Tuesday, November 24, 2015

4 Beautiful Public Gardens in Santa Barbara

Faced with California’s ongoing drought, Santa Barbara residents have complied admirably with the water conservation guidelines established by the city government. One of the water-saving techniques adopted by residents is the inclusion of drought-resistant landscaping in their gardens. Homeowners throughout the city are replacing non-native plants and large expanses of grass with more water-efficient yard designs. Landscape components and irrigation systems sanctioned by the City of Santa Barbara are also eligible for rebates, which further encourages residents to help the city meet its water conservation goals.

Even as the city has decreased its water use, several lush public gardens are still thriving, thanks to responsible management practices. Here is a list of four beautiful gardens where Santa Barbara residents and visitors can take a relaxing stroll, admire unique plants and flowers, and take home some ideas for their own yards.

1. Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Established 90 years ago, this 78-acre expanse of land conserves the native plants of California for future generations. Backed by the Santa Ynez Mountains, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden allows visitors to explore flower-lined pathways leading to sites such as the Blaksley Boulder, an enormous sandstone rock flanked by trees that marks the center of the garden.

Along with its colorful flowers, succulents, and shrubs, the garden also provides guests with the opportunity to observe historical architecture in the form of the Mission Dam and Aqueduct, a structure designed by Franciscan padres and built by local Chumash Native Americans more than 200 years ago. In recent years, the structure has been designated as a historic landmark by the state of California.

In the wake of 2009’s Jesusita Fire, a significant portion of the garden’s eastern trails were burned. However, nature’s resilience has allowed much of the local plant life to flourish again, and stunning views of the Channel Islands can now be seen through the young plants from the garden’s Porter Trail.

2. Lotusland

While the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden serves as a testimony to the beauty of California’s indigenous plant species, Lotusland celebrates the exotic flora from gardens around the world. Originally functioning as the estate of famous opera singer Madame Ganna Walska, Lotusland is now a public garden that is home to more than 3,000 types of plants.

On the 37 acres of grounds at Lotusland are gardens representing several landscape design styles, regions of the world, and types of plants. An Australian garden features a grove of eucalyptus trees, while a Japanese garden hosts koi fish ponds, Japanese maple trees, and pine trees sculpted in the niwaki style. Additional types of gardens on the premises include butterfly, topiary, and water gardens, the latter of which is home to the establishment’s renowned Asian lotus and water lily display.

Due to Lotusland’s location in a private neighborhood, those who wish to visit the gardens must make reservations. Paths throughout the grounds are wheelchair-friendly and guests of all ages are welcome on tours.

3. Casa del Herrero

Located on another former estate, the gardens of Casa del Herrero take visitors back to a time referred to colloquially as the “Golden Age of American Gardens.” During this period between the late 19th and mid-20th century, wealthy estate owners expressed their artistic tastes through the creation of expansive gardens surrounding their homes.

The house itself was designed by George Washington Smith, an architect known for employing the Spanish Colonial Revival style in his designs. Before reaching the gardens, guests can view the hand-painted alcora tiles, intricate wood carving, and decorative ironwork that decorate the home’s interior. Outside, visitors can see the extension of Casa del Herrero’s colorful architecture in the garden’s patios and seating.

The main path leads visitors through areas of greenery punctuated by tiled pools and fountains, with secondary trails leading away toward outdoor rooms designed for relaxation. Combining elements of Spanish, Moorish, and European design, the gardens feature a number of native California plants alongside rose bushes, citrus trees, and a variety of multi-colored wildflowers. Additionally, the grounds encompass the Arizona Gardens, which are devoted to cacti and desert succulents.

4. Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden

Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden was built and named in the honor of its benefactress. Located near downtown Santa Barbara, this garden is unique among the others in its provisions for self-guided tours. Pamphlets provided at a kiosk near the entrance record numbered names of plant species, with a corresponding map contained within the booklet. This allows visitors to learn about the plant life they are observing at their own pace.

At the garden’s center is a gazebo that overlooks a pond filled with koi fish and turtles, located near a shaded path that leads to a sundial. Benches line the winding trails and allow visitors a place to sit and enjoy the scenery, while pockets of grass serve as an ideal setting for picnics.

The most recently developed feature on the grounds is the sensory garden, which contains a collection of plant life that is visually dynamic and distinctly tactile. Other plants with intense fragrances also grow in this area of the garden, and talking signs dictate information about the surrounding plant life so that visually impaired visitors can learn about the landscape.

The Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden is open daily from eight in the morning until sunset, and admission is free. Additional special sections of the 4.6 acre-garden include a butterfly garden and a low water-use demonstration garden.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

3 Ways Santa Barbara’s First 5 Program Helps Children

Kenny Slaught

In addition to having access to a number of parks, festivals, and museums, young children living in the Santa Barbara, California, area have the benefit of community resources like the First 5 program. Founded upon the theory that the first five years of life are vital to a child’s future physical and mental wellbeing, the First 5 program’s mission is to utilize the tax revenue collected from tobacco sales to fund and sponsor programs and initiatives that enhance the lives of children from birth to five years of age. First 5 concentrates on the following three areas:

1. Better Healthcare

Children without access to adequate healthcare and nutrition have lower rates of growth, higher rates of illness, and more frequent occurrences of psychological and developmental challenges. Part of First 5’s mission involves ensuring that kids from different economic backgrounds get the best possible start in life, and this begins with affordable healthcare options for their families.

First 5 partners with Healthy Kids Santa Barbara, a budget-friendly insurance plan that provides children access to quality medical, dental, and vision care regardless of whether or not they or their parents are United States citizens. To qualify for the program, a child’s family must reside in Santa Barbara County, fall within a specific income spectrum, and not be covered by any other insurance plan. First 5 offers additional coverage for Santa Barbara’s youngest residents through its Early Childhood Oral Health Program, which directs families to affordable screenings and procedures at local clinics and as a part of local preschool programs.

Routine dental and medical checkups contribute to better school attendance and instill positive health habits in children that often last into adulthood. First 5 also focuses on educating parents on how healthy children have greater opportunities to be successful because they are able to study unhindered by the distractions and pains that come with illness.

2. Stronger Families

First 5 also focuses on strengthening family bonds and funds nonprofits that teach parents how to create positive emotional relationships and nurturing environments within the home. Among the organizations that First 5 works with is a local network of Family Resource Centers (FRC). At any FRC, parents can receive counseling, participate in support groups with other parents, and take parental education classes. Additional services include case management consultations, screenings for the early detection of various conditions, and initiatives that aim to protect children and families from abusive living situations.

Another service that First 5 sponsors is the Welcome Every Baby Program, which sends nurses and infant specialists into the homes of new mothers to monitor the health of babies over the course of their first 18 months of life. This program also teaches parents about proper infant care, breastfeeding, and post-partum depression. Beneficiaries of this program additionally receive information about community activities that are designed for infants and their parents.

Strong family ties early in life create immeasurable benefits, but they specifically play a role in a child’s ability to trust, relate to others, and develop self-confidence. The positive family units envisioned by First 5 help create a stable platform upon which children can build their futures.

3. Quality Education

First 5 supports the notion that parents are their children’s first and best teacher, and believes that early learning can set children up for continued success in the educational system and in life. In light of this, the organization provides a collection of informational pages on its website that help educate parents on infant and child development, healthy eating, and early literacy. Many of these pages outline instructions for simple activities that parents can use to help develop their baby’s motor skills, cognitive function, social-emotional growth, and communication abilities.

When a child has no exposure to quality early education, often due to limited economic resources and a lack of affordable preschool availability, he or she may enter the school system at an educational disadvantage. This can set the stage for a host of future academic difficulties.

To address this situation, First 5 helps pre-existing children’s centers adopt guidelines set down by Santa Barbara’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). Adherence to this code helps these centers receive benefits provided by First 5 partner network Quality Counts.

Under Quality Counts, local daycare and centers where children receive early care and education can receive support through stipends for workforce training and funding to achieve accreditation. Additionally, through the Constructing Connections Project, the county brings together professionals in areas like land planning, housing development, and government to find ways to create more childcare spaces in the Santa Barbara area.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

4 Ways that Santa Barbara Commits to Water Conservation

For decades, Santa Barbara, California, has been nationally recognized as a city that emphasizes environmental conservation and takes measures to protect its local ecosystem. From its yearly festival celebrating Earth Day to the sustainability education programs developed at UCSB, Santa Barbara continues to look for ways to promote a healthier planet. To build a greener future for itself, the city has committed to the protection of its water sources through the following conservation practices.

1. Stormwater Management

Of all pollutants that affect the health of Santa Barbara’s coastal waters, runoff from city streets inflicts the most damage. After running over the surfaces of roofs, streets, lawns, and vehicles, stormwater picks up contaminants like oil, metals, pesticides, and pet waste before entering storm drains that channel it into the Pacific Ocean via local tributaries.

In order to reduce the pollution caused by urban runoff, the city of Santa Barbara implemented stormwater programs to improve and manage the quality of water that flows into the Santa Barbara Channel, the part of the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of the city. In addition to establishing operational guidelines for businesses through its Stormwater Management Program, Santa Barbara’s local government has also installed catch basin debris screens onto storm drain openings throughout the city. These metal screens are designed to filter trash from runoff before it can pass into the drains.

Additional urban runoff initiatives include the Hope and Haley Storm Drain Diversions, which were constructed in those areas of Santa Barbara identified as high risk for indicator bacteria. Instead of diverting to local streams, these two drains are directed toward a water treatment facility, where runoff during the dry season is treated before it is recirculated into local creeks.

2. Water Quality Monitoring

The city’s commitment to clean water includes not only stormwater management initiatives, but also monitoring programs to ensure its policies are having the desired effect. Tracking and recording water quality data is important because it allows a community to see the results of its various regulations and programs, and determine which areas require improvement.

Santa Barbara takes water protection seriously and sets itself apart through organizations like the nonprofit Santa Barbara Channelkeeper (SBCK), a group that focuses on the monitoring and identification of pollutants flowing into the Santa Barbara Channel. Volunteers with SBCK are taught how to obtain water samples from local streams and creeks and test elements such as temperature, pH, and dissolved oxygen, as well as record visual data like algae coverage, clarity, and trash buildup.

Local government benefits from the work of groups like SBCK because it often uses their findings to inform the creation of regulations and initiatives that protect the environment. Santa Barbara County’s Environmental Health Services department also performs weekly testing on local beaches and records the results into a database in order to monitor water quality trends. Additionally, samples collected by the city of Santa Barbara’s water quality monitoring teams are sent to researchers at UCSB, where DNA-based tests are performed in order to determine the sources of microbial contamination.

3. Pollution Prevention

The most effective way to ensure good water quality is pollution prevention, and Santa Barbara does its best to put measures into place to stop pollution before it happens. This is done, in part, through the enforcement of state and county laws that protect local water sources and wildlife. Relevant laws established by the State of California make it unlawful for anyone to deposit waste within 150 feet of a body of water, or to dump sewage, trash, liquids, or other organic matter into lakes, streams, or the ocean.

Locally, Santa Barbara can impose fines and criminal charges on people who discard solid or liquid waste onto city streets, where they may eventually reach a storm drain that connects to a water source. The county also encourages residents to report cases of water pollution or suspected contamination problems via a hotline at 1-877-OUR-OCEAN.

In addition to the development of clean water laws, Santa Barbara also requires local construction projects to be designed and managed in a way that prevents water pollution during and after construction. The city provides contractors with a technical guide as well as control plan templates on the County of Santa Barbara’s Project Clean Water website.

4. Community Involvement

 Many residents of Santa Barbara show their commitment to the environment by making eco-friendly choices in their everyday lives, such as bicycling for transportation and eating locally grown foods. The city also encourages water quality awareness in the community through public education campaigns and other initiatives.

Santa Barbara’s youngest community members learn about the importance of water conservation from an early age by attending field trips to the local Watershed Resource Center and the El Estero Wastewater Treatment Plant. Additionally, a yearly video contest for high school students is held in Santa Barbara County that awards cash prizes for students who produce the most creative and informative videos on water conservation in the area.

The city is also among California’s most successful in exceeding water conservation goals set by the state government in an effort to combat drought conditions. The community’s receptiveness to planting drought-tolerant landscaping, installing low-flow toilets and showerheads, and receiving free water checkups from utility agencies has helped the city achieve a 22 percent decrease in water usage over the past two years, making it a state-wide leader in reducing water use.