Supervisors express support for closing up funding gap
By this time next week, the Foothills Forever campaign could have enough money to achieve its goal of purchasing the West Mesa of the San Marcos Foothills — thanks to the county.
Every member of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors expressed support Tuesday for a proposal by 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart to provide $2 million to the Forever Foothills fund.
The board plans to vote on the funding at its meeting on June 8, the day before the deadline for Foothills Forever to buy the property.
“It’s really an extraordinary success story,” Supervisor Hart said when he pitched the donation to the board amidst hashing out priorities for American Rescue Plan funds. “This is absolutely unprecedented. Something like this has never even been attempted, let alone almost gotten to the point of success.”
As of 11 a.m. Tuesday, the campaign reported it has until 10 a.m. June 9 to raise an additional $725,480 to close the gap, although some donations were outstanding short-term loans.
“There’s a loud ticking clock to make this thing happen, and I think there’s a place for one-time cannabis funding to have the county assist in that effort to specifically buy a couple parcels that need to be appraised and all the things that are going to be required to make that happen,” Supervisor Hart said. “A $2 million allocation would really cement the momentum that’s under way in this project and make this thing a reality.”
The idea was met with unanimous support from all the board members, including Board Chair Bob Nelson. He said that while he hesitated slightly, due to what return could be achieved with the housing built there, he’s critical when the government or executives attempt to take away open spaces from citizens.
“I’ve often thought if it was really that big of a public good, then the public should pay for it, and the public is willing to do that here,” Supervisor Nelson said. “The public has put their money where their mouth is on this, so I think I could come around seeing the significant contributions that have been made from your (Supervisor Hart’s) community.”
The board agreed to utilize Santa Barbara County’s discretionary cannabis tax revenue of nearly $9 million to allocate to the fund. Direction was given to staff to return this next Tuesday with an action item.
Mary Rose, the campaign director of Foothills Forever, told the News-Press the announcement was “great news.”
“Ninety days ago, this was kind of like a few people’s dream,” she said. “It is unprecedented — this community has a legacy of protecting important open space, but we had 90 days.”
The property owner offered a deadline extension to June 9 to raise the $18.6 million, and the recent $5 million donation from a longtime local businesswoman got those fighting for the space even closer to their goal.
“We’re thrilled that the Board of Supervisors was able to act quickly and help us get there,” Ms. Rose said. “I think they recognized how important it is to the community and that’s why they got involved … The amount of solid support, from grassroots to somebody who had the ability to give us $5 million and everything in between — we’ve done heavy lifts to protect open space before, but not this fast.”
She added that the campaign is not yet over, and there is still money to be raised and loans to pay off. However, the activists can now begin putting together their restoration planning — what Ms. Rose referred to as “phase two” of the program.
“Looks like everything’s falling into place,” she said.
Along with the inclusion of $2 million for the Foothills Forever campaign in next week’s budget, the board also agreed to consider $100,000 for coastal conservation efforts in the unincorporated areas of North County.
Out of the $25.3 million available from American Rescue Plan Act funds restricted to COVID-19 related uses, county staff recommended the board allocate $7 million for a homeless shelter in Isla Vista unless other funding becomes available, $1.5 million for mental health services and $200,000 for an ARPA economic recovery resource center.
The board was also advised to allocate $4 million to the transportation fund and projects, and $4.95 million to Tier 1 Capital Improvement Projects from the $18 million in discretionary ARPA funds.
The ARPA funds must be spent or otherwise obligated by Dec. 31, 2024, so board members agreed to take time to understand the needs and find other funding sources to utilize before using up all federal funds. So staff will come back with study sessions periodically between now and the deadline to give presentations on how much money is needed to address childcare needs from pandemic-related issues, broadband access, workforce housing options and prioritizing CIP projects that have short payback periods.