Crusaders thrilled as gate opens to West Mesa
It was back in September 2020 when four local women — Nancy Tubiolo, Samantha Eddy, Dani Lynch and Julia Laraway — met for the first time on a Zoom call with one goal in mind.
To save the West Mesa of the San Marcos Foothill Preserve from development.
Little did they know at the time that their shared goal would send them on an impassioned mission that would culminate in the collection of $18.6 million in donations to save the foothills.
On Thursday, the four women had reason to celebrate as officials opened the gate to the West Mesa property for the first time in months. That evoked emotion from the four women, who joined together to found Save San Marcos Foothills.
The four women linked arms as they walked onto the preserve, squealing with joy as tears rolled down their cheeks.
Each of the four women agreed it felt like “a weight had been lifted,” as they stood together on the land they helped to save.
“It’s a really symbolic moment,” Ms. Lynch told the News-Press Thursday at the site.
The preserve is a special place for each of the four women, who often visit with friends and family to walk on the winding dirt trails and enjoy the picturesque mountain views. So when signs for proposed development began popping up on the property last summer, they developed some serious concerns.
This began an effort that started to slowly grow as the women founded Save San Marcos Foothills, a coalition of community members with the intention of stopping the proposed development. The group expanded its social media platform and canvased at the preserve every Saturday. Soon, Save San Marcos Foothills became a recognized effort across Santa Barbara.
“It was kind of this beautiful transition,” Ms. Lynch told the News-Press. “If we look back to last September, no one really knew what we were talking about. And we were doing a lot of advocacy stuff, like going out and reaching out to different people, and they were like, ‘I don’t know anything about that.’
“And now, we’ll be out canvassing, and everyone’s like, ‘Yeah, we’ve heard, and we donated like three weeks ago.’ It’s just gotten so big so quick.”
After a few months of raising awareness and drumming up support, the group struck a deal with developers from the Chadmar Group, who agreed to give activists 90 days to raise $18.6 million to acquire the property.
With such a short period to complete the effort, the women knew reaching the goal would be a stretch.
But they decided they had to try.
“If we didn’t do anything, nothing would happen,” Ms. Tubiolo told the News-Press. “So we just had to take the challenge and run with it. Otherwise nothing would happen.”
Their months of effort and advocacy came to fruition on Tuesday when the Save San Marcos Foothills drummed up enough support from more than 5,500 financial donors to purchase the land.
To celebrate this accomplishment, a group of supporters, county officials and representatives from the Chadmar Group met at the preserve Thursday to celebrate the acquisition of the land. Event attendees reflected on the completion of an astounding goal that many agreed took a miracle to complete.
“There are a lot of smiles on a lot of people’s faces today, because we as a community have accomplished something extraordinary,” Gregg Hart, 2nd District supervisor, said Thursday. “Not two and a half, three months ago, the challenge was put for us all together to do a miracle to preserve this land forever. And there were a lot of people, a lot of smart people, who said that can’t be done.
“And we’re here to say, not only could it be done, but it was done. We did it.”
Chuck Landy, a developer from the Chadmar Group, also attended Thursday’s celebration, offering words of encouragement to the group that successfully acquired the property.
“Most developers are thought to cherish paving over land,” Mr. Landy said. “But this is a great example of the opposite.”
He continued, “It’s been said once or twice — this is a very, very special community. And the reality is the community stepped up and the community made this happen.
“And I hope this serves as an example of people working together over decades, being thoughtful, fair and engaged. And yes, this is a little emotional for me too. I too look forward to walking on this land with my grandchildren and great-grandchildren alongside each one of you.”
The symbolism of the moment was not lost on Marc Chytilo, the attorney for the campaign, as he stood with supporters during Thursday’s event.
“When we needed a miracle, it happened,” Mr. Chytilo said. “And when we needed another miracle it happened again.”
He added, “To me, saving big open space parcels is a manifestation of Santa Barbara’s intention (and) the character and integrity of our community. We do this because we care about it.”
With the land preserved indefinitely, event attendees relished the fact that future generations of Santa Barbara residents and visitors will be able to enjoy the open space of the San Marcos Preserve for years to come.
Noted Mr. Hart, “Not only will we enjoy this property for our lifetimes, but there are children who aren’t born yet who are going to enjoy this property for their lifetimes and their grandchildren’s (lifetimes).”