Contrary to what everyone may believe, Community Association for the Modoc Preserve (CAMP) is not opposed to Phase II of the Multi-use Path project. We would like to see the project completed without compromising the Modoc Preserve or the trees along Modoc Road.
The reason for this open letter to County Public Works (CPW) and the County Board of Supervisors (CBOS) is to suggest a Phase II compromise that CAMP will support, without reservation. I encourage the County Planners and Supervisors to act quickly on this option, in light of looming ATP grant allocation deadlines for the PS&E and ROW milestones (February 2023).
Based on the 2018 original ATP grant application, Santa Barbara County Public Works was awarded the $5.35MM ATP grant based on the following project description :
“The project will reduce barriers along the corridor by REPLACING sections of Class II bike lanes with a more safe and attractive separated path, suitable for people of all ages and abilities.”
Had the County strictly adhered to this project description all along, we would not be where we are today, as the Modoc MUP Phase II project would not require trees along Modoc Road to be removed (Alignment A), nor Land Trust approval and an easement onto the Modoc Preserve (Alignment B).
Instead, some time after receiving the ATP grant award, CPW changed and expanded the project scope. Instead of REPLACING the existing Class II bike lanes, they decided to AUGMENT and EXPAND the project along Modoc Road to accommodate BOTH the existing Class II bike lanes AND the new Class I multi-use path.
This is where the conflict began.
Until this change in project scope was made, the County had the full support of the community, and no opposition to the project.
The expanded project scope has had the community in an uproar since learning about it in June-July. Friends and political allies have been torn apart, forcing people to choose between only two very controversial options:
1) Alignment B, the County’s “preferred” option.
This option will require Land Trust approval and La Cumbre Water Company easements to be granted, which is unlikely given that this project involves heavy construction, concrete/asphalt roads, retaining walls, soil degradation, certain impact to the wetlands, trees, wildlife and habitat, impact to existing equestrian and pedestrian paths, and changes to drainage and topography on private and legally-protected land (the Modoc Preserve).
2) Alignment A.
This option will require up to 48 mature trees to be removed, including 29 much-loved historic Canary Island palms and several protected oaks. This option is extremely unpopular with many in the community.
Both alignments will require at least 22+ trees to be removed from this wetlands preserve area, trees which provide screening and privacy to the residents of Hope Ranch, as well as urban habitat and a wildlife corridor for 71+ bird species, including various types of owls and hawks, as well as bats, foxes, coyotes, snakes, amphibious creatures, Monarch butterflies, bees and other insects.
Neither option protects this rare and unique urban preserve. Neither one feels like the “right thing to do”.
Let us all remember that the goal of this project was originally to “close the gap” between the 4.5 mile Obern Trail and the new Multi-use Path along Los Positas and the east end of Modoc Rd (Phase I). Phase II would be non-controversial if CPW would simply match the existing Obern Trail and keep the Class I Multi-use Path entirely on Modoc Rd. Please note: the existing Class I Obern Trail Multi-use Path does NOT have Class II bike lanes running on either side of it, and similarly, the Modoc Road Multi-Use Path Phase II was never intended to have Class II bike lanes running alongside it either.
The project description at the very top of the ATP grant application was used to sell the project idea to the community, and to CalTrans, which resulted in both community buy-in, as well as the $5.35MM ATP grant award.
The original alignment and project description is preferred by CAMP and at least 5,600 community members who have signed our petition: https://www.change.org/SaveModocRoadTrees
Thus far we have successfully convinced CPW to preserve trees on the west end of Modoc Multi-use Path Phase II, on the end closest to the intersection of Modoc Road and the Obern Trail (thank you). Now, we are are asking the County to design the rest of the Phase II path in the same way, i.e., put both the eastern and western halves of the Modoc Rd Multi-use Path Phase II project entirely within the County ROW, as was the original plan, AND instead of removing the row of 29 historic Canary Island Palm trees along Modoc Rd, we are asking the County to REPLACE, not AUGMENT, the existing Class II bike lanes so that the Class I Multi-use Path will fit on the existing footprint of Modoc Road, thereby preserving the Canary Island palm trees and the Modoc Preserve for all to enjoy.
By adhering to the original project description, we can all go back to our normal lives and start to repair the bonds that have been broken between community members, our County Public Works department, and our elected leaders.
Simply stated, we want the County to “preserve the Preserve” AND “connect the gap” by putting the Class 1 Multi-use path all the way up on Modoc Rd by replacing the existing Class II bike lanes. No trees need to be cut down.
Additional statements the County made in the original ATP grant application :
1.) Page 4 (https://modocpreserve.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/modoc_atp5b.jpg):
“The Project will reduce barriers along the corridor by replacing sections of the Class II bike lanes with a more safe and attractive separated path, suitable for people of all ages and abilities.”
“For bicyclists significant safety barriers would be removed by upgrading existing shoulders and Class II bike lanes to a Class I pathway with a dedicated right-of-way and physical separation from vehicular traffic.”
“Finally by removing the need for westbound travelers to cross midblock at the Obern Trail, yield compliance issues would be mitigated for some users.”
“The replacement of the westbound bike lane with the path on the same side as the Obern Trail will ameliorate the problem of visibility and poor driver yield compliance.”
These quotes clearly inducate that the westbound Class II bike lane on the north side of Modoc Road would be removed, thus eliminating the need for bikers to make a dangerous turn left across eastbound traffic onto the Obern Trail at the West Encore Dr intersection, as they must do now.
“By adapting an existing right-of-way, the County will be able to minimize costs, freeing up resources for improvements in other areas of the transportation system, while maximizing the use of an already established route.”
This very clearly states that the Class I MUP would use an existing County right-of-way.
“The Project design incorporates the new facility within the existing right-of-way by realigning the geometrics of the roadway through narrowing traffic lanes and reducing shoulder width. Implementation of the project will allow the County to gain experience with innovative buffer and pavement marking treatments.”
This clearly states again that the new Class I MUP would use the existing County right-of-way.
In summary, we ask the County to stick to the original project description in the ATP grant application and build Phase II of the Modoc Road Class I MUP using an existing County right-of-way by replacing the Class II bike lanes with a more safe and attractive separated path, suitable for people of all ages and abilities. Specifically, noting the replacement of the westbound Class II bike lane (north side of Modoc Road) with the path on the same side as the Obern Trail, which will ameliorate the problem of visibility and poor driver yield compliance. By adapting an existing right-of-way, the County will be able to minimize costs, freeing up resources for improvements in other areas of the transportation system, while maximizing the use of an already established route.
Unless County Public Works and the Board of Supervisors work together to take quick action to change its current direction, the County is headed for legal entanglements with the Land Trust that could lead to delays in obtaining the easements required for Alignment B. Any further delays could cause the County to miss the February 2023 ATP grant allocation deadline which would derail Phase II of this project.
I respectfully implore County Public Works to consider re-convening the Board of Supervisors to ask their approval on Alignment A with the caveat that the Class II bike lanes would be REPLACED not AUGMENTED, and all trees along Modoc Rd will be spared.
Shelly Cobb is a CAMP volunteer.