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Botanic Garden: Fire Safety and Other Objections


I’m writing this letter in response to Matt Kettman’s Botanic Garden article published on November 19 [“High Noon in the Garden of Controversy“]. The Mission Canyon Association has appealed the October 26, 2009 approval by the Planning Commission of the Botanic Garden expansion plan. It is the responsibility of the Mission Canyon Association to protect the safety of the people living and visiting Mission Canyon is threatened, and to stand against changes that will adversely affect the historic and unique characteristics of this residential neighborhood with more than 1200 homes.

The MCA strongly asserts that the approved Fire Protection Plan, when viewed in conjunction with the allowed increase in visitors, doesn’t mitigate impacts from wildfire risks, limited emergency access, and increased activity on-site.

The narrow bridge on Mission Canyon Road below the Garden is too narrow to handle the proposed increase in visitors. Stress on the road system goes beyond Mission Canyon. During the Tea Fire, Montecito residents and Mission Canyon residents evacuated via Foothill Road. Heavy congestion at the Mission Canyon and Foothill intersections created chaos and extreme driving behavior.

Limited emergency exit coupled with our experience in May when the Jesusita Fire leaped from the top of the canyon to the lower canyon in less than 30 minutes leads the Mission Canyon Association to ask the Board of Supervisors to understand that limiting visitors to the Garden is a critical safety issue.

The Planning Commission approval will allow the Garden to host large private events with amplified sound and serve alcoholic beverages. MCA does not agree the Garden should become a venue for private parties such as weddings and company promotional events. MCA has asked the PC to cap attendance at a 10 percent increase over current levels, restrict the number of attendees at events commensurate with fire safe egress concerns and order the Garden be closed at sunset for outdoor activities.-Milt Roselinsky, chair, MCA Fire Safety Committee

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True Colors at the Garden

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s board president, Fife Symington III, gets a lot of credit for his honesty in calling the Garden’s reach for their vaunted proposed Vital Mission Plan a “political race [which] as it gets close to a final vote:will ratchet up”.

And all this time, I thought the Garden was a non-profit community treasure that would act like other Santa Barbara display institutions-collaboratively, openly, for the community benefit.-Ralph Daniel

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There are a few things that more money can ruin, and a natural preserve is one of them. The Botanic Garden has for many decades been a place for native California plants to live on relatively undisturbed natural terrain. Removing what is natural to put in buildings, hardscapes, and lawns is counter-intuitive to putting nature on display. Education and research are important elements, but are secondary goals to the task of preserving the natural wonders of what we are exploring. These secondary functions and administration should be located off the natural preserve (more money for this might be good). Many major cities have a botanic garden facility and for those wanting this type of experience there is Huntington Garden in Pasadena, just two hours down the road. Residents and visitors of Santa Barbara are best served by access to the existing historic and natural preserve where the most obvious and treasured aspect of the Garden is that it is not made of concrete and steel. Big ideas often go hand in hand with large egos; lots of confidence can take us down the wrong trails as easily as the right one. I get the feeling the current decision makers at the Botanic Garden are lost in the woods.-John G. Jamison.

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As I recall, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s acquisition of the Ojai Garden was greeted with joy and applause. The project was abandoned when it became clear the property was too far away from Santa Barbara for classes, events, and research.

And it was not in our Mediterranean climate zone.

Nonetheless, it was a valiant experiment. Unfortunately, the Garden trustees turned inward, focusing on slicing and dicing the original Garden. But, the idea of another Botanic Garden site should not have been dismissed altogether.

I hope the Board of Trustees will look outward again because real estate events have turned very much in their favor. Following is a list in no particular order of opportunities that could provide a fortunate answer to the Garden’s much-needed expansion.

1. Local estates have com onto the market at greatly reduced prices. Some are distress sales. “The next year or two may be a very good time to buy a property with buildings suitable for the proposed 16 offices, research labs, and herbarium, and a residence for Dr. Schneider to replace the house lost in the fire. Please give this an outward look.

2. Buy a complex of condominiums, such as Chapala One, at a bargain price. Turn units into labs and offices, and a residence for Dr. Schneider. The garage could became an herbarium/car park. Perhaps lease out the rest of the units. Please look outward at this.

3. Issue an S.O.S. for “angels.” If the board advertises that it wants property, many here might feel good about donating their houses or their money to restore harmony to the Garden and our community. Please look outward at this.

It seems fruitless to try expanding the Garden into Mission Canyon. It’s a too-small “box” canyon in a high-fire area with residents who object. I have always thought the Garden’s leaders are right with their goals of research, education, a and conservations I know they must feel sorry that $4.5 million has already been spent. But they could make up for that money by looking outward while property values are so low. A buy of a lifetime might be waiting. Put the Garden’s $20 million into a superior development that will please the Friends of Mission Canyon and the community at large.

Good wishes to all at the Botanic Garden.-Frances L. Green, member, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden



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