In a welcome reversal, Brooks Firestone and the rest of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors decided earlier this month to keep trying to purchase the vacant land on Del Playa’s 6700 block, dubbed by some as “Claire’s Park.”
Hopefully, the restarted negotiations will ensure the construction of a new park – not an apartment complex – on DP’s largest and most beautiful piece of continuous open space. While Firestone deserves credit for bowing to community opposition rather than being content to kick his Isla Vista constituents in the teeth and call it 3rd District politics as usual, the real kudos belong to the I.V. chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.
Led by several vocal and articulate activists, Surfrider members spoke at every public meeting on the land acquisition topic, organized a large letter-writing campaign and engaged locals with a well-staged “party in the park.” Their efforts catapulted a dispute over a couple of acres of I.V. land onto the pages of every major Santa Barbara newspaper and broadcasts of local TV news.
Most important for holding the public’s attention, however, was Surfrider’s invention of the empty lot’s name. “Claire’s Park” is not on any official map or sign, but it is a hell of a lot catchier than referring to the disputed site as “those seven vacant parcels of ocean side property between 6709 and 6741 DP.”
Whether Firestone’s initial decision to cut off negotiations was a willful subversion of local sentiment or an unintended stumble into an angry beehive of open space advocates -it is hard to tell because his stated motive consisted of “technicalities” that he would not disclose – restarting the deal was the only sensible call.
Firestone probably realized he would have a hard time justifying even granting a building permit to the land’s private owners, having implied in a letter published in the Nexus that the danger posed by continued blufftop erosion was a good reason for ending county attempts to buy the property. If the land is not safe enough for a park, there is no way it can be safe enough for an apartment complex.
Like a classic cartoon episode of “Scooby-Doo,” local activists probably had Firestone lamenting with a shake of his fist: “And I would have gotten away with it too, if not for you meddling kids!” Firestone probably did not have to deal with meddling kids during his stint in the California State Assembly, but as I.V. Surfrider showed with its successful campaign, we come with the 3rd District territory.