop properties.”
Firestone said the board of supervisors felt that the land negotiations, which began in August 1991, were unsatisfactory for the county.
“What can I say? I picked up a deal that was not a good deal,” Firestone said.
Firestone said he supported the creation of a new open space park on DP, but he said the IVRPD would be making a mistake if it were to take up the project without the county’s help.
“It wouldn’t be a good thing for [the IVRPD] to pick up right now,” Firestone said. “I hope that [the board] would work with the county, and not apart from the county.”
Despite Firestone’s initial announcement that the board of supervisors had terminated any county plans to purchase the DP land, he said the money from the CREF grant would remain available in the event that the circumstances surrounding the property deal change in the future.
“It’s logical that there would have to be some change in the circumstances for the deal to proceed,” Firestone said. “The CREF funds are on hold, and they will still be there if something else happens.”
Johnson said he would like the board to consider putting the project on its work plan for next year, which would give the IVRPD time to explore funding possibilities of its own.
“Given enough time, we might be able to apply for all the grants the county did, and secure the money ourselves,” Johnson said. “I’m afraid we won’t be able to leverage all the funding that is available if we go ahead with this now.”
IVRPD board member Diane Conn said she was surprised by Firestone’s willingness to cooperate with the board on the project.
“He made a commitment to work with the IVRPD, and I’m pleased with that,” Conn said. “I think that everyone in I.V. should let Firestone know that we are looking forward to him following through on that.”
Logan Green, chair of the IVRPD board, said the Yankwich family, which owns the five parcels of land in question, has offered to sell each of the parcels individually – a deal that was not available to the county during its negotiations.
Green said the board could purchase three of the parcels immediately, if it were given access to the CREF funding.
“We have a new deal on the table,” Green said. “Maybe we shouldn’t give up hope. I think the three-parcel option is worth looking at.”
Since the county already turned down the original property deal, Conn said she had little hope that the board of supervisors would authorize use of the CREF grant to purchase just a portion of the land.
“Without the support of the CREF funding it would be very difficult for us to pursue this,” Conn said. “We’re not going to get any of that funding right now – we need to wait and go for all five parcels.”
Green said he was satisfied that the board decided to wait and explore the matter further before attempting to take over full responsibility for the park project.
“I think it was definitely the best course of action,” Green said. “The majority of the funding is in the hands of the board of supervisors, and for us to take over without that funding would be pointless.”