If you have driven down Santa Barbara’s scenic Foothill Road, chances are you have driven past the San Marcos Foothills Preserve. It lies nestled just short of the Highway 154 onramp, tucked away behind the busy comings and goings of our little beach side town. This indigenous land is home to hundreds of species, flora and fauna, big and small. This indigenous land is also at immediate risk of being developed by the Chadmar Group, self-described as “a private, niche-focused homebuilding and development company specializing in the creation and/or restoration of irreplaceable landmark buildings, resort destinations, high-end luxury enclaves and neighborhoods throughout the Western United States.”
The developers plan to bulldoze 101 acres of the Preserve to make way for eight multimillion-dollar luxury mansions. Of course, this has caused great uproar within our community.
In addition to being home to over 200 species of animals and 250 species of plants, this space has become a go-to for dog walkers, hikers, bikers, runners, walkers, or anyone simply wishing to clear their head with a breath of fresh air. All of this is being threatened at the hand of the Chadmar Group.
However, there is hope. The developers at the Chadmar Group have agreed to a $20 million purchase of the land if funds are raised by June 8, 2021. This includes a $4 million down payment that must be made by March 24. The Foothills Forever Fund, an organization hoping to purchase and protect the preserve, is raising money towards the buyout, which, if successful, will enable them to stop development and protect it forever.
Does it sound like you’ve seen this movie before? Santa Barbara’s open spaces often face potential development, and as more land gets developed, less habitat remains for our already fleeting native wildlife. In fact, the world is experiencing its sixth mass extinction event, where 99.9 percent of critically endangered species and 67 percent of endangered species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
What is the primary cause of this worldwide die out? What we see unfolding before our very eyes in our own backyard, the destruction of native habitats these species call home. Developing the Foothills would be devastating for the local ecosystem.
This can be seen in action in a 2014 study by Anna M. Pidgeon, a professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, which shows that at a local level, increased housing development leads to a decrease in biodiversity. Biodiversity continues to decrease with each passing decade since development. Therefore, the Chadmar Group’s proposed development would almost certainly decrease the biodiversity of Santa Barbara, threatening species that rely on the Foothills, including the already threatened white-tailed kite.
Furthermore, razing this land will have dangerous implications for human safety, too. In November 2019, the Cave Fire tore through the foothills of Santa Barbara. The foothills can be used as a fire buffer for the rest of Santa Barbara to prevent the spread of wildfires further into the city, stalling the spread of the fire long enough until it is contained. If the next wildfire burns through the Foothills after the luxury mansions have been built, the protection of the homes will be prioritized, costing the rest of Santa Barbara the protective fire buffer. In this way, development of the Foothills would increase potential wildfire devastation in Santa Barbara exponentially, harming both Santa Barbara citizens and wildlife.
This development may seem small, but will have astronomical implications for the future of our town. And it can be prevented, but time is running out. Please go to https://www.sbfoundation.org/give-now/foothills-forever/ to donate and to find more information.