Marc McGinnes, vocal opponent to the construction of a suicide barrier on Cold Spring Bridge, isn’t ready to give up the fight. Though some would have admitted defeat when the project was granted funding last week in the meeting of Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG), McGinnes, who has frequented county meetings concerning the project during the past two years to speak against the barrier, filed a suit through his attorney Marc Chytilo against Caltrans on July 21.
It is perhaps unsurprising that McGinnes has responded so quickly to his next battle against the barrier, as he said he was “not surprised” by SBCAG’s decision last week, which he described as “incompetent” and an “act of imbecility.” Though McGinnes was present at the beginning of the meeting in order to comment one last time on the faults of the project and those of the proposed three-card monte swap of funds, he left before the final motion was made.
In a fit of disgust and outrage, McGinnes- familiar to some in Santa Barbara as the man on stilts in the Summer Solstice parade-approached the boardmembers long after public comment had finished and interrupted discussions of potential benefits of the barriers. The act brought a degree of high drama to the proceedings. In the televised feed of the Santa Maria meeting, McGinnes could be seen re-entering the frame, SBCAG members turning in confusion and shock as he shouted at them. The meeting briefly adjourned in an attempt to handle the disruption. The TV feed cut out and then returned to a quieter meeting room and no McGinnes, leaving those not in the room to wonder what force might have so quickly whisked him away. In a phone conversation later in that afternoon, McGinnes claimed, “I just couldn’t stomach their bullshit,” explaining that he left the meeting shortly after the board told him he was “out of line” and began mumbling about calling the sheriff.
The suit against Caltrans-McGinnes’s newest strategy for fending off the construction of the suicide barrier-will reportedly hinge upon the environmental analysis of the project. The barrier, which is designed to add an additional six feet of height to the existing 3.5-foot of wall on the bridge, was analyzed in a mandatory environmental report by Caltrans which was required by law to be circulated to the public, according to McGinnes. With two significant potential impacts of the barrier-cultural and historical as well as aesthetic-that Caltrans was required in McGinnes’s words to mediate “to the level of insignificance,” a second draft environmental report was required to be publicly circulated like the first for a period of 45 days. No such second draft was circulated, McGinnes claims.
“I wouldn’t be dumbfounded if the barriers went up,” commented McGinnes, who reasoned that “[Caltrans] may be able to get away with it.” The project and related funding swap received praise from SBCAG in last week’s meeting once the concerns of a handful of boardmembers were addressed. The primary reasons for skepticism about giving the funding swap the final go were potential delays of the Highway 101 project (as a result of the funding changes), qualms about bestowing money meant for Highway 101 traffic safety upon the suicide barriers, and the current unavailability of state funds that are intended to replace the $1.5 million being diverted away from the Highway 101 project reserve so that the barriers can be built. Staff addressed some of these concerns by going over the minutiae of the planned funding swap several times. Arguments made in support of the barrier project by boardmembers such as 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, who has lost a family member to suicide, and Joe Armendariz, executive director of the Taxpayers Association who supports “men and women in uniform,” convinced the members of the board to vote unanimously in favor of the funding exchange.