Milpas Development to Affect Pedestrian Safety

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Milpas Development to Affect Pedestrian Safety
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By Anna Marie Gott

There’s a difference between lip service and putting your money where your mouth is. Getting kids to school safely is something most people can rally behind. At the same time, we are not as safe as we’d like to be. Why? In 2016 California’s Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) ranked the City of Santa Barbara 2nd highest in fatal or injury-causing bike collisions, as well as collisions involving pedestrians older than 65. 

The project at 711 N Milpas won’t help the situation. The problems with this project run deep, but they all started when City Staff gave away the public right-of-way so a developer could use it as a private entrance to commercial parking spaces. - It was supposed to be used for a pedestrian sidewalk so kids could get to school.  

The 800 block of East Ortega is an entrance to Santa Barbara Junior High School (SBJHS). If residents don’t take a stand Tuesday changes to the street will be made solely to allow a developer to build a larger project and increase his bottom-line.  Others will expect the same changes for their projects. 

An email from a department head at the City said the designee of the Public Works Director authorized the proposed changes to the public street because “the staff recommended plan prevailed as superior for public access and safety.”

 Huh?!?!?! First, these changes would decrease access and safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, particularly younger ones cutting through the street. With sidewalks removed, vehicular traffic rushing to work in the morning, car-pedestrian accidents will increase. Second, under the City's municipal code, only the Public Works Director, not a designee, can alter the public street - and only under specific conditions.

 Those “specific conditions”? Only when the alterations “are made necessary by the conditions of the terrain and the existing improvements contiguous to the property involved.” That means, if it is too steep or impossible to have a sidewalk they won’t put one in. This property has a 70ft sidewalk facing East Ortega. The "terrain" seems to be a few pot holes and a storm drain, which are easily reconfigured. 

So they are changing the street. The changes to the public street include allowing the developer to reconfigure the entire street so 13 commercial parking spaces AND a passenger loading zone are parked in the setback to exit in reverse. In addition, 10 public parking spaces on the other side of the street will exit the same way. Each vehicle will exit backward into the path of a bicyclist exiting or entering a Class II bike lane. The walkway on the project, which will undoubtedly be used by school aged children walking to SBJHS, would end in a passenger loading zone forcing them to walk into a busier street to get to school at the same time residents of the development are rushing to work. 

Other errors occurred during the processing of this project. For instance, in order to receive a parking modification the developer had to show that there would not be a reduction in on street parking or that a commercial loading zone would be needed in the immediate area. The Staff Hearing Officer approved the project despite the fact that Transportation Staff was "giving" the developer a 40ft commercial loading zone on N Milpas, which would reduce on street parking by two spaces just so the developer didn't have to place one on the site as required. This was discussed at the meeting (video here), while the Staff Reports were silent on the parking reduction and commercial loading zone. - Which  would have prevented the parking modification from being granted had this been spelled out.

For more information on the project download the appeal:

There are different standards for the Eastside than other areas of town. Unlike the changes that occurred to Brinkerhoff Avenue in 2011 or the recent changes to Cabrillo Boulevard, which were brought before the City Council, these changes on East Ortega were approved and discussed by City Staff who didn’t have the authority to make them and based upon none of the findings that would be necessary for the Public Works Director to alter the public street exist. So in the dead of night with no public input, and a Board and Commission left in the dark about about the inadequate vetting of this project and the consequential decisions made, Staff gave the "green light" to remove a needed public pedestrian sidewalk to enrich a developer while increasing safety hazards, reducing public parking and ceding public land for private development.

Tuesday the Appeal of 711 N Milpas will be heard by City Council. If you are concerned about the lack of transparency, the health and safety issues involved with these changes, “giving away” a public right-of-way and failure of the City to follow its own ordinances you should attend the meeting and/or send an email to the City Council expressing your concern: [email protected]gov.

Do you have an opinion on something local? Share it with us at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed in Op-Ed articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of edhat.

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NotReallyDave Mar 24, 2019 12:20 PM
Milpas Development to Affect Pedestrian Safety

"failure of the City to follow its own ordinances" is so important to be stated. But remember, the problem stems from individual employees of the City that are the real violators: "City Staff who didn't have the authority". And, "There are different standards for the Eastside than other areas of town" is also true. There is no good representation for the Eastside within City departments or on City Council. We continue to lose.

a-1553473265 Mar 24, 2019 05:21 PM
Milpas Development to Affect Pedestrian Safety

Normally I don't agree with Ms. Gott, however she is dead-on this time. What Public Works did was wrong, they truly did not have the authority to do what they did, and their faulty reasoning is in plain writing (Rob Dayton's email). It would be in bad faith for the City Council to not halt this project and bring the street design back to square 1, it has violated way too many municipal codes at this point. Ms. Gott brings up a lot of good points re: safety. If this is truly a well-used school entrance (I don't know if it is or not), the design pretty much sucks and is dangerous for pedestrians and bicycles (especially young ones) in comparison to existing conditions.

a-1553474936 Mar 24, 2019 05:48 PM
Milpas Development to Affect Pedestrian Safety

But this isn't going to change that nifty "surprise" where the righthand northbound lane suddenly becomes a right-turn-only lane as you approach Cota St., right? I love to watch people scrambling there, trying to get into the left lane. So entertaining, albeit nerve-racking for many.

a-1553535859 Mar 25, 2019 10:44 AM
Milpas Development to Affect Pedestrian Safety

A-1553534118: The City is ruining Eastside Streets with all kinds of "nifty surprises" to endanger pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists. Where's Jason? The City has too much money, too many on payroll, and must create make work projects like the stupid one you reference at Milpas and Cota. Try drivind down Carpenteria between Salinas and Milpas for a head on thanks to the new road work. Gutierrez between APS and Canada is impossible but the City refuses to put up no parking signs. I fear the day when I unintentionally hurt a pedestrian or biker. Cars back up on APS because Gutierrez is impassable. The City Traffic engineers should compete on Amateur Hour.

9310193441 Mar 24, 2019 07:54 PM
Milpas Development to Affect Pedestrian Safety

The City Administrator needs to be fired. Where is the accountability? Where are the adults in the room? The kids have made a mess of this project, the process and broken the trust of residents. This project needs to start back at square one.

a-1553525369 Mar 25, 2019 07:49 AM
Milpas Development to Affect Pedestrian Safety

I wonder where Ms. Gott gets all this free time to study these 'issues' in such detail, or who is paying her to do this? That dead-end is not well laid-out or maintained today, as is the case for many things on the Eastside. The world is not going to end because of this project, though lord knows people sure like to get up in arms over the little stuff around here while things like a major homeless problem with warming fires, deaths on the freeway, and human suffering completely escape their attention.

a-1553539267 Mar 25, 2019 11:41 AM
Milpas Development to Affect Pedestrian Safety

You are a fool if you don't appreciate what Ms. Gott does, regardless of whether you agree with the conclusions she comes to. The government NEEDS to follow their own rules, it's a very slippery slope to corruption. Did you read the appeal report? It is very non-opinionated and focused on facts only.

a-1553526109 Mar 25, 2019 08:01 AM
Milpas Development to Affect Pedestrian Safety

Fantastic article! - It's time to start cleaning house council members and Mayor Murillo! Giving away parking and public land! If this is how your staff runs the city it's no wonder we have so many intractable problems. Parking, homelessness, a failing downtown. It's all interrelated and I'm betting that the city staff isn't helping the problems but tinkering to exacerbate them. More accountability and more oversight of staff is needed now.

Flicka Mar 25, 2019 08:26 AM
Milpas Development to Affect Pedestrian Safety

Criticizing Ms. Gott for taking the time and effort to look into this problem does not make sense at all. Complaining that this is "little stuff" and there are more important (in your mind) issues for her to focus on is not getting the point. Concern for youngsters going to school and their safety is not "little stuff". Thank you Ms. Gott for bringing this into the light of day.

SBWoman Mar 25, 2019 10:24 AM
Milpas Development to Affect Pedestrian Safety

If SB had more committed thorough watchdogs, like Ms. Gott, researching and communicating on topics, elections might go differently. lAnn-Marie Gott teaches civic responsibility and duty by example. While there may be disagreements, and anger from politicians who resent accountability or citizens who differ with Gott's position on a topic, never have I heard any dispute on her accuracy. Ms Gott single handedly has saved our community from bizarre plans - most recently from TINY HOUSES for 45 of our 1000+ homeless at the Carrillo entrance to our City. She got over 250 persons to attend an emergency meeting by distributing notifications to neighbors, texting and emailing, when the City was going to simply push through the project for over $1M to the detriment of many. As a result of Gott's packed meeting at the Louise Lowry Davis Center with standing room only outside, the City was presented with multiple better plans accompanied by hundreds of thousands from generous donors. Another example: there was to be no Candidate Forum in District 3 to replace our Mayor's vacated seat. Gott rallied others, including County residents, who support the democratic electoral process to ensure we sponsored one and put up the required liability insurance. In my observation and experience, collectively we need to demand our wasted Measure C one cent tax funds be diverted into an account to pay citizen watchdogs like Gott, who volunteers her time like in the Pearl Chase days, or recall the Measure C Tax and vote against all future taxes. Thank you Ms Gott. We do not agree on various projects or issues, but I hold you as a local hero and SB treasure. Democracy requires fact gathering to make informed decisions, leadership and communication. You excel in all three.

PitMix Mar 25, 2019 10:28 AM
Milpas Development to Affect Pedestrian Safety

Seems like the system is working pretty well here. The City Staff have come up with a project that may or may not be flawed. The public is appealing and pointing out the flaws. The electeds who are probably only now seeing the project in detail get to vote on the issue. Looks like democracy to me.

420722 Mar 25, 2019 09:45 PM
Milpas Development to Affect Pedestrian Safety

It looks like democracy but when the only people that win every single time are the developers even though the people living in the community say no, that’s a problem.

a-1553536265 Mar 25, 2019 10:51 AM
Milpas Development to Affect Pedestrian Safety

Rep/ Stanford U Attr Dominquez is up for re-election. It's time for accountability on roads, homeless, and more. What are his positions? Why is the Eastside going from bad to worse on lower Milpas? The Eastside remains the City's ignored homeless dumping ground. Is it because of Mayor Murillo high tension and refusal to collaborate? Where's Rep Sneddon? She reps Coast Village Rd and above Salinas. Her husband is Public Works Director. By marriage, she should know something about roads and how to fix problems.

SantaBarbaraObserver Mar 25, 2019 01:04 PM
Milpas Development to Affect Pedestrian Safety

People need to realize this type of stuff is quite normal for our little city. We have complete incompetents in their rolls throughout the ranks at all departments and they have zero accountability or oversight. Ever wonder why the city is always hiring consultants to do the job of the very employees that they're consulting? Sadly, our city is in dire straits due to years of nepotism, incompetence and of course, weak, pandering leaders. We are being fleeced at every chance by the protected public employee unions who continue to steal more of our future and our funds in order to maintain the employment of their 'members'. Ask yourself why we have twice as many city workers as any other comparably populated city in CA? Ask yourself why we keep seeing more and more of the same problems while the city's budget and debt keeps rising, year after year. Remember Murillo campaigned on the promise of assuring all city workers their jobs! Yup. She actually said that... She is not the brightest bulb in the batch and has proven to be incapable of making tough decisions or acting in any way as a strong leader. The solution is to vote them all out and demand change in the ranks. No more consultants. No more studies. Fire the lowest performing employees, ban nepotism and hold every manager accountable for their own budget and their decisions. Make them perform the duties of their job or lose it. You know like the rest of the workforce.

PitMix Mar 25, 2019 01:21 PM
Milpas Development to Affect Pedestrian Safety

Fire everybody! What a great solution. It would be so interesting to know if the people advocating these extreme positions were in real life. But the anonymous internet prevents that. Our loss, I suppose.

a-1553554846 Mar 25, 2019 04:00 PM
Milpas Development to Affect Pedestrian Safety

Residents need show up in large numbers at City Hall tomorrow to stop this government giveaway of public land for private benefit. For those who can't attend tomorrow's meeting they need to call City Hall (1-805-963-0611) and email the Mayor and Councilmembers ([email protected]) with their thoughts. The item is last on the Agenda. So show up after 3:30 and be prepared for a long meeting. City Hall is located at 735 Anacapa St. Council Chambers is on the 2nd floor. - Bring a friend.

VinSB Mar 25, 2019 04:06 PM
Milpas Development to Affect Pedestrian Safety

We all need to wake up and pay attention! ..myself included.

Due to lack of public notice (City not following protocol) I had no idea that this was going on until Anna Marie Gott, and others, pointed it out on public media.
Thank you, Ms. Gott!

Lorax Mar 26, 2019 08:31 AM
Milpas Development to Affect Pedestrian Safety

This is so outrageous and hypocritical ! Thank you for exposing this. Public Works is out of control, did you catch this comment in the article guys, " the designee of the Public Works Director authorized the proposed changes to the public street because “the staff recommended plan prevailed as superior for public access and safety.”
That means it did not go thru City Council so there was not public notice required.
Public Works is out of control! The article also states
"under the City's municipal code, only the Public Works Director, not a designee, can alter the public street - and only under specific conditions. This is of course subject to their interpretation.
This is not the first time the Public Works Director Rebecca Bjorak has made poor decisions that effect the community in a negative way and usually boil down to "follow the money"
The Council is getting allot of heat for public works poor decisions , management and lack of transperencyl In my neck of the woods we have a big mess with them trying to destroy the Historic Mission Creek Bridge and area because they can get an 11 million dollar taxpayer funded grant. This is under the pretext of improving public safety when there have been no fatalities or injury accidents in this area that meets vision zero. Please Help us save the Historic Bridge by signing our petition

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