Cars and a train run along lower State Street near the planned La Entrada project.

Paul Wellman

Cars and a train run along lower State Street near the planned La Entrada project.

La Entrada Hits Snag

Worries Emerge That Traffic May Back Up to Railroad Tracks

Thursday, July 24, 2014
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Efforts to begin construction on the La Entrada development — 123 new hotel rooms to be spread over three square blocks at the intersection of State and Mason streets — has hit a snag with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which has expressed concern that traffic on State Street might back up from the stoplight slated for that corner all the way up to the railroad tracks. The CPUC claims exclusive jurisdiction over all railroad tracks in the state.

At issue is the extent to which the lane squeeze and road diet imposed on the lower stretch of State Street in order to allow for the wider “boulevard” sidewalks will have the effect of causing traffic to back up and potentially block the railroad tracks. On May 28, Santa Barbara traffic engineer Derek Bailey submitted detailed plans to the CPUC showing how the problem could be averted by coordinating the signals at two intersections — State and Mason and State and Yanonali — to limit the backup of traffic. Bailey said this could be accomplished by giving the light at Mason a longer green sequence than the signal at Yanonali. (As a condition of approval, developer Michael Rosenfeld is required to install a new traffic signal at State and Mason because his hotel will command three of the intersection’s four corners.)

CPUC engineer Carlo Groag confirmed he got such plans from Bailey but said he hasn’t reviewed them sufficiently to render a conclusion. Groag said he will be meeting in Santa Barbara with Bailey and officials with Southern Pacific Railroad in August. Should those arrangements be deemed workable, Groag said City Hall would then have to submit formal plans, which they haven’t done yet. Groag would then have 45 days to decide.

The $64 million question is how this issue could emerge as a last-minute surprise for a project that was first approved by the City Council 13 years ago and has undergone six subsequent design changes and no less than three ownership changes. Over the years, many people have voiced concern about the road-narrowing aspects of the project design, but it’s always been part of the plan. This detail was inserted at the insistence of city traffic planners and elected officials, not the developers. One explanation is that former city attorney Steve Wiley — who retired only a few months ago — had long insisted that the CPUC had no jurisdiction over the project, but that his successor, Ariel Calonne, was adamant that it did.

The project — long a black hole of delay and inactivity — has generated much consternation and impatience among councilmembers, city officials, and business owners along lower State Street. In response, the latest owner — Rosenfeld — has been placed on a strict timeline by City Administrator Jim Armstrong. Compared to the previous two owners — Bill Levy and Mountain Funding — Rosenfeld has qualified as a veritable beehive of construction activity. He narrowed the southbound lane of State Street, expanded the sidewalk, and has spent $13 million on plans, drawings, and ushering the project through the city’s intricate design review process.

Of concern is the extent to which this delay could put Rosenfeld at odds with the construction deadlines he’s agreed to. Likewise, it’s not known how much it might impede Rosenfeld’s ability to secure the funding needed to build the ambitious upscale development. To date, Rosenfeld has hit all his project-specific deadlines with City Hall, while at the same time he bought and essentially rebuilt the interior of the Chapala One mixed-use development on lower Chapala Street.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Duh. Is it possible that narrowing State St. down to one lane at Cabrillo could actually cause a long line of cars to back up as far as the railroad tracks? Could no one have ever thought that there might be some deleterious effect on traffic? Sure, the crosswalk is shorter for pedestrians, but there is necessarily an opposing cost to car traffic. Who's been studying the traffic issues for the past 13 years...the same engineers who said that the extra traffic for Trader Joe's on de la Vina wouldn't cause tie-ups and had sufficient parking?

johnvasi (anonymous profile)
July 24, 2014 at 8:01 a.m. (Suggest removal)

No, johnvasi, it is not possible because the new design features a center turn lane, which will prevent traffic from backing up, because forward traffic is not waiting for other vehicles turning. Duh.

This has been modeled many times years ago. Bonus for the city traffic guru incorporating traffic signal phasing tweaks.

But the Cars-Are-Basically-Everything crowd will continue to claim the sky will fall if any car lanes are reduced. Because that happened so obviously on Cliff Drive last year, right?

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
July 24, 2014 at 9:03 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Geeze finally the voice of reason from a government agency! yay! Who ever came up with narrowing State street was a moron. Or just outright greedy. I think it is perfect the way it is. La Entrada needs to accommodate the city instead of the other way around.

bimboteskie (anonymous profile)
July 24, 2014 at 10:32 a.m. (Suggest removal)

John Adams--I am definitely not a Cars Are Basic person, but I don't think it makes much sense at all to impede car traffic at one of the busiest intersections in the city. It's really that simple. Pedestrians have rights, and there is need to consider aesthetics too, but it's hard to understand the rationale here. With regard to cars, the inescapable conclusion is that the planners believe that clogging up that intersection is okay. If you want to ridicule my armchair opinion, fine. But then let's hear your thoughts on the CPUC's concerns that the traffic jams could cause problems as far back as the railroad tracks. Maybe the drivers could be trained.

johnvasi (anonymous profile)
July 24, 2014 at 10:58 a.m. (Suggest removal)

No, John Adams, there are people not in the so-called "cars are basically everything" crowd that have thoughtful opinions. It's called free speech and should be greeted with other than taunts and insults.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
July 24, 2014 at 4:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Three Johns.

Vasi: Good point, but logic doesn't often get far in Santa Barbara.

Adams: Sorry, but you're militant anti-car rant is off point. Just because you are angry doesn't mean you're correct.

Locke: Well said.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
July 24, 2014 at 9:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I didn't think John Adams' post was especially inflammatory.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
July 24, 2014 at 9:34 p.m. (Suggest removal)

In fact after all the outcry I was disappointed Adams' comments were so tame.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
July 24, 2014 at 9:43 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Leave the traffic flow modeling and lane designs to the pros.

Center turn lanes: Look. Into. It.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
July 25, 2014 at 8:54 a.m. (Suggest removal)

What about water usage for landscaping and all the guests in the 123 rooms?

DavyBrown (anonymous profile)
July 25, 2014 at 9:05 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The center turn lane does nothing to remediate the back-up from the lack of a right turn lane; drivers heading to the ocean may choose to go left, straight and right. It will be a mess. The bulb out at Gutierrez and Chapala is a comical example of traffic calming creating a mess. There is now a single lane, with cars going straight and right, where there used to be two lanes. I still remember the public meeting with Das unable to understand, or in his words "wrap his head around" what happens when the same number or increasing number of vehicles(as with La Entrada) have less physical space to perform the same options.
I agree DB that the increased water and sewage issues are huge. Increasing infill with housing or hotels only lessens the PER CAPITA use of water; the total volume of water continues to go up beyond what is already not sustainable.

nomoresanity (anonymous profile)
July 25, 2014 at 9:26 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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