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Bacara Beach Bathroom Battle Lines Form

Move Farther Up the Beach Could Endanger Grave Sites, Chumash Contend

Bacara presented plans to demolish its existing Beach House (left) and replace it with a food truck (blue) and bathrooms (orange) which Chumash members state will insult historic burial sites. | Credit: WATG architects

A strange dance is going on between the Bacara hotel and Chumash tribal members whose forebears’ graves could be affected by the move of the resort’s beach house bathrooms. Bacara’s design team has twice met with the City of Goleta’s Design Review Board to discuss the look of the new building; each time members of Chumash tribes have protested its site. On Tuesday, Ernestine Ygnacio-De Soto, whose mother, Mary Yee, was the last native speaker of Chumash, asked them, “Would you like me plopping my whatever on the cemeteries of your ancestors?”

By the time the Bacara was completed in 2000 — after two decades of intense struggle with environmentalists, surfers, and Chumash — its permits required the hotel to install bathrooms, showers, and a snack bar by the beach. In 2016, winter storms brought Bacara’s Beach House to the water’s edge, and an emergency permit allowed stabilization of the slope for a short while. The beach resort wants to demolish the old building and set the new one farther back on the property to escape the rising sea’s reach. But the area, locally known as Haskell’s Beach, is almost entirely designated environmentally sensitive habitat (ESHA) — in large part due to its rich cultural resources lying deep under fill. The only space that’s not ESHA is a gated access road to the east of the current building; it has a hammerhead turnaround at its beach-end, used to offload jet skis during emergency water rescues and drills.

Photo: WATG architects, Irvine

That’s where Bacara plans to place a food truck — cute, electric, able to be moved during emergencies or the off season — and a 325-square-foot building to house the showers and bathrooms, one fourth the size of the existing Beach House. Last time, the Design Review Board members were most critical of the plainness of the new design; this time, it included Bacara-like arches and a pediment, which DRB members complimented, for the most part. The new iteration has a drinking fountain at the north, showers at the south, and four arched bathroom doors facing west.

Design Review Board chair Scott Branch clarified on Tuesday that his group could only address the building’s aesthetics, but the public speakers went ahead to criticize land-use issues: sensitive habitat intrusion, finding a more appropriate site, and disrespect for the area’s two cemetery sites. They’ll have to wait until the project gets to the Planning Commission for their comments to carry any weight.

In a conversation after the hearing, Frank Arredondo, who is Chumash, noted that while the site had been covered with fill dirt to avoid any cultural-site interference, it didn’t address the spiritual issue: “That connection is being interrupted by your bathrooms,” he said.

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