Goleta’s Creek and Watershed plan languished in the city’s 2006 General Plan, unfulfilled and unloved, until a new City Council majority was voted in, said Stuart Kasdin, one of the councilmembers who took office in 2016. “I was looking through the mandates we were supposed to follow up on,” Kasdin said, “and the butterfly preserve had been set aside and ignored, and the creeks plan was another one.” The new council spent about $250,000 to work up a plan — “The pictures of animals crossing the creeks at night are really something,” Kasdin said, darting off on an enthusiastic tangent — and finished it in 2019.
With the pandemic in the rear-view mirror at present, the city has now embarked on a survey to ask residents what aspects of creek and watershed restoration they value the most. The survey deadline is Monday, October 31.
“If the sales tax doesn’t pass,” Kasdin said, “we would have very limited opportunities to do things, so the city wanted to ask people what are the things that are important to do.” The sales tax he referenced is Measure B, which asks residents whether they support a penny-on-the-dollar increase of the sales tax from 7.75 percent to 8.75 percent, which is in line with Santa Barbara and Lompoc.
A dozen creeks run to the ocean through Goleta, an abundance reflected in the healthy aquifer that feeds the city’s many new developments and the flooding that affects low-lying areas that were once Goleta Bay. Keeping the aquifer filled by ponding storm water and letting it percolate through the ground could be one goal, Kasdin indicated. For creeks advocate Brian Trautwein, keeping the flows through the creeks is what’s important, not only as habitat for red-legged frogs and Western pond turtles, but also to keep the water-loving trees and plants alive that provide a natural dampener to wildfire.
“Drought and climate change, as well as pumping ground water, wells, and people piping water from the creeks, all these things are draining the watershed, and we’re seeing creeks running dry that have flowed year-round for the last 50 years,” said Trautwein, who grew up in Goleta and is a longtime analyst with the Environmental Defense Center. “The nice big trees, the alders, are drying out, too,” he said. “We’re seeing them die, fall over, and become a fire hazard that never used to exist before.”
Invasive plants posed another issue, Trautwein described, as they displaced native plants by taking all the water and changing habitats and food sources. “Arundo donax, pampas grass that has plumes used to make hats in the mid-1800s, even eucalyptus are very aggressive non-native plants that contribute to the creeks drying up,” he said. Water quality, the shape of the streambed, concrete used to line the creek channels, and storm water runoff were other important issues, he felt.
The details of any project have yet to be figured out, said George Thomson, who manages open spaces for Goleta. “The Creek and Watershed Management Plan is more about the city’s stewardship over our natural resources rather than any onetime project,” he said. As it has with the survey, the city wants to involve the public in the effort: restoration, interpretive signs, planting days, with a goal of increasing environmental awareness of how it all fits together. He noted that county, state, and federal agencies would likely be involved in permitting for any project, and neighborhood and community advice and buy-in were important. “The plan is written, staff will be working on implementation, but the public’s answers are what can kickstart the grant process,” Thomson said. Trautwein agreed, saying many grants were available for creek restoration and hydrology work to restore the watersheds as long as the city has the funds to match any grant awards.