Parking Woes on Foothill Road

Residents Worry About Losing Longtime Spots During Safety Upgrade Project

Neal Graffy stands in the closed section of Foothill Road that is under construction and is slated to lose its roadside parking
Paul Wellman

The four-month-old Caltrans project intended to cover drainage ditches, ease the flow, and enhance the emergency-related safety of Foothill Road will likely be completed toward the end of August. But that much-awaited finish is becoming the kickoff for a whole new round of frustration for residents who live along that renovated stretch of State Highway 192. About 30 properties between Cheltenham Way and Tye Road are in danger of losing roadside parking places and will most definitely lose them for the two to three months it takes to survey the newly paved road. That has some residents complaining that the changes were made behind their backs, that there’s no clear reason for the parking ban, and that they’re being treated like “third-class citizens.”

“Here we are with cars speeding, doing illegal things, and we can’t get Highway Patrol to do anything. Yet the county is going to waste taxpayer money to put parking signs and have the CHP come give tickets for no parking. How insulting is that?” asked Neal Graffy, a Foothill Road resident whose property is outside of the affected zone but who’s been fighting the improvements all along. “We just believe they have never come down and sat on Foothill Road and seen what’s going on.”

Parked cars on Foothill Road where Tye Road intersects 8/14/09
Paul Wellman

Graffy believes the plot was hatched and is being pushed by the Mission Canyon Association, which has been discussing the matter for 10 years. But other than a public meeting in 2001, Graffy and his neighbors can’t recall being properly notified about the parking changes. “They will tell you all these meetings that we were informed about, but that’s not really true,” he said, referring to the regular monthly planning meetings held by the association. Rather, Graffy said the meetings had “broad” agendas that never specifically mentioned Foothill Road. “Like we’re gonna go to every meeting?!?” said Graffy. “They should have sent us an email. They’ve got all our addresses.”

Like most of her neighbors on the north side of Foothill, where properties aren’t large enough to accommodate more than a couple vehicles, Nicki Horne has used the paved shoulder in front of her house for guest parking for decades. She agrees with Graffy and calls the association agendas “cryptic.” “They believe everyone should attend meetings regularly,” she said. “But the reality is that we’re all very busy with children, work, and life. Unless we see a critical agenda item, we’re not going to go to a two-hour meeting during dinnertime.” Horne says the only way she knew that parking was being scrutinized on their stretch of Foothill was because of Graffy, who sent flyers to each of the neighbors to warn them. “No one else bothered to tell us,” she said.

Foothill Road closed sign at Cheltenham Way 8/14/09
Paul Wellman

Noticing aside, both say that the official reasons they’re given for the parking changes continue to, in Horne’s words, “evolve.” Explained Graffy, “They tell you that the reason it’s happening is for A, then you attack A, and then they say it’s for B. It’s like whackamole – you hit one reason down, and another pops up.” Graffy believes that the underlying reason for the no parking notion is aesthetic, and recalls a time when there was a desire to line Foothill with decomposed gravel. “They envision Foothill Road as the Mission Canyon entrance, like Las Palmas Drive in Hope Ranch,” said Graffy, who served on the association board in the 1990s when it was “more representative of people in different parts of the canyon.” Now, Graffy says the association is composed of mostly people on private lanes further up the canyon. “The feeling is that it’s all these upper canyon people and we’re like third-class citizens down here on Foothill,” said Graffy. “We’re like the shantytown.”

Relate Graffy’s complaints and shantytown sob story to anyone else, though, and you get very audible sighs. Ray Smith, one of four boardmembers currently heading the Mission Canyon Association, explained, “There are a couple people along Foothill who have been vocally opposed to this project from the very beginning. Every time there’s been a meeting, they’ve worked to throw sand in the thing.”

“If we had had Tea Fire speed with the Jesusita Fire, we would have lost lives,” said Smith, a member of Mission Canyon Association’s Executive Committee.

Smith says that the Foothill Road improvements have always been about safety. “The key issue was emergency ingress and egress from the canyon – how to get out in an emergency and how to get emergency vehicles in,” said Smith. “Everybody who has worked on this project has worked on it from the perspective of: How can we make this canyon safer?” Though the Tea and Jesusita fire evacuations went well, Smith said that was in part due to timing and luck. “If we had had Tea Fire speed with the Jesusita Fire, we would have lost lives,” said Smith. He also relayed the thoughts of a firefighter in charge of evaluating the corridor, who at a recent meeting said, “If people had died, we wouldn’t be discussing this.”

Ask about neighbors not being properly informed and Smith get exasperated again, explaining that the road improvement project has been being discussed since 1999 and that there have even been a dozen meetings and a handful of workshops since 2006. “Once the project began, people came out of the woodwork claiming they have never known anything about it,” said Smith. “Well, if you weren’t paying attention, that might be true. For people who were paying attention, there had been a lot of public discussion.”

So does Smith consider Graffy and the Foothill Road rats to be third-class citizens? Smith, who’s spent most of the past few months helping other canyon residents assess their losses from the Jesusita Fire, explained, “Nobody’s looking down on anybody. We’re trying to work together as a community to recover from 80 homes being lost.”

“The bottom line here is that this is in the interest of public safety for the broader Mission Canyon community,” said Salud Carbajal, 1st District supervisor.

Representatives from Santa Barbara County, which is working closely with Caltrans on the improvements and parking plan, also seem somewhat annoyed at the no parking complaints. “This has been a project 10 years in the making,” said 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal over the telephone while on a family vacation in Palm Springs. “The bottom line here is that this is in the interest of public safety for the broader Mission Canyon community.” Carbajal, who believes that most if not all of the existing parking spots will be granted after the survey, encouraged “patience by all” and for “everyone to remember the interests of the entire community in what we’re striving to achieve here.”

Dace Morgan, county deputy director of transportation, explained that the two- to three-month parking ban is a fairly normal procedure for a reworked road. “We reset it,” she explained. “What we need to do is let the project open up and settle down.” Once the “No Parking” signs go up when the road project is complete, engineers will come in and assess the flow, determine which parking spots are safe, and then issue a report on which to re-open, which she estimates will be about a dozen on each side of the road. Then the signs will be removed. So what do the residents do if they have guests over during the couple months of surveying? “They’ll just have to find parking,” said Morgan. “But now there’s a nice eight-foot-wide shoulder for folks to traverse on.”

Despite the hubbub, however, the good news is that all involved think that Horne and her neighbors will wind up with their spots anyway. “It’s hard for me to understand why there can’t be a reasonable compromise solution that can make everybody happy,” said Ray Smith. Echoed Supervisor Carbajal, “I am confident we will reach a win-win.”


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