Early Thursday morning, protesters stood at the entrance of the San Marcos Foothills Preserve to prevent new construction of a proposed luxury home development site on sacred Chumash land. Eight people were arrested that morning, six of which were indigenous Chumash women.
The protest was organized by the Save the San Marcos Foothills group, which publicized the sit-in on their Instagram page.
The protestors circled in front of the foothill gates, singing Chumash chants and words of encouragement. Two of the protestors tied themselves to a pole that stood in the idling bulldozer’s way. They were later arrested by the Santa Barbara County police for refusing the order to move aside, according to a bystander at the event.
By 9 a.m., the police had blocked off the entrance to the San Marcos Foothill Preserve parking lot claiming that there was “a crime scene.” However, other deputies stated that they were blocking the entrance to keep the protest peaceful. The blockage prevented many protesters from joining the event, which caused some of them to worry whether or not food and water could be brought uphill to the event to aid the protesters. Eventually, protestors found other entrance routes through footpaths.
Many participants reported that they were unsure of what would come of the protest, as the bulldozers and construction workers stood by waiting for orders and police cars lined the parking lot. By 11 a.m., the advocacy group leaders and developers had come to an agreement to pause the construction for the day, partially due to the impressive turnout and community support displayed at the event, noted Sam Kita, a founder of the Save the San Marcos Foothills advocacy group.
However, construction at the site has not been completely called off, with the possibility of protestors returning Friday and so forth. The event had gained traction and over 100 people were there to protest and show support. Lynch reinstated the importance of being at the event to pause the development.
“We are just asking the developers and contractors to pause and give us more time. We are so close,” Lynch said.
According to Lynch, the community is raising funds to buy the property from the developers. However, according to John Davies, PR consultant and political strategist for the Chadmar Group, $19 million is the cost of the property. So far, the advocacy group has fundraised just over three million.
One protestor at the event said they needed a few miracle donations to buy out the land, however other citizens remained optimistic that with time they’ll be able to buy the property. Despite the significant amount of money needed, community supporters reinforced the importance of preserving the last sacred Chumash land. Lynch also noted that it’s nesting season for many birds within the preserve, another reason as to why it’s important not to remove the grassland.
“We will be here until the developers agree to pause construction,” shouted one protestor — a declaration that many other protesters shared. Until the money is raised, community members appear committed to showing up and sharing how important it is to them to preserve the land for the Chumash people, the ecosystem, and the community.
As of Friday afternoon, there have been no other updates as to whether more protests will take place or if construction will be canceled as no official agreement has been made between the advocacy group and the developers. However, Save the San Marcos Foothills said that the primary objective now is to raise the required money to buy the land from the Chadmar Group.
“We are still coming to an agreement about the cost of the land,” Lynch said. “But after Thursday’s protest, we are feeling really hopeful.” Real-time updates on the topic can be found on the Instagram page, @savethesanmarcosfoothills. More information on the development plans can be found on the Chadmar website.