A handful of architects, all of whom reside on the Mesa, have crafted an ambitious vision for revamping that part of the city. The Mesa Architects, a group of volunteers led by Dennis Thompson, took turns presenting their plans at a community meeting called by the publisher of The Mesa Paper, Alice San Andres-Calleja. The potentially historic meeting took place Friday night, May 29, at Holy Cross Church, which has been serving for the past couple of years as the Mesa’s “town hall” under San Andres-Calleja’s leadership. The unofficial mayor of the Mesa , who promotes bicycling but doesn’t ride a bike, Andres-Calleja received the gift of an enormous red tricycle with a loud horn and huge basket in which to deliver her papers.
Among the features of the so-called Mesa Village Plan that received accolades from the crowd of a few dozen people in attendance was a “pedestrian scramble”-style intersection where Cliff Road meets Meigs Road at the base of Carrillo Hill, with business complexes on all four corners. In this type of intersection, car traffic on all the intersecting streets stops while all waiting pedestrians are given the signal to cross, all at once, even diagonally, to whatever corner they want. Examples of this type of intersection can be seen in Old Town Pasadena and in Santa Maria.
The Mesa Architects, as they called themselves, also presented detailed sketches of a Cliff Drive rendered more pleasant for non-automotive traffic. Bike lanes would be added, sidewalks would be widened and shielded from the street by a planted parkway, and intersections would be narrowed to make it easier for pedestrians to cross. As it is, Cliff Drive is so hard to cross that half of the MTD buses come one from one direction and half come from the other to serve people on either side of the street, presenters said; if it were easier to cross, bus service to the Mesa would effectively double in frequency.
Oohs and aahs as well as applause greeted the architects plans for making a public plaza out of short frontage road parallel to Cliff Drive, which now hosts some 30 parking places in front of the Rose Cafe and other businesses. Architects said that the business owners were ambivalent, liking the idea of more outdoor seating and visibility but concerned about the loss of parking places in front. One audience member registered dissent, suggesting that the parking lot behind the businesses – where most of the parking is – might be a better place for a plaza since it was more shielded from traffic. A fancy plaza could be planned for ten years down the road, but a simple, low-budget version “could be done next month practically,” the architects said.
A seven-mile loop trail around the Mesa, through its neighborhoods and numerous parks, was on the architects’ wish list, though about five percent of it, they said, would require public access through private property. Three or four additional beach overlooks along the route, as well as beach access from La Mesa Park, were sketched in. “In a neighborhood like ours, if you can’t walk over and look at the beach you’re missing something,” explained architect John Kelly. Other hoped-for items were zoning for corner groceries for the Mesa’s outermost neighborhoods; covered bus stops a few yards further from traffic; the reopening of the branch post-office; and a community center, possibly at the old Lighthouse School.
The crowd cheered the idea of opening a small branch library. “We know there’s now money for a branch library now,” Thompson said, but they are hoping to get their plans incorporated into the City of Santa Barbara’s General Plan, which is currently in the process of being updated for the next 20 years.
In addition to drafting plans, the architects have been consulting with key city employees, from the librarian to transportation engineers and MTD officials. In addition to Thompson and Kelley, the Mesa Architects group includes Jim Bell, Jeff King, Derrik Eichelberger, Tom Morrison, David Van Hoy, and Chris Cottrell.