Geek Out on Creek Work

Seeing Goleta's San Jose Creek Project Up Close

An excavator-mounted driller digs holes for steel pilings.
Paul Wellman

If you’ve driven to Goleta Beach or UCSB on Highway 217 any time in the past few months, you’ve certainly spotted the massive cranes, sky-high drills, and other assorted construction paraphernalia lining the roadway and working in the once easy-to-miss concrete channel. As you may have guessed, the $22-million project to battle flooding in Old Town while enhancing the natural environment qualifies as the City of Goleta’s largest public works project ever. What you may not know is that the San Jose Creek Project represents one of the most impressive creek-restoration-meets-capital-improvement efforts in the region.

“This will be the model for urban creeks in Los Angeles County,” said Rosemarie Gaglione, the city’s public works mastermind, explaining that the work will allow the channel to handle 100-year storms while letting fish swim up-creek with low-flow passages. “We’re taking care of the people, we’re taking care of their property, and we’re taking care of the steelhead.”

Custom-made walls are inserted in the creek channel.
Paul Wellman

To do so, 70-ton crawler cranes, excavator-mounted foundation drillers, trailer-mounted concrete boom trucks, hydraulic excavators, and 10-wheel dump trucks ​— ​all manned by about 20 contracted engineers ​— ​have been dropping in nearly a thousand 42-foot-long steel pilings, ripping out the existing concrete walls, and sliding in specially designed wall panels, each with its own exact spot as part of the channel’s new banks. Between the walls will be a blanket of articulated concrete revetment, which are blocks sewn together with polycarbonate rope that can move like an interlaced watchband and will be much like a natural creek bottom. On the highway side of the channel will be the fish passage to help the steelhead travel up-creek to breed, with mini-dams, known as weirs, to slow the water flow.

Expected completion of this work is October 2013, but the crews must soon leave the creek bed in anticipation of winter rains; they will continue their work outside of the channel for the time being, working on guardrails, landscaping, and the like, before finishing the channel work next spring and summer. Although some of the business-owner complaints related to the project’s impacts aren’t entirely resolved yet, the public rancor heard last summer as the City Council approved the project seems to have mostly quieted. Gaglione attributes the relative calm to the city’s outreach and mitigation efforts, such as water trucks and street sweepers, which are keeping down the dust.

In a recent tour of the project, Gaglione ​— ​who has more than a decade of public-works experience, both for the City of Goleta since 2007 and County of San Luis Obispo before that ​— ​was clearly pleased at the overall scope and on-the-ground progress of the project. “I love building stuff,” she said, as telltale beeps of construction and the smell of freshly chunked dirt filled the air. “I’ve never worked harder than I do here, but I’ve never had more fun in my life. These things we do, you get to see them. You can bring your kids down to see them.”

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