Botanic Garden
Paul Wellman (file)

Last week, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden laid off 10 employees. This week, the nonprofit organization officially announced the cuts – rumors of which hit the blogosphere a few days ago – and cited the economic downturn as the reason. Meanwhile, there are unverified reports that the volunteers who frequently work at the garden are implementing a 30-day freeze on their activities there.

“We had some staff reductions at the garden due to the downturn in the economy,” confirmed Nancy Johnson, vice president of marketing, on the phone Wednesday, April 22. She explained that the cut affected 10 people, amounted to 6.26 full-time employees, and did include some longtime members of the staff. Others told The Independent that some who were cut had worked at the garden for more than 30 years. But since it’s a personnel matter, Johnson would not get more specific.

“For our staff’s protection, it seems inappropriate to talk about individuals and specific departments,” she explained, later adding, “This in no way reflects on any staff member at all. It’s purely an economic decision that was extremely well thought out and researched and came to us with much sadness.”

Her comments were similar to those issued by CEO and president Edward Schneider in the official press release on Wednesday. “Making these types of decisions is very difficult,” he said. “The Garden has always considered staff as part of our extended family and we deeply regret these reductions. These decisions were thoroughly researched and analyzed and are solely economic. They in no way reflect on the superb quality of the staff and the excellent work they do.”

The garden’s endowment relies on investments in the stock market, which has been taking massive hits since last fall. “Our investments have suffered as many people’s investments have and as many organizations who do have endowments have suffered,” said Johnson, explaining that donations are also down.

Although no one from the garden discussed financial details, others have told The Independent that the endowment was once at $20 million, but has quickly shrunk to $8 million. These sources claim that while the tumbling market certainly has hurt the endowment, the fund has also taken a hit due to ongoing legal fees associated with the garden’s lawsuit against the County of Santa Barbara, which stopped work on a terracing project in an historic area; as well as legal, design, and public relations costs associated with the garden’s ongoing “Vital Mission Plan”, which is weaving its way through the county approval process. Johnson, however, denied that the Vital Mission Plan played a role in the layoffs.

Although these were perhaps the garden’s first ever layoffs, Johnson said that there were some cuts earlier this year in the form of “salary rollbacks.” When asked about possible future cuts, Johnson explained, “We don’t know where any of this is going to lead in terms of the economy. No one has a crystal ball. Hopefully not, but this all caught us by surprise, I think.”

A post on on Wednesday reported that the Botanic Garden’s volunteers had decided to take a 30-day break from working at the garden. Johnson had heard as much “through the grapevine,” but had not been presented any official declaration by the volunteers. “The volunteers have not come to us and made any statement,” she explained. “We hope that’s not the case. We very much value our volunteers and we hope they can understand our situation and continue their fine work here. We do appreciate them very much.”


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