The ongoing fight to preserve the San Marcos Foothills got a reprieve, of sorts. Two weeks after a bulldozer standoff between preservationists and the developer’s contractor, Save the San Marcos Foothills was given the option to buy the 101 acres of land for $20 million, which must be raised by June 2. A positive sign of support must come by March 24 when $4 million is due.
“It’s a high hill to climb,” said Marc Chytilo, attorney for the foothills group. “We’re calling on everyone to step up.”
The agreement comes more than 15 years after permits were pulled to allow the construction of 15 homes and five condominiums on the 377-acre property. The Chadmar Group built seven of the homes, along with all five of the condos. The remaining eight homes, to be built on land known as the West Mesa, are the current point of contention for activists.
Of the total sum, $18 million buys the land, and $2 million will go toward an endowment for the preserve and campaign efforts. If the acquisition is successful, the West Mesa will be added to a 200-acre preserve granted in 2005 by the landowners and managed by Channel Islands Restoration.
Among the last native grasslands in the county, the foothills were breathtaking under storm clouds as community leaders and residents spoke on Wednesday to announce the terms. Keeping a distance from the rest of the attendees were members of the Chumash community, some of whom protested on February 25 as bulldozers moved toward the gate to the West Mesa. Opting to stay on public land, they said that they have not been invited to participate in preservation efforts and discussions, despite the foothills group’s promises.
Supervisor Gregg Hart, in whose 2nd District the foothills fall, urged community members to lean into the preservation effort and continue Santa Barbara’s legacy of conservation. Attorney Chytilo acknowledged Chadmar’s generosity during the negotiation process and thanked CEO Chuck Lande for his willingness to collaborate.
Originally, along with the 200-acre preserve, the landowners gave $250,000 to set up preserve operations. The agreement included 16 acres of park land and 23 acres for private open space. About 10 percent is to be housing. While the homes are multimillion-dollar estates of 3-27 acres, the condos are more affordably priced.
Development will stall while the fundraising campaign ensues, but not entirely. Soil sampling is set to take place, out of respect for Chadmar’s timeline should the purchase not go through, Chytilo said.
If the money is not raised by the June 2 deadline, Save San Marcos agreed to withdraw its preservation request and refrain from any further objections, freeing the property for development. Funds donated toward the land acquisition will be refunded, according to Chytilo.
So far, the campaign has raised over $1.7 million through contributions from more than 1,000 donors. Save the San Marcos Foothills is collecting money through the Foothills Forever fund at the Santa Barbara Foundation.
Correction: Supervisor Gregg Hart represents the 2nd District, not the 3rd.