Milpas Development to Affect Pedestrian Safety
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: http://tinyurl.com/
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: SBCityCouncil@santabarbaraca.