The 101 has long divided the Goleta community to the north and south, a gap the city hopes to bridge with a new bike and pedestrian path running under the highway and railroad tracks. A “yes” vote from Councilmember Roger Aceves on Tuesday ended a suspenseful two weeks during which the San Jose Creek project’s $18 million in state and federal transportation grant funding was in doubt. Because two councilmembers recused themselves from voting because they lived near the project, Aceves’s vote was essential for a majority vote of three. And he had stated at the previous meeting that he could not support the project without knowing more.
The path has been part of several Goleta plans dating back to the 1990s, when the area was part of unincorporated Santa Barbara County. A couple dozen speakers at both meetings listed the benefits of the new trail, including a safe bicycle path for Old Town residents to get to schools, pharmacies, and the library on the other side of the highway, as well as connecting the north side to the beach, the Obern Trail to Santa Barbara, and UCSB. By Tuesday, city staff had answered Aceves’s questions: They sized and identified the trees facing removal — reducing the number from 82 to 77 — and notated projected costs and funding sources. The city will have to find an additional $4.7 million to complete the roughly $28.3 million project. The positive outcome, however, enables the city to seek grant funding; Public Works Director Charlie Ebeling had said refusing the grant would have undermined the city’s ability to get more.
The project is in the conceptual and environmental review stage, gaining a negative declaration with the council’s vote. As the project advances through permitting and final design, city staff said they would try to avoid removing trees, although the pathway space is constrained by the creek on one side and private property on the other. The project must obtain permits, consultations, and agreements with a number of state and federal agencies, including the Coastal Commission, and staff members indicated that it was likely Fish & Wildlife would increase the 1:1 and 3:1 tree replacement ratio. The project could start as early as summer 2024 and take about two years to complete.