Eight Save the San Marcos Foothills protestors were arrested by Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office deputies on Thursday for blocking a bulldozer at the West Mesa of the San Marcos Foothills, aiming to prevent the construction of a housing development on land with historical ties to the Chumash Nation.
All eight protestors were released from custody later that afternoon, according to a press release from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office (SBSO). An additional protestor, who had not been arrested, was also cited.
The group has planned a sit-in throughout the weekend, and is currently negotiating with the land developers, according to the Save the San Marcos Foothills Instagram account. They are hoping to reach an agreement with the land developers by Monday.
On social media, people raised awareness about the event and garnered support for the protestors, some of whom had been there as early as 5 a.m., the Santa Barbara Independent reported, including four Chumash women who were later arrested and released.
Videos on the Instagram account @savethesanmarcosfoothills show protestors singing and holding a flag of the United States with an Indigenous person on it as well as videos of law enforcement arresting and addressing protestors.
The Instagram account posted a video from the protest captioned: “We want to highlight this arrest from today. An indigenous peaceful protestor is arrested for singing. For SINGING. Today’s arrests were unjust. Today was peaceful, and indigenous bodies were unjustly targeted. We demand Santa Barbara does better. We ask for the protection of sacred lands and the respect of indigenous people.”
The account did not respond to further requests for comment.
On Friday, many returned to peacefully protest again at the San Marcos Foothills, according to several videos reposted to the Save the San Marcos Foothills Instagram account. Some videos show people playing instruments, painting, drawing and silk-screening (a process where the artist takes ink and transfers it to cloth); others started funds to raise money for the protestors.
The organization, Save the San Marcos Foothills, has been actively organizing against this housing development for many months, citing its environmental and ecological impacts, as well as its construction on the San Marcos Foothills, which has been used by Chumash people for thousands of years, according to Channel Islands Restoration.
However, this land dispute erupted several years ago, the Nexus reported, after the development company, Chadmar Group, purchased 377 acres of land in the mid-2000s with the intent to preserve a majority of it — with one exception being a parcel of land on the West Mesa.
“The San Marcos Foothill Preserve, that we all know and love, was created in 2005. The Preserve created a 200-acre public open space that is protected from development, as a condition for the nearby development of 15 single family homes and five condominiums. Several of the homes have already been built, but the developer is now working to finish the construction of previously approved projects,” Santa Barbara County Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart said in a statement to the Nexus.
“While I understand the concern about the pending development of properties adjacent to the San Marcos Foothill Preserve, I want to be clear that the existing San Marcos Foothill Preserve is not under threat of development. The San Marcos Foothill Preserve is a treasured asset in our County park system and will be permanently preserved for future generations to come,” Hart continued.
Hart added that he has been in contact with the developers, urging them “to meet with community activists to identify any possible options for purchasing the private property that is planned for development.” A voluntary deal between the activists and developers “is the only way that additional land can be preserved,” he said, because the county cannot reverse the decision made in 2005 that approved the home-site development.
“I have also shared potential state and federal funding opportunities with the community advocates who are involved with fundraising for a potential land purchase and preservation,” Hart said.