There was much ceremonial joviality, speechifying, and official ribbon cutting last Thursday morning by elected officials, high-ranking administrators, architects, engineers, construction-company executives, and a cluster of teenage schoolkids who helped provide the artwork as the new bridge crossing Mission Creek by Haley and De la Vina streets was officially unveiled, both on time and on budget. The old bridge had to be replaced because it was seismically unfit. It was also too narrow to accommodate the flood-control plans for Mission Creek.
The new bridge is considerably wider than before and crosses the creek diagonally rather than at right angles, creating expansive gathering spaces from which to view the creek. Compared to the previous bridge’s cramped sidewalks, the new design is unusually inviting, especially so for a neighborhood that until recently has not enjoyed much of the largess City Hall has to offer. The bridge cost $12 million to build, but the federal government picked up 88 percent of the tab. Even so, it was no standard-issue crossing.
Architect John Pitman, who died two years ago, designed the railing. About 65 students, many from La Cuesta Continuation High School, designed Japanese-styled tiles—showing miniature scenes of creek life—at the direction of a sculptor hired by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. The first of six Mission Street bridges, the Haley Street crossing expresses, in concrete, the city’s decision to embrace and integrate the lower reaches of Mission Creek rather than to simply pave it over, as previous flood-control plans had called for.
Before wielding the giant fake scissors used for ribbon cuttings, Mayor Helene Schneider praised the bridge for making Mission Creek “a neighborhood asset as opposed to turning your back on it and throwing trash in it.” It also was the first step in a $3.4-million plan to provide the West Downtown neighborhood with new streetlights, sidewalks, and bulb-outs. Or as neighborhood resident and activist Sharon Byrne put it, taking it “from blight to bright.”