SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - The lengthy and laborious effort to protect beloved land on the San Marcos Foothills Preserve's West Mesa finally paid off.
This week, environmental coalition Foothills Forever reached its goal of raising $18.6 million to buy 101 acres of the San Marcos Foothill Preserve from housing developer Charles Lande, CEO of the Chadmar Group.
The land will now be open space for public use, along with the rest of the Preserve.
Activists, community members and partners from several organizations that made the purchase possible gathered at the Preserve on Thursday for an official announcement and celebration.
Ernestine Ygnacio De Soto represented the Chumash people at Thursday's announcement, giving the land a blessing in the native language.
“I’m proud and happy to be here with all of you and the land and the animals, the trees and birds,” she said before the blessing.
Attorney Marc Chytilo emphasized the importance of making the land a testament to the Santa Barbara community, including the Chumash people who originally called the land home. He also exulted the results of a long effort to buy the land.
"We have saved the West Mesa of the San Marcos Foothills forever," said Chytilo. “There was a lot of distractions, there was plenty of places where we could’ve gone off the rails. But we stayed focused.”
Several speakers on Thursday referenced that the group kept pushing against a daunting financial challenge, but received the donations, loans and grassroots support to make "miracles" possible.
“Not only will we enjoy this property for our lifetimes, but there are children who aren’t born yet who are gonna enjoy this property for their lifetimes, and their grandchildren,” Santa Barbara County supervisor Gregg Hart said.
Organizers say more than 5,500 community members supported the fund, with many contributing thousands of dollars or more.
A group called Save San Marcos Foothills had people at the Preserve every weekend since last fall getting the word out to hikers and families that an effort was building to buy the land and prevent a housing development from going up.
“This is what it’s meant to be,” said Dani Lynch, one member of the group. “Houses were not meant to be here… For each of us. this land has shown up in our lives in many different ways and different chapters of our lives. It’s very sacred and important to us.”
Habitat management non-profit Channel Islands Restoration's executive director Ken Owen says his staff suggested the ambitious idea of trying to buy the land in order to halt development back in the fall of 2019. He then jumped on the opportunity, knowing it would mean risking significant funding.
“Nobody had this on their radar at all, but I personally was so passionate about the land and I knew that this was our last chance,” he said. “I pretty much immediately agreed with my staff and we started negotiations.”
Lande was on the other end of those negotiations. He appeared happy to see the deal be finalized while speaking at the Preserve on Thursday.
“Most developers are thought to cherish paving over the land, but this is a great example of the opposite,” he said. “I, too, look forward to walking on this land with my grandchildren and great grandchildren.”
To learn more about Foothills Forever and all who contributed to the major milestone, you can visit the group's website.