After doling out nearly $5.5 million to preserve open space and recreational areas from the San Marcos Foothills to the Gaviota Coast and all spots in between, the Goleta Valley Land Trust will soon be riding off into the sunset after 13 years of a job well done. The money was the result of a hard-won 1997 settlement between the Bacara and the Citizens for Goleta Valley, which sued the resort for not including a parking lot and access to Haskell’s Beach. The court-ordered mediation talks were notoriously tense, with one attorney literally grabbing another by the lapels at one point, but the citizens eventually won out, getting the parking lot, public access, and cash.
The trust’s happy ending — which will officially occur when another four grants are announced this fall and the remaining $150,000 is likely donated to the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County — was always in the plans, said co-founder Harriet Phillips, who both spearheaded the Bacara suit and then managed the funds with the trust’s board. “We had no fundraisers,” she explained. “We didn’t want to compete with anyone. We did not want to build a bureaucracy. We just wanted to do the best to save whatever land we could save.”
The saved and/or aided landscapes and organizations include Girsh Park ($619K received), More Mesa ($51K), the Naples Coalition and Gaviota Coast Conservancy ($205K), Goleta Valley Historical Society ($128K), Santa Barbara Trails Council ($20K), and Fairview Gardens, which received the first $150,000 ever dispersed in 1997 at a critical time in its existence. Although other monies went to a church for creek restoration and government agencies such as the City of Goleta ($225K) and the County of Santa Barbara ($218K), the funding only supported preservation or improvement of outdoor areas. “We never gave money for building, never,” said Phillips, who also supported big preservation campaigns by donating to the Land Trust for S.B. County ($325K) and the Trust for Public Land ($1.6 million).
The trust’s board met last Wednesday for one of the last times, and celebrated with a bottle of champagne at Maravilla senior citizen complex in Goleta, where Phillips lives. Together, they toasted their 13 years of giving, an act that Phillips believes is greatly appreciated by the rest of the community. “Everyone who lives here gets into the environment,” she said. “We don’t want to be another Los Angeles.”