A $1.5 million creek-side restoration project was completed in the Arroyo Burro Open Space and celebrated on May 1, 2019, by the snip of a ribbon. Mayor Cathy Murillo and the Santa Barbara City Council hosted the event to thank all who helped create the project, which lies opposite Elings Park across Las Positas Road. The City of Santa Barbara also received recognition from Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and Assemblymember Monique Limón.
Funded by Proposition 1, Measure B, and grants, Phase 1 of the project restored 4.5 acres of Arroyo Burro Creek to improve creek and ocean water, fix and prevent erosion, and restore wildlife habitats. Creeks Restoration and Clean Water Manager Cameron Benson stated in his ceremony speech, “The Las Positas Valley is called the lungs of Santa Barbara because of green spaces like this one that breathe life into the community. In that case, the creeks are the arteries.”
The Arroyo Burro Open Space was not always destined for recreational use, however. Plans to build luxury homes there were approved twice by city council, but the 14.7-acre Veronica Meadows was finally acquired by Santa Barbara and the Trust for Public Land in 2016. Thirteen years later, Veronica Meadows joins another six acres of undeveloped land already owned by the city to create the open space. Murillo commented, “It’s hard to create new parkland. This property was available and the city set aside millions of dollars to capture it.”
Prior to the restoration, some creek banks were 25 feet deep from a century of upstream development that according to project manager Erin Markey, “led to the destabilization of creek banks and subsequent loss of native vegetation in some areas. It also left the creek bed unable to access its historic floodplain.” Now banks are less than five feet deep, and over an acre of floodplain habitat was created that has already accumulated sediment from February rains.
The project removed non-native plants and replaced them with 7,500 native ones, many of which were planted by Peabody Elementary school kids or during a community planting day. Oak species were protected, but eucalyptus were either logged to provide animal shelters in the creek bed, or chipped onsite and laid atop the trail to keep dust down for nearby neighborhoods. As a result, visitors can already see grow-back in the largest oak onsite from the extra sunshine it’s soaking up.
Seventy-one tons of concrete and debris were removed from the creek, including an old VW bug. Biodegradable fiber bundles were strategically placed to combat erosion until root systems can take over the job. For added support, the bank closest to Las Positas Road was reinforced with boulders salvaged from the Montecito mudslides. Irrigation was also installed to ensure the survival of plants during upcoming summers but will be removed in the next three years after the plants mature.
Benson commented, “Working together the community has been able to protect an irreplaceable natural resource that will be available for people to enjoy away from the traditional urban environment of the city.” Phase 2 is now in the initial stages, gaining input from the community to prioritize what should happen next for the Arroyo Burro Open Space Restoration Project.