DAILY SOUND STAFF WRITER
A day after the Santa Barbara City Council approved spending on design plans for Plaza Granada, a small plot of public space on Anapamu Street, a challenger running for a Council seat this November attacked the move.
Frank Hotchkiss, speaking near the steps of the Santa Barbara Police Department, called the money being spent on the urban plaza — $27,500 approved Tuesday and $46,000 spent on earlier design plans — an "impractical" use of city funds.
"That [money] would put another police officer on the street," Hotchkiss said. "...I think that need is much more acute than a fossil-free park."
Several Councilmembers defended their decision today, explaining that their concept for the 2,900 square-foot park — a combination of open space, art and landscaping elements — will be funded with Redevelopment Agency money left over from a soil remediation project on the same land. Those funds can't be spent on staffing or operational expenses, Councilmember Helene Schneider said.
"It's unfortunate that Mr. Hotchkiss chooses to ignore the facts when he makes these allegations," Schneider said. "...Certainly having a good landscape design is better than having a patch of dirt in the center of downtown."
Hotchkiss likened the Plaza Granada to the lightblueline project, the much-debated proposal that rose the ire of community members earlier this year, calling the concept of a fossil-free park "kooky."
"It's not a commendable project," Hotchkiss said. "It's not even a goal."
The Council initially intended to construct and maintain the park without the use of fossil fuels, but compromised on that concept at Tuesday's meeting after staff informed them that a fossil-free approach would create logistical problems and hold up construction.
"Oil is the lifeblood of modern society," Hotchkiss said. "...What's next? Fossil-free fire engines and police cars?"
Instead of spending money on design plans, Hotchkiss suggested holding a volunteer project by inviting the public to bring their hand tools, giving them a basic concept and letting them build the park.
Councilmember Brian Barnwell said that idea may work to an extent with the current proposal, but that Santa Barbara residents have a "high standard" for their parks and anything built sloppily would be viewed with a "seriously jaundiced eye."
"It's the city's job to build parks," Barnwell said. "People pay taxes to not only have a police department, but to have parks for them and their kids to recreate in. ... I think it's money extremely well spent."
Barnwell said the funding will go to ensure proper plumbing, lighting, and drought-tolerant, pesticide-free landscaping, not to mention providing a venue for both permanent and rotating art. The Council unanimously approved the funding on Tuesday, giving the nod to Owen Dell, owner of County Landscape & Design, to get started on plans for the plaza.
Hotchkiss isn't the only local resident up in arms over the park project. Hazel Blankenship, a longtime Santa Barbara resident, showed up at today's press conference in support of Hotchkiss as he discussed the Plaza Granada and other issues.
"I feel just like Frank does," Blankenship said. "It's just like the blue line. ... This guy is trying to bring some sense into this crazy Council."
Hotchkiss said the Council is too caught up in "pet environmental projects," adding that he expects the Council to bring back the lightblueline project if the incumbents prevail in the November elections. He pointed out other Council actions he disagrees with, such as a potential ban on plastic shopping bags and what he described as an effort to force people out of their cars.
"There is no society in the world that goes from cars to bikes," he said, echoing an earlier campaign cry that the city needs to plan for a future that includes vehicles, instead of trying to make driving and parking difficult.
Barnwell said he agreed with Hotchkiss that completely reducing carbon emissions is impossible, but added that Santa Barbara can do a lot more to reduce its carbon footprint.
"What we need to do is to learn to live within limits, which now we don't," Barnwell said. "What we have is buildings and parks and roads that use way more energy than they need to."
When asked for her opinion on the Plaza Granada and the issues raised by Hotchkiss, Mayor Marty Blum said there was no indication that building a fossil-free park would cost any more than a regular park, and that she doesn't see any negatives to sustainability efforts.
"I know when people are running for office, they need to get attention," she said, adding, "I'll be happy when this election is over."
Wednesday, October 3, 2007