I am writing in response to Robin Karson’s letter about our Santa Barbara Botanic Garden [Letters, “How Garden Grows,” 11/19/09] and would like to address some of the writer’s complaints:

1. Mr. Karson is “shocked” by the garden’s recent appearance. He must know that the recent Jesusita Fire caused major damage, and drought over many years has caused many changes to the garden’s look. The gaping holes once filled by important trees were caused by the death of some of those trees and fire destruction of others. A living garden never stays the same, and repairs take time.

2. The S.B. Botanic Garden was created in 1926, and has been changing ever since. The meadow has changed from a plowed field, to a grassy meadow, to a strawberry field, to an arid landscape, to a wildflower pasture, and back to a meadow. The current meadow with wildflowers and grass is not inappropriate.

3. The garden is a renowned institution with a world-class herbarium. The current facilities have been substandard for decades, and vitally needed changes will not “subsume or obliterate” truly historic buildings.

4. Although pavers have not been mandated by the ADA, we feel that access should be available to all, including the handicapped and families with children in strollers, at least in the flat areas surrounding the meadow and classrooms. It is the right thing to do.

I have been a member of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden for many decades, and have loved it in all its various evolutions. I support the garden’s Vital Mission Plan and its mission to balance the needs of research and education, of protecting the garden’s historic core, and of providing a beautiful place for all to enjoy nature. – Susan Blanchard Plumer

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Contrary to the myth you quote Ed Schneider propagating in last week’s article, “the neighbors” know that had they not insisted that the garden’s new fire hydrants be connected to a water source with sufficient capacity to serve the neighborhood, much more of the garden and the canyon would have been lost in the Jesusita Fire.

Some background: In early 2007 the Botanic Garden requested the City of Santa Barbara to connect four fire hydrants to a water system that served the neighborhood above the garden, on Mission Canyon Road and Paseo del Ocaso. Neighbors heard about this original plan and raised questions about the sufficiency of the system to serve both the neighborhood’s and the garden’s needs. After much discussion, a test was performed by County Fire and the existing system failed due to insufficient water. City Water then instructed the garden to connect its four fire hydrants to an alternative water system with increased capacity.

The neighbors did not oppose the hydrants. They wanted to make sure the hydrants would have water for both the garden and the surrounding community. The neighbors also wondered why it took the garden some 40 years to determine they needed this kind of fire protection. It is sad that the garden has seen fit to demonize neighbors who pushed for a safe and effective water supply, rather than to have worked together with them to find an acceptable solution to a community problem. – Ray Smith

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Matt Kettmann deserves a lot of credit for his balanced report on the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden controversy. I am one of those neighbors who have been demonized by the Garden’s director and trustees, so my view of the situation is hardly detached. I can say, however, that I was at first sympathetic to the needs for improved facilities for research and education. Those needs might have been met without all this turmoil if the director and trustees had recognized from the start that there were many in this community who were emotionally attached to the Garden as it was. If those interests had been recognized and included in the planning process, positive changes might by now be a reality. The choice instead was to dismiss other views as hindrances to progress, while proceeding to restructure the Garden piecemeal in ways that many have found disturbing: with the chain-link fence, the paving of trails, the out-of-place tea house, and other unnatural intrusions. The relation of such elements to research and education is far from apparent. With the help of a politician from Arizona and an expensive public relations firm, the director and trustees are now pushing for more radical restructuring in a blatantly political way. If their plans were realized, the Garden would become a very different sort of place. The director and trustees might celebrate, but those of us who loved the Garden as it used to be would have to live on our memories.-Wallace Chafe


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