The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and community can have their cake and eat it too.
It is not the 91 percent-the 71 acres of Botanic Garden open space-that needs emphasis but the development plans on the remaining seven acres that need our concern. These plans provide too much indoor space for the function of the SBBG in Mission Canyon. Maintenance costs alone will be too exorbitant to be sustainable.
It is surprising that the SBBG administration shows such lack of caring or sensitivity towards its own environment, and ours; its and our County Historic Landmark #24; its and our Chumash archeological site CA SBA-22; and its own purpose in Mission Canyon, let alone safety for all at and around the 1212 Mission Canyon Road site. All are endangered by the plans.
Although the Final Draft Environmental Impact Report shows proposed staff of around 100, the expansion plans belie this. Here are some specifics. There are 42 labeled offices at a total of over 6000 square feet. These could easily accommodate 155 office workers or more. There are group rooms (gift shop, nursery, volunteer, conference, library study, reception areas, Blaksley exhibit space, break rooms) for another 4000-plus square feet, where 100 visitors and volunteers could easily be at one time. Then there is the school for children and adults that can house up to 128 students at one time, in four classrooms, plus a minimum of four instructors, even though the report shows that 88 students is what there will be. Without even visitors in the Garden, botanists in the lab, staff in the fast-food snack room, librarians, herbarium preparation personnel, or gardeners in the garden there is already a potential concentration of 380-plus people indoors at one time on a daily basis. Special event caps are recommended at 180. But this does not address the small city that will be in operation at 1212 Mission Canyon Road if these plans go through.
It is possible to save the environment, save the landmark, save the Chumash site, and provide the needed upgrades with a downsized plan that will continue to work in the future for the Botanic Garden and the community. Here is how.
Keep the main buildings on the west side of Mission Canyon Road. Do not demolish or move; reuse these. Some remodeling may be needed. There is enough safe space for library books and/or herbarium specimens, separate children’s and adult activities with lower numbers, a volunteer orientation room, etc. Although not now in compliance, Americans with Disability Act (ADA) accessibility for all the current buildings is already nearly there so no need for costly elevators. To the current restrooms, add two ADA stalls.
Do not put in the planned admissions building. This closes off the Arroyo Section trails and destroys the oldest part of the designed garden. Instead put a small fee kiosk inside, near the top of the parking lot, and reopen the Lockwood de Forest entry steps. ADA-ramp this entry by zigzagging towards the back of the restrooms so entry for all visitors ends up the same, across from the magnificent boulder.
Widen the current parking lot entrance so buses can make the turn in one move, instead of the two or three needed now. Do not put in the large vehicle turnaround near the exit to the parking lot. It will not solve problems but may create some due to steep incline and narrow road / parking lot diameter and it will destroy trees and shrubs.
After removal of the Terrace Event Center and pavers from the trails, both of which were Class I impacts, County Historic Landmark #24 and much of the environment will have been saved and some improved facilities on the landmark will have been established.
To accommodate all the Garden administration’s indoor facility needs, the only new construction needed is the reconstruction of the Gane House and the construction of a downsized horticultural service / vehicle storage / workshop area. The Conservation Center is not needed. The activities of both administration and botanists, which often overlap, can all be accommodated in the Gane House’s 8,178 sq. ft. The fire resistant basement is 1,800 sq. ft., enough space for herbarium specimen storage and preparation space. The Gane House footprint is 3,975 square feet, which means increased basement potential. There is tremendous flexibility in the possible uses of the buildings that already exist on the SBBG grounds.
If the Conservation Center is not built, this leaves an area for new landscaped parking. Then the pocket parking that is planned along the Gane House Driveway (which unconscionably demolishes a historic sandstone wall, digs into the forbidden 20-percent and 30-percent slopes, and is an eyesore from Mission Canyon Road) can be removed with no loss of parking.
The Botanic Garden is 85 contiguous acres, not just the 78 in the expansion plans. By requesting donations to pay off the $3,375,000 mortgage on the two parcels that contain a total of five dwelling units, the SBBG could have new employee housing off the Chumash archeological site thus saving the site from destruction using the best mitigation measure possible: avoidance.