Elected officials, engineers, and members of the press gathered at the intersection of Kellogg Way and Kellogg Avenue Thursday morning for the groundbreaking of the San Jose Creek Improvement Project. “This has been a long time coming,” said Steve Wagner, the city’s Community Services Director. The City of Goleta has been working on the project in some capacity for the better part of a decade since the dramatic Old Town floods of 1995 and 1998.
“Ten years working on this for the city — it’s a really long time,” said Goleta Mayor Margaret Connell who, having been involved in the community for years, was keenly aware of the project’s obstacles. Her sentiment seemed to echo the feelings of all involved: “Things do happen, eventually,” she said.
The plan, which will be the largest project in the city’s history, is composed of two phases. The first is destruction of the existing channel and replacing it with a wider channel with greater structural strength. This new channel will be equipped to withstand the flooding associated with a 100-year storm. Additionally, the new channel will feature a low-flow fish channel to accommodate the endangered steelhead trout and grant them access to their spawning grounds. The Sammy the Steelhead mascot was on hand at the event, and while he wasn’t available for comment, his fist pumps suggested an enthusiastic endorsement of the project.
The second element of the project addresses the Hollister Avenue Bridge. It will be destroyed, but it will be replaced with a wider bridge — one that is more structurally sound and will “conform” to the natural creek bed and allow for the trout passageway.
“Old Town Goleta is the heart of this city,” said Congressmember Lois Capps, aiming to assure local business owners that the construction won’t impose any financial obstructions. The benefits are three-fold, according to Capps: environmental, economic, and an overall benefit to the quality of life for Old Town residents. And the project itself will employ local citizens, another benefit that Capps identified during her speech.
So, after 10 long years of planning and refining, the ground has been broken. Photos of the flooding in 1998 and 1995 were on display at the event, serving as a reminder of why this project was deemed necessary by all involved. “Restoration is what we want to accomplish here,” said Capps. “This is an incredible project. Looking at the political environment, to get to this point, it’s incredible.”