Could Four Old Sycamores Save Mission Canyon Bridge?

Could Four Old Sycamores Save Mission Canyon Bridge? title=
Sycamore trees on the west side of the Mission Canyon Bridge, looking north, c. 1909 | Credit: Neal Graffy
Reads 3861

This story was originally published by the Santa Barbara Independent and is reproduced here in partnership with Edhat.

By Tyler Hayden of The Independent

In a bold and creative gambit to save the 130-year-old Mission Canyon Bridge from demolition, a group of neighborhood residents is nominating as historic landmarks four adjacent sycamore trees that would likely be removed during the construction. 

The mature trees ― two on the east side of the bridge, and two on the left ― are between 45 and 65 feet tall and three to four feet in diameter. Based on physical inspections and comparisons to photographs of the early days of nearby Old Mission Santa Barbara, an arborist estimated they are approximately a century old.

Not only are the four trees the most significant and established trees abutting the bridge, the Coalition to Preserve Mission Canyon argues in their application, they are “character-defining” features of the Mission Canyon corridor; culturally significant to the Chumash, who occupied a nearby village and used sycamores to craft cookware; and important parts of the creek’s sensitive riparian habitat.

“This area has evolved naturally for the last 200 years,” said Coalition chair and lifelong canyon resident Lanny Ebenstein in reference to what the group calls its “unique rural ambiance” that would be lost if the corridor were to be redesigned and reconstructed in the name of traffic flow and safety, as city planners and an opposing camp of advocates is proposing. “We need to get into the attitude of saving and preserving instead of demolishing and replacing,” Ebenstein said.

As opposed to widening and rebuilding the bridge at a cost of at least $11 million in grant money ― 10-15 percent of which the city would need to cover ― the Coalition is suggesting Santa Barbara spend a fraction of that amount on low-impact improvements, such as paving, signage, and restriping, to address what it admits are needed updates to the roadway infrastructure. They say the work could be done for around $100,000 without sacrificing the route’s scenery and natural landscape.

The Coalition also takes issue with the suggestion that the area is patently dangerous for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Collision data doesn’t back up that claim, they say, and the driving force behind the bridge replacement is a perceived ― not actual ― lack of safety. The current configuration and relative narrowness of the roadway forces users to pay attention and slow down, which is a good thing, they say. Widening the bridge would increase speeds and risks. 

Moreover, the Coalition argues, the low-end rating Caltrans has given the bridge ― 52 out of 100 ― is not based solely on its structural integrity. The figure takes into account its “functional obsolescence,” meaning it doesn’t technically meet modern roadway standards for turning radii and approach alignments but remains a viable structure. The actual physical issues of the bridge ― rust on the supports, a hole in the underside concrete ― can and should be addressed without tearing the whole thing down, they insist.

During a press conference this Tuesday in front of Rocky Nook Park — during which a passing walker and a biker separately raised their fists and shouted their support to “save the bridge!” — Coalition member and former county supervisor Frank Frost recalled an adage he and his colleagues often used on the dais. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said. “That saved us a lot of money.”

Login to add Comments


Show Comments
Byzantium Jun 18, 2021 03:10 PM
Could Four Old Sycamores Save Mission Canyon Bridge?

Save the historic telephone pole! They want to take that down too, right near the entrance to Rocky Nook Park where it has long historically blighted the Mission Canyon's bucolic views. Is nothing sacred?

Babycakes Jun 18, 2021 03:18 PM
Could Four Old Sycamores Save Mission Canyon Bridge?

I sure hope that if/when they end up cutting these trees down, that the wood will be sold off or donated. You can make some amazing things with sycamore wood, as the Chumash did back in the day. I'd love to get my hands on some to have some matching bowls made, and maybe a large serving tray. Not sure who would do that locally, although I have some very good connections in Montana for bowl turning.

FollowingScienc... Jun 19, 2021 09:21 AM
Could Four Old Sycamores Save Mission Canyon Bridge?

BRAVO for this Coalition!

I sincerely hope that they have better success with CalTrans/DOT than we are in North County as regards the historic stone bridge over Alamo Pintado Creek in Los Olivos.

History, character, cultural significance and riparian habitat *should* count for everything, especially in these times. Sadly most times they do not. Powers that be really DO want to “pave paradise”.

a-1624124557 Jun 19, 2021 10:42 AM
Could Four Old Sycamores Save Mission Canyon Bridge?

Isn't referring to this proposed project as "demolition" of the bridge intentionally inaccurate to garner opposition from those that don't look into the details? From all of the plans I have looked at the project would be more accurately described as safety and pedestrian access renovations.

grloustalot Jun 19, 2021 10:57 AM
Could Four Old Sycamores Save Mission Canyon Bridge?

This is my neighborhood. I strongly feel that the City is off track on this. Drive it , walk it . You will see a historic section of town that sets us apart from every other over developed area around us. What is the matter with you planner types ? Don’t you have something better to be working on?

Byzantium Jun 19, 2021 11:29 AM
Could Four Old Sycamores Save Mission Canyon Bridge?

This section slated for pedestrian and roadway improvements is not "anyone's neighborhood". It is a small connector link with no houses are present. None. The level of exaggerated opposition for the relatively few minor changes, with a very strong emphasis on the project's historic preservation goals sounds suspicious. What else is going on? This bridge sector improvement simply are not in anyone's immediate neighborhood. But it does link large numbers o canyon and hillside residents so it does serves as one of their few evacuation routes out of these canyon and hillside areas into the downtown and main transportation corridors. No NIMBY claims for this project because there are none. View the map of the proposed project. If this opposition group demands "historic", then put back in the narrow one lane, high hump-backed bridge that was originally there, along with the complete aquaduct arch that would probably block a Sprinter van today. In other words, seal off this entire area and find another way in and out of the Riviera, Mission Canyon, Foothill and Las Canoas area residences

grloustalot Jun 19, 2021 03:21 PM
Could Four Old Sycamores Save Mission Canyon Bridge?

Neiborhood : an area or section of a city.
It certainly is in our neighborhood. I’ve yet to speak with one neighbor who supports the needless gentrification of this historic site.
Find me a native Santa Barbaran who thinks this is a good idea.

RHS Jun 19, 2021 06:14 PM
Could Four Old Sycamores Save Mission Canyon Bridge?

GRLOUIS,,, "gentrification" of this area? What BS. This is already the most "gentrified" place in SB. Do you get the idea that gentrification speaks to the idea that poor neighborhoods are being occupied by affluent people who change the ambience of the area and price out the poor? No. (BTW, I am not a defender of those who protest this essentially positive action.)

grloustalot Jun 20, 2021 11:52 AM
Could Four Old Sycamores Save Mission Canyon Bridge?

Ok, poor choice of words on my part. Substitute modernization for gentrification.
If you can’t think of another local roadway that these funds should be prioritized for , then you are not looking very hard.

Byzantium Jun 20, 2021 04:21 PM
Could Four Old Sycamores Save Mission Canyon Bridge?

State has special funding for historic roadway projects. This one qualifies so it is not taking funds away from other badly needed city or county road improvements. City and county split jurisdiction on this project since the dividing line is right in the middle of this road way. It is a unique challenge, has gone though a lot of public feed back already in its original intent and design and is now in the hands of a special city team to balance public and technical considerations. The process continues, and thanks to the state for this special historic roadway funding so care can be taken in these unique settings other than just plowing down and shoving though a generic, cost-efficient construction response.

Byzantium Jun 19, 2021 04:31 PM
Could Four Old Sycamores Save Mission Canyon Bridge?

12:12: The party owning the house next to the rock wall is very much in favor of rehabilitating this roadway section, since the owner is tired of spending his own money fixing the "historic" rock wall careless drivers keep crashing into. In fact one recent crash was on full display at the very first community meeting with the city held at Rocky Nook Park. Were you at that meeting, 12:12? Or did you fail to participate in any these community feedback events.

Beeezuss Jun 20, 2021 10:39 AM
Could Four Old Sycamores Save Mission Canyon Bridge?

I just don't want any tacky "improvements." What makes the corridor special is that it looks like historic California. Please no rock façade walls, tile mosaics, concrete "gathering areas" etc. Just keep the current look and add some sidewalks.

a-1624217648 Jun 20, 2021 12:34 PM
Could Four Old Sycamores Save Mission Canyon Bridge?

Byzantium. Let's be accurate. The phone poles and rock wall are hit by people driving south from the straight part of Mission Canyon Rd. The bridge alteration does nothing for this problem. Mission Canyon Rd. at Rocky Nook Park will be as wide as the curves are south of the bridge. The look will be similar with lots of trees cut down. What is now 30 feet of pavement becomes 50+'. All the bridge options take apart the bridge and rebuild it wider by 20'. The 30' wide pinch point at W. Mt. Dr. remains because somebody decided these historic resources are "to precious" to get in the way of "safety". If it is not a "safety issues" south of the bridge, it certainly is not one on or north of the bridge.

Byzantium Jun 20, 2021 04:14 PM
Could Four Old Sycamores Save Mission Canyon Bridge?

Keep pedestrian safety, as well as car safety and bike safety in mind when sorting out the offered options. They all will have different considerations in any final plan, which also includes the bridge itself. The point of hiring the city's technical team is fashion best solutions for all three safety considerations, which often at first glance can compete with each other. This is far more than just a "bridge replacement" project and since both bridge and rock wall have been replaced in the past, start with the assumption they will be as historically preserved after any necessary alterations as the structures one loves today. No one is paving over paradise to put in a parking lot. To find the best solution to hide the large sewer pipe is a welcome bonus this project can also offer.

PitMix Jun 21, 2021 12:26 PM
Could Four Old Sycamores Save Mission Canyon Bridge?

Need a speed survey of this section to see if the bridge actually slows people down. My experience is that it doesn't. The thing that works to slow most people down are the stop signs.

Please Login or Register to comment on this.