It was standing room only Tuesday night at the City Council Chambers, where the citizens of Solvang turned out en masse to make their voices heard regarding the lease of lot 72. This is the second time residents have attempted to make comment on the lease.

Dozens of people attended a Solvang City Council gathering Feb. 8 in hopes of voicing their opinion about Solvang’s lot 72. However, the council informed the crowd that no debate would take place on that evening. Instead, the Council set aside an entire night for comment on the proposed plans for the lot. The event was hosted by the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. The trust is attempting to secure the lease that would turn lot 72 into a state historic park in the vein of La Purisima. Under the current draft of the proposed lease, the city would put the property in the hands of the trust for 55 years at $1 a month.

The trust originates from Santa Barbara. Founded in 1963 to restore and interpret the Presidio in the city’s downtown, the trust went to work rebuilding and preserving the Presidio and keeping ever-growing Santa Barbara from burying the historic landmark. The trust has since taken over various landmarks throughout the county, including a pair of mills near Alamo Pintado Creek. The trust functions as a conduit for grants from state agencies, maintaining trails, interpreting landmarks and developing educational information about their sites.

Unique opportunity

Lot 72 sits just south of the mission and just north of the Village Collection neighborhood. Nothing but a paved road leading to the Carivintas Winery sits on the property. But below the surface lies something the trust says is unique to Solvang. The mission had a population of Chumash Indians until the mid-1800s. Uniquely, they were allowed to continue to live in tule huts. Most missions in California only allowed temporary housing in huts until adobe houses were built. Part of the hut site lies on the northern section of lot 72. The site contains foundations of homes as well as trash pits that could provide research opportunities not found in other missions.

In 1997, a project was undertaken to make the mission a national historic landmark. The area under the historic landmarks’s bounds is owned by three separate entities. First the mission compound and part agricultural fields below the mission belong to the Catholic Church. The other section of the field, as well as mills near Alamo Pintado Creek, belongs to the State of California. The mills were originally owned by the historic trust but were then sold to the state in the effort to turn the mission into a state park. Finally, in the Southwest corner of the would-be park lies lot 72; owned by the city of Solvang. Even without lot 72 the Santa Barbara trust says it plans to go ahead with converting the mission into a state park.

The lease

After first presenting their intentions to the city the trust took into account reactions from the public about how they would use the land. Under a new draft of the lease, the trust had added more restrictions to land use. Proposed restrictions ban overnight camping and forbid a thoroughfare road to be constructed through the property. The use restrictions also disallow parking below the ridgeline of lot 72. This area worried neighbors who thought a parking lot might ruin their pristine views of the valley.

Under the current draft the trust may use the land for “the construction and operation of a historic park.” On Tuesday night the trust did not have any information about what construction might go on lot 72. The trust said before they spend the almost $200,000 they have set aside for planning, they want a guarantee of the lease.

The lack of plans did not sit well with some Solvang residents. “We have just one chance at this and we are so close, we need to get it right,” said Aaron Petersen. “We need a little bit tighter plan, I think it’s short-sighted to just jump on it,” he continued. Many present at the meeting thought an add layer of security was needed to preserve the lot. Some even suggested involving the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County to ensure no development would occur on the land.

Others thought the best way to preserve the land was to move as quickly as possible to grant the trust the property. The group who supported the lease, largely comprised of Village Collection residents, said it was important to push the lease through now to prevent the lot from being developed. James Mills said the details of the lease could be worked out later. He said “the cost of liberty is eternal vigilance” evoking a quote often attributed to Thomas Jefferson. Mills said the park would benefit Solvang by bringing in tourist dollars. Mills also said that no matter how many details were worked out in the lease, it would be up to the public to protect the lot from development.

Not all in attendance thought preserving the land was a good idea. Solvang Mayor Jim Richardson said the lot would be best used for other purposes: “I support the park in its current context. I object to the lease of lot 72.” Richardson said the reason he opposed leasing lot 72 was due to the lack of sports fields in Solvang.

The mayor expressed the need for recreational fields for youth sports in the city saying, “I understand that people in the Village Collection want open space, but we need fields for kids.”

Richardson said he did not want to speculate on how the council would vote at its next meeting. He did say that the vote would largely depend on those who attended and what the public’s feeling on the issue was following the workshop.

At the Feb. 8 meeting, the council approved a negative declaration for the property, essentially saying the lease would not have an unacceptable environmental impact on the property if it were to go through. The trust will investigate changes based on public comment and the actual leases will go before the council Monday at the City Council Chambers. Their vote will decide if the trust will move forward with preserving the area as a state park.