POLO’s origin, in March of 2002, was a response to a major threat to our town’s character and identity. At that time a major development firm announced plans to construct 32 homes, with detached garages as potential second units and an experimental waste treatment facility on 7 acres of the 27 acre Montanero property adjacent to Grand Avenue in Los Olivos. This was prime agricultural land, which had been in farming for over a century. This would have caused a 62% growth rate in a town that is normally growing at 1% per year and would have irrevocably changed the town’s character. Two families with homes close to the property decided to alert their neighbors to the threat by organizing a town meeting. Kathy Spurbeck and Robyn Richter walked the streets with petitions and flyers announcing the upcoming meeting at St. Mark’s Church. The response to their presentation and plea for support was greater than they hoped for. The hall was filled with concerned community members and at meeting’s end several of the audience stayed behind to pledge their time and effort to fight the development plan. This group constituted our organization’s first board of directors. (See names below*) Subsequent evening meetings at the Spurbeck home led to the name Preservation of Los Olivos (proposed by Steve Pappas) and a 501C 4 non-profit status was formed.. Before long POLO had over 100 members who shared a vision to protect our town.
POLO was confronted by a strong County Planning and Development Department and Supervisor whose goal was to “fill-in urban core” with high density housing. The POLO board was told by a head S.B. County planner that the Montanaro property was scheduled for “high density development”. At this point POLO realized the only option was to purchase the land and embarked on a massive fund-raising effort to buy the property. The property owners agreed to sell to our group and afterwards it was revealed that the Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department’s goal was to rezone the entire 27 acres to allow 5-7 units per acre (small Lot Plan). Los Olivoans and valley friends responded with over a quarter million dollars in donations. How many other small towns of 1000 people can match such generosity? However, this total was still far short of the multi-million dollar cost of the land. The 45-day escrow time was running our so in the eleventh hour a POLO board member rapidly refinanced and borrowed to purchase and preserve the property. This marked POLO’s first success, but the next challenge was just around the ‘corner’.
The future of the town’s corner park was in doubt. Although, classified as commercial land, its owner, Lavinia Campbell, had kindly allowed the town to use it as an unofficial community park for forty years. Upon heating of POLO’s efforts to preserve the Montanaro Farm, Mrs. Campbell contacted our group about the possibility of acquiring the property. A board member flew to her home in Washington State and an agreement for POLO to purchase the land was consummated. The great majority of donors for the Montanaro Farm agreed to allow their money to be used to buy the park and thus “Lavinia Campbell Park” was dedicated on July 31, 2004, just 4 months prior to Lavinia’s passing at age 98. The highlight of the well-attended dedication ceremony was the mounting of the “Lavinia Campbell Park” plaque by Michael Byrne on a large sandstone rock procured by Michelle Griffoul, donated by Jason and Michael Giorgi, and transported and placed by Vince and Vinnie Torres. Earl Richmond produced a beautiful keepsake video documentary of this celebration. An endowment of $40,000 was raised for the park’s operating costs through a highly successful “Art in the Park” auction spear-headed by the Los Olivos Rotary and Michelle Griffoul. POLO, which began as a single-issue organization, has been proven to fill an important niche by strongly representing our town’s vital interests. We are not an incorporated city with mayor and council. We are one small burg in the Third Supervisoral District extending from Vandenberg Village to Isla Vista and thus POLO has, by necessity, become the voice for Los Olivos.
The recent nearly “done deal” of moving the Santa Ynez Valley Airport Landfill to the Foxen Canyon Landfill was undone only with the very strident opposition of POLO and its fellow valley citizen group POSY. The possibility of this project to contaminate Alamo Pintado Creek and our town’s well water was very real and potentially disastrous until our new supervisor had the good judgment to listen to our concerns and terminate the project. At the forefront of new critical issues affecting our town and valley are the Chumash expansion plans that involve purchasing, annexing and developing land between the casino and the 745 acre Fess Parker farm and gazing land.
This past spring POLO had its first general election of board members. At that time the Rossis and Spurbecks stepped down and Michelle Griffoul, John Harness, Jim Mitchell and Larry Saarloos took their place. The board of directors is a mirror of the community, with its members representing the career fields of homemaking, business, aeronautics, ranching, veterinary medicine, automotive care, journalism, engineering, design, manufacturing, art and education.
In the three years of POLO’s existence I have found the greatest strengths of its board members to be their unwavering dedication to this community and extraordinary ability to harmonize their visions for this beautiful and fragile little corner of God’s creation.
*First POLO Board of Directors: Jan Fleming, Doug and Sue Herthel, Steve Pappas, Rolf Richter, Alex and Dale Rossi, Guy Savage, Gerry and Kathy Spurbeck.