Editor’s note: Lanny Ebenstein is chair of the Coalition to Preserve Mission Canyon.
The recent vote by the Santa Barbara City Council to discontinue the Highway Bridge Program grant for Mission Creek Bridge is a huge win for the community.
All members of the council supported at least one of the two motions on this matter, and they deserve the appreciation of the community.
Meagan Harmon and Eric Friedman displayed their mettle and sagacity in being the only council members to support both motions to save the historic Mission Creek Bridge at the recent council meeting. Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon provided the most leadership on the council in recent years for saving the bridge.
Councilwoman Alejandra Gutierrez cast the decisive fourth vote to reject city staff’s specific recommendation for the Highway Bridge Program grant at the recent meeting.
All members of the community are indebted to these members of council.
On the second motion, made by Councilwoman Harmon and seconded by Councilman Friedman, to reject the Highway Bridge Program grant in totality and to proceed with local options for improvement of pedestrian, ADA and bicycle accessibility in the Los Olivos-Mission Canyon Road corridor, Mayor Cathy Murillo and Councilmen Oscar Gutierrez and Mike Jordan voted in support of the motion, demonstrating their flexibility and integrity.
Councilman Gutierrez well summarized and reflected conflicting views. He was most motivated by public safety and accessibility, but recognized historic issues. When the first vote on the staff recommendation was defeated, he voted for a local, community approach on the second motion.
Moving forward, my hope is that, in time, the Santa Barbara Mission-Mission Canyon Corridor may be considered for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
As long ago as 1861 — 150 years ago — David Brewer, an earth scientist from Pennsylvania, surveyed California natural resources for the new state. He wrote of the Santa Barbara Mission-Mission Canyon Corridor: “I have not seen before in America, except at Panama, such extensive ruins … I find it hard to realize that I am in America — in the United States, the young and vigorous republic as we call her — when I see these ruins. They carry me back again to the Old World.”
Further, even older artifacts of the Chumash, the technologically and spiritually most developed tribe in what is now California, remain in situ in the corridor, as do significant geologic characteristics.
Many do not realize that at the Santa Barbara Presidio and Mission’s founding in 1782 and 1786 respectively, the United States was restricted virtually to the eastern seaboard. Development in the Mission area was among the most significant in North America for literally thousands of miles to the east and north. As a result of the unusual stone topography of the Mission Canyon area, a unique architectural-archaeological-geologic site now exists of international value.
With respect to natural beauty, many have observed that the Santa Barbara Mission and the A.C. Postel Memorial Rose Garden, with their views of the mountains, ocean and Channel Islands, as well as the human-made environment, are among the most beautiful locations in the world.
To be sure, World Heritage Site status for the Santa Barbara Mission-Mission Canyon Corridor would be an ambitious goal, but if you don’t aim for the stars, you’ll never reach them.
There are currently 1,154 World Heritage Sites, which provide international protection for locations deemed to have “cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.” Another, or perhaps preliminary or concurrent, possibility for greater protection of the Santa Barbara Mission-Mission Canyon Corridor would include expansion of the existing federal Santa Barbara Mission National Historic Landmark District and other new and expanded designations at the local, state, and federal levels for historic resources.
In addition to the City Council, individuals who played vital roles in saving historic Mission Creek Bridge include members of the Coalition to Preserve Mission Canyon, especially its most active steering committee members: Rosanne Crawford (also initiator of the “Save the Historic Mission Creek Bridge” MoveOn petition signed by more than 1,000 individuals), Susan Chamberlin, Helen Couclelis, Frank Frost, Fran Galt, Rich Untermann, and, most of all, Paulina Conn. Others who made significant contributions include Historic Landmarks Commissioner Michael Drury, Todd Amspoker, and John Woodward.
This is a moment of victory for Santa Barbara, but there is never time to rest on laurels. Now is the time to move forward with improvements to the pedestrian, ADA and bicycle accessibility of the Mission Creek Bridge area, while strengthening protection of its invaluable history.