Despite claims that the 100-plus modifications imposed on the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s Vital Mission Plan were “patently unfair” and would amount to “banishing the Garden to the dustbin of perpetual mediocrity,” the county supervisors approved the changes unanimously on Tuesday, thereby allowing the 12 of the proposed buildings to move forward but curtailing the desired visitor numbers, enhancing fire safety, protecting archaeological resources, and reverting the historic meadow back to its former design.
Tuesday’s vote was not a surprise, as it echoed exactly what 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal laid out as a compromise during the May 18 meeting, but it did mark at least the bureaucratic end of the controversial, nearly decade-long effort by the Garden’s administration to improve the renowned institution’s run-down facilities. The approved plans were almost exactly what Carbajal envisioned, but there were a few clarifications, specifically that the historic meadow must be replanted with an oak tree, that all pavement plans in the landmark-protected acreage must go through the Historical Landmark Advisory Committee, that construction must be stopped during certain fire-danger times, and that the allowed number of visitors at any one time was bumped up by five, amounting to 255 people (non-resident staff included) during non-fire season and 205 people during the May to November fire-danger season.
The changes mostly satisfied the numerous critics of the plan. As to the Garden, they and their supporters came out strongly against the changes, with the Garden’s director Edward Schneider — who is soon leaving for a post at the University of Minnesota — claiming that the modifications would “affect the financial viability of the institution.” But once the decision was levied, the Garden administration changed their tone. “The Garden is pleased and relieved the Vital Mission Plan has been approved,” said spokeswoman Nancy Johnson on Tuesday night, also thanking all those who spoke in support of the plan. “The plan enables the Garden to continue to advance our mission of plant research, education, conservation, and display.”