Credit: Utsav Srestha / Unsplash

I’m probably not the best judge of habitat since I consider enjoying a Corona in the sand at Shoreline Café to be connecting with nature. And I’m not a preservationist who needs everything to stay the same so that I can feel good about the future. But I am sensitive to the delicate balance we must all maintain to protect the most vulnerable. Honeybees, monarchs, and renters. And with that in mind, I am discouraged with the recent loss of habitat in Santa Barbara. It reminds me of what I witnessed many years ago as a young man home from college.

You see, while I was away at school in the ’70s, my parents did what many Midwestern folks do — they sold the house, packed the U-Haul, and moved to Florida. They landed in Cocoa Beach just as the space shuttle boom was taking shape nearby at Cape Canaveral. The area was exploding in population, good jobs, and development.

The swamps were being drained, and subdivisions were sprouting everywhere. It was noteworthy that on each trip to see my family, another golf course or strip mall appeared where there used to be sawgrass marshes and pine forests. Now housing developments with gates and beautiful landscaping. 

It is with that perspective and unfortunate memory that I experience the recent changes in my downtown neighborhood.

These days, investors are finding that older two-bedroom/one-bath houses are a steal at $1.4 million. They just need to remove the natural inhabitants and give the place a shine. It is hard to miss the air conditioners and large screen TVs being delivered to empty houses. New fences and landscaping. Stainless steel BBQs. Fresh coats of paint. Everything a four-week makeover can offer. And always with a new key box on the front porch.

And you know after all of that, the neighborhood is looking fabulous. It’s just missing the inhabitants — the teachers, the young professionals, landscapers, retired housepainters, and mechanics. The neighbors I used to meet at the Mission Creek bridge to help scrub off the latest round of graffiti. The friends we made over drinks in the driveway. The parents of all those dogs we met.

We’re missing the most important part of the neighborhood — the neighbors, our friends.

Today, my former neighbors drive in from Lompoc or Oxnard, and I occasionally see them at Starbucks or Joe’s. Their jobs are still here; they just lost their nest.

We’re evicting the character and the characters, and I miss them.

Preserving habitat is important whether for the butterflies at Ellwood or for the lower middle-class downtown. I’m not sure what it will take, but whatever we’re doing today sure seems like Florida. Maybe that is why is has been so humid lately.


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