Developer seeks to continue luxury neighborhood
Protesters arrived at the San Marcos Foothill Preserve just before 5 a.m. Thursday as bulldozers approached to begin carving a road for a development called The Terrace at San Marcos Preserve.
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office had been monitoring the development site since 9 p.m. Wednesday and arrested eight protestors and issued one citation, according to Raquel Zick, sheriff’s spokeswoman.
A group known as Save San Marcos Foothills, which is raising money to purchase the affected land, would like to pause construction in time for it to buy the land.
When the landowner’s development plan was approved in 2005, the owner donated 200 acres to the Trust for Public Land (who, in turn, donated the land to Santa Barbara County). The owner also set 16 acres aside for a county park.
The Chadmar Group, developer of The Terrace, plans to build eight homes on 25 acres. It has already established The Meadow at San Marcos Preserve, which encompasses 11 acres.
The Meadow has seven multi-million-dollar homes and five condos meant for low-income residents.
The Chadmar Group owns an additional 98 acres of open space surrounding the two developments.
“Part of this is an environmental victory,” John Davies, spokesperson for the Chadmar Group, told the News-Press. “89% of the land is donated.”
Argued Dani Lynch, a Save San Marcos Foothills board member, “Even though it’s eight homes that contain 27 acres, it has a much larger footprint.”
She predicted many animals will move out of the preserve as a result of the construction.
Save San Marcos Foothills has raised $1,062,523 and an additional $321,580 pledged in an effort to purchase the property.
“Many of those are micro-donations just showing the amount of community support we have,” Ms. Lynch told the News-Press.
Mr. Davies said the developer once put a price tag of $10 million on the land, market value at the time, but it is worth more now.
Ms. Lynch wasn’t aware of the previous price. (The original group fighting the project 15 years ago has split into other advocacy projects.) She would like an offer today to guide fundraising efforts.
“(The protest) is not something we wanted to do. We’ve been trying to negotiate peacefully for a while,” she said. “We’re willing to do what we can to purchase the land.”
The land holds sentiment to descendants of the Chumash tribe who once resided in the area.
“It means a lot, and I know it’s hard for people to understand. But that’s exactly what this land is: It’s history. It’s ancient history,” said Marianne Parra, a Chumash descendant who protested Thursday. “We’re hoping people can understand and be empathetic and feel that same connection. It’s part of our lives, our culture.”
She wasn’t aware of the development until seeing Facebook posts by Save San Marcos Foothills.
“This is not affordable housing or housing that is set up for people in need; this is luxury,” she said. “They’re not worried about the animals or the history or anyone’s ancestors. To them, it’s the millions of dollars they’re going to get.”
The new wave of awareness brought a lawsuit against Santa Barbara County and its board of supervisors. Save San Marcos Foothills filed it Jan. 11, with Marc Chytilo as its attorney, after seeing a notice for development late last year.
But it’s been over a decade since the plans were approved, plans that included The Terrace.
“The existing San Marcos Foothill Preserve is not under threat of development,” Gregg Hart, 2nd District supervisor, said in an email. “The San Marcos Foothill Preserve is a treasured asset in our County Park system and is permanently preserved for future generations.
“Over the last several months, I have been urging the developer to meet with community activists to identify any possible options for purchasing the remaining private property, adjacent to the preserve, that is planned for development. Reaching a voluntary deal with the property owner is the only way that additional land can be preserved, as the county cannot reverse the decision that was made in 2005 to approve development of the remaining home sites that created the San Marcos Foothill Preserve,” he said.
Ms. Lynch said the organization’s recent offer of $9 million was rejected by the landowner.
“We just feel very strongly that the function of the land has changed so much in the last 15 years,” she said.
She described the area of the new neighborhood as “the most diverse portion of the land.”
By the end of the day, around 100 protestors gathered on the land and also by the county jail, once some of those arrested were released. Many chanted; some waved signs with messages such as “habitat destruction” and “stolen land.”
According to authorities, Sheriff’s deputies became aware of the protest around 8 p.m. Wednesday, when contractors called to report a potential for conflict at the construction site on the north end of Via Gaitero.
As construction equipment arrived Thursday morning, “several people prevented the contractors from accessing private property at the north end of Via Gaitero,” Ms. Zick said.
“In the course of that effort, they willfully obstructed the free movement of the contractors, who were in possession of a valid permit to access and work on the property,” she said. “Deputies spoke with the protesters and requested that they move to an adjacent location and allow the contractors to access the property. Deputies repeatedly informed the protesters that blocking access was illegal and could result in arrest. Some of the protesters complied with the deputies’ request, while another group refused.”
As a result, six women and two men were arrested. No force other than handcuffing was used and no injuries were reported.
All eight were booked on suspicion of willfully obstructing the free movement of any person. Each person was issued a citation and released upon their promise to appear in court, Ms. Zick said.
A citation was also issued for a man who “had apparently locked himself to a gate post at the entrance to the property,” Ms. Zick said. “He utilized a V arm rube, a device that makes it difficult for protestors to be removed safely from an object to which they have affixed themselves.”
The Sheriff’s Office remained on scene until shortly after noon Thursday, when the contractor and the protesters “arrived at an agreement” and law enforcement was no longer needed.