Like the many homes destroyed and neighborhoods devastated during the disastrous Jesusita Fire, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden was hard hit by the May 2009 foothill wildfire, with 60 of its 78 acres getting scorched, including the total toppling of the historic — albeit already-in-bad-shape — Gane House. Though the burned bushes, dead trees, and iconic structures may never be as they once were, the $6.8 million in insurance money that was awarded this week will certainly go a long way to helping the garden recover.
“We’re very thrilled,” said garden spokesperson Nancy Johnson. “It’s really a wonderful step forward for us to regain our footing and move the garden forward again.” Among other projects, the money will be spent on finishing the home demonstration garden deck and completing the plans to rebuild the Campbell Bridge, the Gane House, the director’s residence, and the lath house.
Johnson explained that the amount was settled upon following “successful and amiable negotiations” with the garden’s insurer, Chubb. “The garden did a tremendous amount of work inventorying what was loss and evaluating what that loss constituted,” said Johnson. “We feel that we did a very good job on that part and that Chubb honored what our assessments were.”
The insurance payment comes amidst the garden’s pursuit of the “Vital Mission Plan,” a controversial development project that has neighbors and others in the community up-in-arms. Some believe that the costs of that plan were, in part, related to the laying off of some popular and longtime staff members last spring, and those critics are already asking that the insurance money be used to hire back some of those people. But while there is “some flexibility” with what the garden does with the money, Johnson said it cannot be used for staffing. “We have to use it on the loss, the physical loss,” she explained.
In the meantime, Johnson and outgoing director Edward Schneider are encouraging the community to visit the garden, as they both predict that there will be a shower of wildflowers in the weeks to come.