Hidden Valley Property Should Be Restored, Not Developed

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Oak woodland habitat at the Hidden Valley Open Space (Photo: Anne Burdette)

By Anne Burdette

The 12.5 acre Hidden Valley school property at the end of Palermo Drive has benefited people and wildlife alike for many years by providing peaceful open space.  The Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD), which owns the property, plans to build a farm with the addition of classrooms, paved roads, and other infrastructure that will disrupt the ecological integrity of the site.

I am a board member of the Santa Barbara Urban Creeks Council, a 501(c)3 public benefit nonprofit, and also a 2019 graduate of a local high school and incoming UCSB environmental studies student. I believe that the Hidden Valley site would not be an appropriate location for a farm project.  Specifically, I hope to see the space restored to its natural state. It could then be used as part of a curriculum on nature and local wildlife, starting with the restoration project itself, which students could get involved in.  

There are several reasons why the proposed farm would not be the best use of this valuable property.  One reason is the high cost of planning, building, and managing it. Just the initial plans, environmental study, and installation of underground utilities to the building site are expected to cost approximately $1 million in public funds.  In addition, small-scale urban farming is labor and water intensive. According to experienced farmers whom we spoke to, it would require two full-time employees per acre, year round, even though SBUSD’s budget has planned for only one employee for the entire farm.  The use of city water would also be a high, ongoing cost, and the alternative of drilling a new well would be not only expensive but would have negative environmental consequences.

Farming would best be taught on the campuses themselves and by visiting existing local farms. On-campus garden projects would provide daily hands-on experience for the students, and working farms that the community already has could immerse the students in the realities of agriculture. There is no need for SBUSD to build a new farm from scratch at public expense when better educational opportunities already exist for a fraction of the cost.

The site contains five of Santa Barbara’s major habitat types that host a wide variety of native flora and fauna, including sensitive species and nesting songbirds.  This makes the area rich in opportunities for youth to learn about their local ecosystem and how to study, interact with, and protect it, as well as important skills such as data collection and analysis.  The Santa Barbara City Creeks Division is in the initial stages of a restoration of the adjacent parcel, which will enhance these opportunities even further.

The valuable habitat in this space and the educational opportunities that come with it would be severely degraded by the agriculture, classrooms, lighting at night, parking lots, and paved roads that have been proposed.

The students don’t need classrooms built on the property, because nature would be their classroom.  My own passion for environmental protection arose not from any classroom lesson, but from exploring my yard and local open space preserves as I was growing up.  This interest was further developed when I helped map the locations of sensitive species at the nearby Arroyo Burro Open Space as a ninth and tenth grader. Carrying out an ecological restoration of the site and using it for nature education could give many more students similar opportunities.  

The school district already has classrooms, and it already has space on campuses where gardens and farms can be created.  What it does not have is a space for educating students about nature and wildlife through experience. Please consider joining us to support preserving and enhancing the ecological integrity of the Hidden Valley site so that students, the public, and native wildlife could all benefit from what it already has to offer.

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PitMix Jul 08, 2019 09:49 AM
Hidden Valley Property Should Be Restored, Not Developed

This area has already been extensively altered and would need a lot of resources to restore it to a "natural condition". But it seems odd that the school district would be thinking of going into the farming business. Do they think that a large percentage of their students are thinking of becoming farmers? Most of the schools have extensive land available to use for farming if that is what they want. La Cumbre Jr. High just installed a garden and has extensive buffer areas that are not currently used for anything. I agree with the idea of each school having their own mini-farms and using this area for a different purpose.

Lucky 777 Jul 06, 2019 11:36 AM
Hidden Valley Property Should Be Restored, Not Developed

Well stated argument, and it does seems this unique natural parcel would be best left as an example of what we have paved over. I'd much rather see schools set aside small plots for gardening so the young students can see first hand on a daily basis what food production is like.

Phantom Blot Jul 06, 2019 11:00 AM
Hidden Valley Property Should Be Restored, Not Developed

That area will make a great farm. There already is one just up stream from there, and it is private, peaceful, and you can get the sense of how important it will be for our children to be attuned to the food chain, from ground to stomach. Perhaps learn a greater awareness and appreciation of our Mother, Earth. Visit the farm there so that you know what I am talking about and see for yourself. The public is allowed to walk through.

jak Jul 06, 2019 10:07 AM
Hidden Valley Property Should Be Restored, Not Developed

By all means, let’s raise up another generation who think that steak grows in styrofoam trays and apples grow with little bar code labels. Yes, farming is land and water intensive and it is also vital to human life and we would do well to teach it a little more intensively than we currently do.

Flicka Jul 06, 2019 09:46 AM
Hidden Valley Property Should Be Restored, Not Developed

When one of my grandsons was at Peabody school he, and others, had raised bed veggie gardens. Why can't that be done w/o disturbing a natural habitat that can be used to teach the importance of such places to students..

a-1562430274 Jul 06, 2019 09:24 AM
Hidden Valley Property Should Be Restored, Not Developed

I agree with Anne. Money would be better spent improving the existing playgrounds of the elementary schools. Most could use new environmentally sound surfaces instead of the ugly, cracked asphalt most have now. They need better climbing structures, running surfaces, shade structures, on site growing areas, etc.

Luvaduck Jul 06, 2019 09:15 AM
Hidden Valley Property Should Be Restored, Not Developed

Once the "powers-that-be" & politicians get involved, kiss natural habitat good-bye. If it isn't groomed to be "charming and picturesque" with retained borders beside crushed gravel paths, cute bark paved areas and picnic tables, it isn't pretty enough--or expensive enough to build and maintain.

a-1562377981 Jul 05, 2019 06:53 PM
Hidden Valley Property Should Be Restored, Not Developed

There are many unused school district properties that can support a learning farm. These places already have roads and utilities. For example, the former National Guard Armory. You just need land, water and sunshine. Local community gardens do just fine on vacant lots. There is no need to disturb this natural area.

mp805 Jul 05, 2019 05:52 PM
Hidden Valley Property Should Be Restored, Not Developed

Hey Anne this is a really insightful post, thankyou! I had no idea the SBUSD was looking to develop this property into a urban farm classroom and Im in 100% in agreement we should keep this property natural. What are some impactful ways we can join you in support? Can we donate to your nonprofit the Santa Barbara Urban Creeks Council? Are there any city meetings we can attend? Please let us know PS Congrats on graduation from high school this year! Good Luck at UCSB next year!

Anne Burdette Jul 06, 2019 12:30 PM
Hidden Valley Property Should Be Restored, Not Developed

OP here. Thank you MP805 and others for being supportive of preserving this property. If you're interested in getting involved, email the Urban Creeks Council at sbucc@silcom.com and we can find a way to work together to save this important habitat! You can also donate to us using the following link: https://sb-urbancreeks.org/donate/

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