A parade of people opposed the project, and after two dozen or so speakers had walked to the mike to address the Board of Supervisors, it was my turn.
I had been asked to describe a half century of recreational use of the popular Gaviota playground next to Naples that was now to be developed and marketed to the one percent as Paradiso del Mare. For me, two minutes has never been time enough to wrangle rideable words from thoughts, much less the epic story of people enjoying this land — from bicyclists pedaling west out of Goleta, dirt bikers on self made, rambling tracks, surfers seeking surf at the ends of their cobweb of old trails, to exploring college kids, sightseers, fishermen, and hikers passing through. But I tried — after sharing an epiphany.
Speaker after speaker had sought sympathy for their concerns for seals, kites, voles, trails, views, access, and the integrity of Gaviota’s “string of pearls.” Their central message to the Board of Supervisors was resonating and utterly clear: no more homes on Gaviota’s bluffs. Yet, behind the repeated objections and environmentalist perspectives, there seemed to be a deeper, though unfocused and elusive, urgency.
I sensed that the earnest, myriad pleas had an underlying composition, a gestalt binding them that was more profound, substantive, and perhaps persuasive than the individual protests. Spontaneously, I tried to share that observation with the supervisors — the fact of it, not its legitimacy, merits, or just what it was. Indeed, I’m still trying to understand the breaking of my own spirit as I’ve watched endless large and small parcels of home ground overrun by growth, and for decades, I’ve wondered what in fact was being lost and how Santa Barbara and its citizens were being changed.
Santa Barbarans love nature’s arrangement of their coast. Many of us are its devoted stewards, whose relationship with it greatly contributes to this place and who we are as a community and people. Too often, though, the roots of that connection wither beyond the protecting reach of politicians, land use planners, and legal remedies. Such institutions seem unable at times to consider, even recognize, much less defend, what sustains us and our commitment. And it seems we’re unable to aptly explain the full measure of our pain.
As the Board of Supervisor’s pave-to-save deliberations led to a 5-0 approval of their “Homes in Paradise Plus Benefits” package, Chair Lavagnino reflected on public input. Bulldozing the contours of what he had heard, he said, “The feeling up here is that for some of you, there is no appropriate development. It would all be inappropriate.” Lavagnino then dozered my struggling with the essential motivations for our concern for Gaviota by quipping, “He knew viscerally that he felt like he was supposed to be opposed, so he was.” But then Lavagnino offered some accidently brilliant and revealing arithmetic when he said, “Listening to some of the arguments today, it almost felt like we were putting 143 homes on two acres, not two homes on 143 acres.”
It’s so very true; a couple of new homes on Gaviota’s beset coastline add up that way. Santa Barbara and the Gaviota Coast need politicians, actually real leaders, who get it: sometimes 2 into 143 = 143 into 2. And we activists need to do better explaining that math.