Let’s preserve this historic structure and take less expensive steps for safety
Did You Know? Bonnie Donovan
“No civilized society in the history of man on this planet has been without an understanding of the importance of a study of the past: it is philosophy teaching by example. It can make men wise. It certainly lengthens the experience of the individual and so improves his ability to deal with the perplexities of the present and the uncertainties of the future. The existence in our modern environment of the creations of the people who have lived here before us, the buildings which have served them and the sites upon which significant events transpired, can contribute to an understanding of the foundations of our world today.”
— Pearl Chase
A road exists to Hana, Hawaii, known as the Hana Highway. Fifty-nine bridges, 52 miles long and 620 curves. The highway is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The only change was in 1962 when the 1929 road was paved. No attempts have been made to straighten this road to improve line of sight or to widen the one-lane bridges that are used by both bikers and vehicles.
Behind the Queen of the Missions lies the Santa Barbara Mission Creek Bridge, which is a stone barrel vaulted compression arch, constructed much like the bridges built by the Romans.
Engineered in 1891, the Mission Creek Bridge is the oldest bridge not only in Santa Barbara but is also the oldest known bridge in Southern California, according to Stephen D. Mikesell in his book, “Historic Highway Bridges of California.”
The bridge became a city landmark in 1998.
Every bridge has two sides. Two factions are in discussion of how to remedy the perceived faults of this bucolic 148-foot bridge.
Although the Mission Canyon Bridge Studies Team calls the bridge charming, they also call it dangerous, a bridge that will flood and mimic the results of the Montecito debris flow. There are already two debris flow basins in Mission Canyon: Mission Creek and Rattlesnake, per Jon Fry of Santa Barbara County Flood Control.
MCBST has aligned itself with the city of Santa Barbara’s transportation planning and parking manager, Rob Dayton. The city also hired the Wallace Group for $1 million to have the “bridge studies team” join with public works to present options should they want to proceed.
They suggest three options. Option one revamps the original bridge; options two and three would replace it. The street and pedestrian paths would be widened, and bike paths would be added (it is now a shared road).
All options remove at least seven sycamore or oak trees. (Try doing that on your private property.)
All options address “the obstruction of the view” of the bridge by the sewer pipe.
Imagine after all these years, the view in a creekbed gets more consideration than the resident’s views of the Riviera.
In his last “Preservation Watch” column in the January issue of The Capital, the late Santa Barbara resident Kellam de Forest voiced his concerns for the MCBST proposals: “Options 2 and 3 are not historic. …”
The problems illustrated by the transportation planner and MCBST are based on “what ifs.” On the balance hangs an $11 million taxpayer-funded federal highway transportation grant that is available only for a new significantly wider bridge.
No mandated changes or safety issues are at stake here, but rather a “perception of safety” issue. The whole corridor including the bridge is classified as Vision Zero: no fatal accidents.
Nor is it a hot spot on the Santa Barbara Police Department’s traffic circulation documents for recommended improvements.
Sixteen minor collisions occurred in the corridor from 2010 to 2017, and a few fender benders since then. The focus is on the bridge, as it is tied to the funding. There is nothing “structurally deficient per the regular Caltrans inspections, although labeled with a funding category of functionally obsolete.”
The proposed options threaten the historic merit of the bridge that is landmarked and is in El Pueblo Viejo, the character of the corridor, the trees, land from Rocky Nook Park. The options intrude on the area that was inhabited by the Chumash and eliminates the boulder entrance that has been nominated as a historic landscape.
Here are safety changes that would save the citizens $11 million: Improve the pedestrian paths, add pedestrian-activated flashing lights, create disability access on the existing pedestrian bridge, put crosswalks already proposed in the pedestrian master plan recommended at Alameda Padre Serra from safe routes to schools with proximity to Roosevelt Elementary School, and lower the current speed limit of 35 to 25 for all of Mission Canyon.
The bridge preservationists request you contact the Santa Barbara City Council in support of sensible, economical solutions. Sign the petition to save the historic Mission Creek Bridge at tinyurl.com/creekbridge.
Santa Barbara historian Neal Graffy said, “… for the last 20 years people have tried to destroy the Mission Creek Bridge by declaring it a danger and claim it is incapable of handling the volume of water, mud and debris from storms. In my years of recording the history of Mission Creek, flooding disasters and the Mission Creek Bridge, I have yet to come across any reference to this bridge getting blocked or incapable of handling the flow of water … I find the claims are easily resolved.
“The result could cost less than $30,000 and preserve everything, rather than the complete destruction of this historic setting and landmark bridge and the waste of millions of dollars.”
For the last year, during the pandemic, Mr. Dayton’s focus has been the reduction of vehicle lanes in favor of bike lanes. He has stacked the deck with city employees who are bike coalition members and the residents that drive cars are getting short-changed. He is taking away streets and street parking, resulting in more cars paying to use city lots, inconvenience, and inaccessibility. He closes or narrows the road and paints the street in loud colors that are incongruent to the look of Santa Barbara.
An M.O. that no citizen would be allowed nor would be allowed to display such disrespect is used by Mr. Dayton. He ignores the boards’ and commissions’ recommendations and returns with the same plans.
The BCycle project went from the Historic Landmarks Commission to the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission’s decisions regarding BCycle were appealed to the Santa Barbara City Council.
Mr. Dayton appeared before his fellow city employees at city council. The city council capitulated to Mr. Dayton’s pleas, and the mayor blessed the denial of the appeal with, ” … the BCycle can do whatever to make the project work.”
Last Tuesday, Mr. Dayton used the same method. At his first meeting with HLC for the Westside Bike Paseo, he brazenly told the board to deny his project so he could appeal any direction from the citizen board of HLC and again, go before his cronies at city council.
HLC refused his demand to deny the project. However, he got his wish on the second hearing with HLC. And what about his rush job? The 2015 Westside Bike Paseo was not brought for approval until 2021.
What kind of government is this? Mr. Dayton acts like a smug child. Councilmember Mike Jordan called the HLC’s efforts in preserving the look of the city historical elitisms, and Councilmember Kristen Sneddon said she felt she had no choice but to uphold the appeal. Why? Is she being pressured?
She is right that the HLC is being rebuffed and dismissed by the city employees and City Council while their decisions diminish the capacity of the HLC. They volunteer to protect the “Historic Landmarks Committee.”
We wonder if HLC Members will follow the footsteps of former ABR Board Member David Watkins who resigned in protest of special treatment being given to city projects.
Do all (bike) roads lead to Rob?