Residents collect signatures to deter Santa Barbara County from removing many Modoc Road trees for Class I Bike Path
There are more than 1,400 signatures on a petition to save 63 mature trees on
The “Save the Modoc Trees” effort has been organized by the Community Association for the Modoc Preserve. CAMP is fighting to save the drought-tolerant trees, which have been targeted to be cut down along the Modoc Road by Santa Barbara County to construct a $5.35 million, 3,930-feet long Class I bike path.
The area is outside the Santa Barbara city limits.
“This neighborhood community only found out about this project a short three weeks ago, while many people are on summer vacations; they feel that Santa Barbara citizens were not allowed input, denying us due process,” according to the petition.
Eva Inbar, a volunteer for CAMP, told the News-Press that residents found out about plans to remove the trees through the neighborhood grapevine.
“That’s one of our real complaints is we were not notified,” she said Thursday. “There was a letter sent to some people within a certain range. But this is quite different, and there needed to be more public information.
“We had some very energetic people, and they are organized and put this petition out because they love the preserve and the trees.”
The draft of the Mitigated Negative Declaration indicates that cutting down the trees will not have a significant aesthetic or environmental impact. The Notice of Intent indicates an Environmental Impact Report is not needed.
“No significant impacts were identified; therefore, mitigation is not required. Residual impacts would be less than significant,” according to page 20 of the MND.
CAMP strongly disagrees that an EIR is not needed and said there is significant aesthetic and environmental impact.
“We believe in the visual, aesthetic value of the trees,” Shelly Cobb, volunteer for CAMP, told the News-Press. “Back in 1999, we fought for this land to be preserved for posterity, and we were extremely proud of our efforts voting to preserve this for perpetuity.
“In 1999, the shareholders of La Cumbre Water District voted to deed the property in a conservation easement to the Land Trust of Santa Barbara. Any changes should be voted on and approved by shareholders,” she said.
“We are there everyday. We love that little piece of land. We love that open space in the neighborhood,” Ms. Cobb said. “I was part of the original effort to preserve the land with the La Cumbre Water District.
“People feel betrayed because they thought the (Modoc) preserve was protected.”
Said Ms. Inbar, “We cannot cut down trees over 100 years old, especially in times of climate change. People are really upset because they thought it was protected land.”
The bike path is funded by a grant, which was awarded in 2019. There’s a three-year time limit to use the money.
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors is set to approve the project in mid-September to meet the grant’s Oct. 1 deadline.
One of the primary complaints of CAMP is that the tree removal is unnecessary: There’s already a Class II bike path.
Supervisor Gregg Hart explained the difference between a Class I and Class II bike path.
A Class II bike path is essentially a bike lane, separated from traffic only by paint. A Class I bike path creates a physical barrier between bikers and traffic.
Lael Wageneck, a spokesman for the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department, told the News-Press a Class I bike path is needed to improve safety, accessibility and connectivity.
“The path creates a separate low-stress way for people of all ages and abilities,” he said in an email. “It will be a safe alternative to the unprotected bike lane adjacent to high-speed traffic on Modoc Road, where there is a history of collisions involving cyclists.
“The project will create an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant pathway that physically separates users from vehicles,” he said. “The area currently lacks continuous sidewalks on Modoc and forces pedestrians to walk in the paved roadway area.
“As part of the Santa Barbara County Association of Government’s Regional Transportation Plan, the project will complete the missing gap in the regional network of separated multi-use paths,” Mr. Wageneck said. “The community has advocated for this project because it connects the City of Santa Barbara’s recently constructed Las Positas and Modoc Road Multiuse Path Project and the Obern Trail. The project will provide local connections to schools, parks, beaches, businesses, and transit facilities and create a robust regional path of travel for users of all ages and abilities.”
Meanwhile, residents remain frustrated with what they see as the county’s lack of response to their concerns.
“We are really disappointed in Supervisor Gregg Hart. He has not responded in any way to our requests, and it has been very frustrating,” said Ms. Inbar.
Supervisor Hart told the News-Press that he has spoken with Deb and Warren Thomas, the organizers of CAMP.
He said he additionally responded to this complaint as well as the concern that shareholders of the La Cumbre Water District should have an opportunity to express their opinions.
“I am determined to work with stakeholders, and I am totally open to hearing from everyone,” Supervisor Hart told the News-Press. “I am trying to get reasonable people to work together. We are trying to preserve a maximum number of trees. Working together we can accomplish a great project.”
Ms. Indar told the News-Press that CAMP has heard the county is reducing the impact. “But we have not seen anything in writing. The only official document is still the negative declaration, and we are going with that until we hear a new number. We are having an impact, but we are withholding judgment until we actually see something.”
Supervisor Hart, who said he’s working closely with the Public Works staff including Deputy Director Chris Sneddon, told the News-Press that the initial number of trees — 63 — has been scaled back. He said the staff is working to modify the project.
But there is no public document yet in writing concerning an updated number of trees that will be affected.
“The MND was accurate for the degree of review and alignment at the time,” Supervisor Hart said. “It is a huge benefit to the community, enhances the preserve along the corridor and provides a critical Class I bike connection for the entire South Coast. We are trying to connect the South Coast from Isla Vista down through Santa Barbara. What we are doing is trying to create a network of physically separated bike paths, to encourage people to use bikes more and cars less for environmental reasons.”
But Ms. Cobb of CAMP told the News-Press, “We just don’t believe in cutting down mature beautiful trees that provide a shade canopy …We can’t even believe we have to discuss this again. We believe our next effort will be raising money through a gofundme to hire an attorney.”