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    HomeCommunityGoleta HistoryMaster Plan Renews Lagoon as UCSB is Created in 1952

    Master Plan Renews Lagoon as UCSB is Created in 1952

    By Edward Mackie, Daily Nexus, May 31, 1974

    This is the third and final part of a series on the history of the [UCSB] Campus Lagoon.

    A walk over the bluffs commanding the campus lagoon has a singular, lingering effect. This is a special place. But special places have a way of coming undone.

    How the reckless abandon of a few highly place men nearly destroyed our natural sanctuary is the subject of this story.

    University of California Regents had trained a weather eye on the future when they accepted from the government a 1948 grant of Goleta land for conversion into a state college. In 1950 administrative wizards produced a grandiose-sounding scheme called the first Master Plan — which outlined a liberal arts college for 3,500 students.

    Four years later Santa Barbara College — with 1,725 students and 152 faculty members — moved to its present site, and the campus lagoon (then a dried-out salt flat) gained a new lease on life.

    The architectural layout of the first Master Plan was a masterpiece of sheer symmetrical beauty. Planners had intended a Greek amphitheater for the gently rolling slopes below the present-day San Rafael Hall. Abutting the theater in concentric circles were palatial gardens and cloistered single-student dwellings. The landscape restructured around the lagoon, unfolded with the amplitude of a sunburst or a blossoming sugarbush. But the promise of increased enrollment soon dashed the measured plans of beauty in favor of expedience.

    The most prominent character change for the lagoon was the planting of eucalyptus and cypress windbreaks along the northern shorelines. The trees seeded across the pond by wind and, thus, patches of scattered groves grew along the southern slopes.

    At the time, the lagoon was not actually a lagoon but a shallow, artificially maintained impoundment. Two passages were once connected to the sea sometime previous to 1790. Since then, the lagoon has been isolated by the shift of land and by the continual movement of deep sand blocking its outlets.

    Engineers occasionally drained the pond between 1950 and 1953. In the process, they removed spent bomb casings left from the old naval base, mud-filled barrels, and woody debris.

    Fish were planted in 1955 and subsequently died from eutrophication. The next year seawater was introduced at 30 gallons per minute, thus permanently changing the ecology of the lagoon.

    Effluents pumped through the Marine Laboratory carried and sustained tiny inhabitants in the pond — water beetles, killifish, bacterium, and planktonic minutia that thrive on the black-muck bottom. Floating algal mats and ubiquitous tropical sea grass offer shelter to the vast accumulation of microorganic life.

    Prevailing westerly winds blow debris-laden water to the eastern end — known as Chancellor’s Cove or the “cold end” of the lagoon.

    University architects scrapped the old master plan in 1958 in favor of a 10,000 enrollment, updated the plan to 15,000 in 1963, and then revised the study to 25,000 five years later. The lagoon was always a factor in the master plan. But 25,000 people nearby? Here was a new note of menace.

    Wildlife enthusiasts received a crushing blow when architect Victor Pinckney published his “Lagoon Study” in 1968. Biologists rose in arms. What was the source of the alarm?

    The Pinckney Study in effect advocated the widespread obliteration of the lagoon in its natural state. And more, it mapped out a connecting series of pedestrian paths so complex as to destroy the status quo; the study set forth drawing for bridges, boat docks, pilings, crossings, park benches, tables, lights, floodlights, shrub lights and irrigation pipes. An inventory of devices would stagger the imagination.

    Pinckney’s pamphlet admitted that when “a community of approximately 30 odd thousand people begin to use the lagoon, a catastrophe could take place.” Indeed, it almost did. The reason it did not was the bitter opposition that ensued.

    A phalanx of faculty members and ecologists descended upon the Chancellor. They were at once all fire and all command. No, they would not budge. So the old man relented and the campus lagoon was subsequently earmarked as a natural reserve.

    Today a new and uncertain chapter is opening on the campus lagoon. Of all the scenes that go familiarly among us, perhaps none is more resplendent or more crowded with history. If this landmark were an open book, what would its record of the past summon forth: the building of the UCen and the first crop of freshmen; the machine gun nests and artillery emplacements on the bluffs during World War II; asphalt mine shafts in the 1890s; and whaling ships that anchored nearby; and Ortega’s overland expedition of 1769; the staring white eyes from the crow’s nest of Cabrillo’s flagship La Victoria; and the pow-wow of Canalino tribesmen; the pond-side conclaves of raccoon, grizzly, and elk; and the eucalyptus groves and willow thickets and mile upon mile of open sea.

    Two local ducks survey the lush vegetation surrounding the stagnating lagoon in search of contaminated fish. (C. Basanese/Daily Nexus photo)
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