As the remaining monarchs left the eucalyptus trees to head north, many Ellwood Mesa residents migrated to Ellwood School Wednesday night to voice their concerns about the negative effects that the recent increase in tourism at the Coronado Butterfly Preserve has had on their neighborhood.
Blame it on the nice weather, blame it on the Internet, or blame it — ever so slightly — on the butterflies, 52,000 of which turn out this past season. This year, the residents said, there were more visitors than ever at the preserve. While no one was surprised by the butterflies’ annual presence from October through February, there was shock over this season’s amount of humans — and their sometimes brazen measures to see the monarchs. Complaints have ranged from annoying — visitors asking to use residents’ bathrooms — to downright rude: visitors parking their cars in front of residents’ driveways.
City of Goleta officials facilitated the meeting. They were there to listen and to work together with the residents at finding solutions.
The residents were quick to share their concerns, many of them collective. Issues ranged from residents feeling like traffic cops and feeling like their privacy was invaded, to worrying about pedestrians’ and children’s safety and overflowing trash cans, to what to do about ambulances in the event of an emergency. Some expressed concern that Devereux Creek was not being well taken care of. Many people felt frustrated about the out-of-towners’ use of a public space without the subsequent financial contribution to the city in the form of lodging, or shopping, or dining, feeling that the nuisance the visitors cause to the neighbors should at least be justified with a financial contribution to the area.
A large majority of the residents voiced their concerns that all of the increased traffic — foot and vehicular — may be adversely affecting the butterflies themselves. What really unified the meeting’s attendees, though, was their absolute disdain for the visitors’ parking — that of the commercial tour buses in particular — that has increasingly overtaken their neighborhood.
Although they don’t live on Coronado Drive, partners Jerry Ferrell and Tom Bennett sympathize with their neighbors’ concerns. “The parking is horrendous,” said Ferrell. “Visually, it’s tough,” said Bennett, about how the mass of vehicles parked in the neighborhood has made driving — and driving safely — difficult. “It’s got to be tough for the people on Coronado,” Bennett said. Still, said Ferrell, the solution shouldn’t detract from the area’s beauty. “I don’t want to take away the wildlife,” he said. “Lovely plots of land could turn into parking lots.”
Candy Templeton, a Coronado Drive resident who said that she has stuck with the preserve since the beginning — she helped prevent it from being commercially developed — has tried her best to deal with the increase in visitors, but to little-to-no avail. “We’re getting rude people,” she said, recounting stories of having her car’s side-view mirrors broken off (twice) and of having to place orange cones in front of her mailbox so that people wouldn’t park there. She said it has become difficult to even have visitors of her own, given the lack of available parking space. That wasn’t her biggest concern though. “I hate to see what’s happening in the grove,” she said. “I don’t even go anymore.”
Jessica Haro, the city’s docent coordinator for the preserve, said that she understands the residents’ concerns, but that the butterflies are being looked after. For about two years, she said, the city’s Habitat Management Plan has been working with a “biological consulting group” to study how best to take care of the Preserve.
While the City of Goleta owns the adjacent Sperling Preserve where the butterflies congregate, the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County owns the Coronado Preserve where most people enter. But the two groups can work together toward solutions, city officials said.
Michael Feeney, the executive director of the Land Trust, attended Wednesday’s meeting, saying that he was well aware of the problems — and equally well aware that “there’s no silver bullet” solution. “We can’t stop the butterflies from coming, and we can’t stop the people from coming,” he said. “We need to not allow ourselves to be downtrodden by popularity.” Feeney instead suggested a management-focused approach to the issues, saying that the Land Trust is willing to work with Goleta and the neighborhood. The most important thing, he said, is “to educate to make responsible visitors.”
Resident Susan Ham takes the same realistic approach. “I think the whole neighborhood deserves congratulations for being so gracious,” she said. “We understand that we have to share.”
Many of the residents understand the increased tourism. Daryn Mapel has lived in the neighborhood since 1972, when he bought his home for a cool $32,000. That was a long time ago, he said, and things have changed. “Times are tougher,” he said. “People come out here for recreation. Nobody’s got any money, dammit — they can’t go to a show.”
Times have also changed in the sense that what once could have been the area’s beautiful little secret is now available to anyone with Internet access. “Everything you get to experience is now out for the world to see,” said Dan Singer, Goleta’s city manager, about the “marketing storm” that has increased the number of visitors to the preserve.
Many of the tour buses, one of the residents said, are Chinese tourists, who learned about the preserve after it was featured on the National Geographic’s Taiwan network. Social media — Yelp in particular — has also contributed to the influx.
Scrolling through the preserve’s page on Yelp yields proof of the popularity — how it perhaps came to be, and how it will, likely, continue to be. The page features four- and mostly five-star reviews written by visitors from places such as Chicago and Washington state. Some of the comments, from Californians and out-of-state visitors alike, are ironically indicative of the problem:
• Adrienne G. from San Francisco: “Located smack-dab in the middle of a neighborhood, if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you wouldn’t know it was here.”
• Monica S. from New York City: “Thanks to my Yelp app, I found myself somewhere along the California coast coming across this hidden gem. Initially, I cursed my Google maps out for taking me into a residential road. How would I know that a tiny path in between houses could lead to paradise?”
• Jessica F. from Woodland (in Northern California): “One of the best-kept secrets of Santa Barbara.”
While all of that increased tourism puts Goleta on the map, the problems it also brings have the residents desperate for solutions.
The city officials listened to the residents’ proposals, writing down a list of possible solutions to the problem. Focusing primarily on the parking issue, residents shared some feasible ideas — installing signs prohibiting commercial buses from parking and unloading on Coronado — and some ideas that were better in theory: requiring residential parking permits and painting curbs red. There was a large consensus on the moving of parking — especially that of tour buses — to Ellwood School (on the weekends), Sperling Preserve, and areas generally farther away from the neighborhood.
Other residents called for greater police enforcement of the area; the city officials suggested that unarmed volunteers could help with that. Educational handouts for tour groups and more volunteer docents could also be helpful, some residents said. “Respect the neighborhood” signs proved to be a possible step, as well as better speed-control measures, such as stop signs at certain intersections and additional speed-limit signs. Further ideas included installing crosswalks (for increased pedestrian safety) and remapping the parking areas on websites in which the preserve is mentioned.
Looking at possible solutions, said Singer, would involve “time considerations, cost considerations, and environmental impacts.” The most important thing, Singer said, was to remain “good stewards,” of the area’s residents, of the land, and of the visitors.
Steve Wagner, Goleta’s director of community services, seconded Singer’s well-rounded approach. “We’d like to strike that balance,” he said. “We want to approach this with a tool chest of measures.”
Moving forward, the city officials said, will involve them sharing the concerns and suggested solutions from Wednesday’s meeting with the Goleta City Council as well as the Land Trust of Santa Barbara County. (Residents who attended the meeting and provided their email addresses will also be kept in the loop.) The plan is to have some of the suggested measures in effect come next season, said Wagner.
Valerie Kushnerov, the city’s public information officer, had some advice for the residents in the meantime: “Pray for rain.”