Op-Ed: Project Disconnect descends upon Old Town

Hollister Ave in Old Town Goleta (Photo: Tom Modugno)

I have worked in Old Town Goleta for over 45 years. The lack of parking in Old Town is a longtime problem that merchants have always had to deal with, but now we face a much more daunting problem caused by the city of Goleta’s poor planning.

Their plan to narrow Hollister to one lane in each direction is a wrong turn that could result in a much more dangerous situation for bikers, pedestrians and merchants. They insist on reminding us that it is just an “Interim Striping Project”, temporarily installed to see if it works. But this multi-million-dollar experiment will take several years. And it will be paid for by the people being used as their lab rats.

Rendering by the City of Goleta

The plan promised to add 14 new parking spaces and safer bike lanes on Hollister through Old Town. We have studied the plan and cannot find any additional parking spaces. We end up with the same amount.

What there will be plenty of are reverse angled parking spaces. Imagine driving down a busy Hollister Avenue, and you see an empty parking space, so you stop, but there’s another car right behind you. So how do you back into the space? And also, what about our friend on his bicycle? He also has to stop and wait because you are blocking the bike lane. All this while you negotiate a backwards diagonal park. Now imagine you’re an eighty-year-old person trying to do this.

An additional safety concern is that center lane that is “reserved for emergency vehicles and deliveries”. What if there is an ambulance trying to save a life, both lanes are bumper to bumper and there’s a beer truck in the center lane? Well, don’t worry, it’s only “interim.”

And then there’s the whole issue of an evacuation route for natural disasters or emergencies. Are we assuming that could never happen?  That seems to be tempting fate.

Traffic on the Fairview Ave overpass (Photo by Tom Modugno)

If you’re thinking you could escape Old Town via Fairview Avenue, here is what that looked like on the first week of construction.

Project Connect Logo with Tagline

To add insult to injury, they are about to implement this experiment while simultaneously undertaking several huge construction projects that will also cause major traffic disruptions.

So how will anyone be able to tell if the interim striping experiment is working or not when the traffic is bumper to bumper from all the construction going on?

All of the “Project Connect” construction hopes to be finished by 2026, so is that when we will finally be able to see if the “Interim Striping” works or not? If this really has to be done, can’t we wait for the construction to be completed before we do this experiment?

Traffic on Hollister Ave in Old Town Goleta (Photo: Tom Modugno)

Construction has just started on a new Hollister Avenue bridge over San Jose Creek and the traffic jams have already begun. Next, they will build two roundabouts on Hollister, one on each side of the 217 highway, and they will soon be working on the Ekwill Street extension that features another roundabout that will dump more traffic out onto Hollister at Kellogg Avenue.

So, what all this means is, guaranteed traffic jams through Old Town for at least the next two or three years. Old Town merchants will dream of the days when they only had a parking problem.

Old Town parking has been a problem for decades. A thriving commercial district and an overcrowded residential area all competing for limited parking. The future will bring much more mandated housing, so common sense says more houses will mean more people and more cars on our roads.

But the “Interim Striping Plan” goes against common sense and reduces the number of cars that can use one of Goleta’s main thoroughfares. While all those cars may not be able to drive down Hollister anymore, they won’t just evaporate. They will still have to get from point A to point B via the highway, Calle Real or Cathedral Oaks. Are any of these options ready for a big increase in traffic?

Cathedral Oaks in Goleta (Photo by Tom Modugno)

Do the people that live on Cathedral Oaks know what’s headed their way?

Old Town Goleta (Photo by Tom Modugno)

Old Town residents trying to get home will bypass the maze of construction and traffic on Hollister and work their way through these very narrow neighborhood backstreets. People that work in Old Town will eventually choose the same backstreet option, some of them frustrated and in a hurry, resulting in a very dangerous situation for Old Town residents of all ages. The Goleta city council is willing to trade all this risk for an experiment, just to see what happens.

A group of concerned citizens recently walked door to door and spoke to some of the Old Town merchants to see how they felt about the “interim” plan. What they learned was that any community outreach the city may have tried to make failed miserably. The majority of Hispanic merchants had no idea about the plan and other merchants had heard something about it, but didn’t know details. All of them agreed, it was a bad idea.

A petition was quickly thrown together and, in a few days, over 50 Old Town merchants signed the petition to stop the plan to restripe Hollister. Interim or not!

Old Town is one of the last affordable places to pursue the American Dream of owning your own business. They’re almost all mom-and-Pop businesses, with very few empty storefronts. The upcoming gridlock may be too much for these small businesses to survive. Many longtime customers will probably choose other options with easier access.

The Chamber of Commerce has never represented the merchants in Old Town Goleta but the Chamber loves this plan. That is a red flag for Old Town businesses. Prolonged traffic jams caused by multiple construction projects and a loss of two lanes could be the Swan Song for Old Town Goleta as we have known it for nearly a century. This could be the legacy of this city council.

Why couldn’t we just add more stoplights and more push button crosswalks to slow cars down? Why can’t the city reach out to property owners to buy or lease more public parking lots? That would be a wiser use of the millions of dollars they plan to use on the interim striping experiment.

One city councilman bragged Project Connect will add new 90-minute timed parking. Does he not know that most of Old Town is already posted with 60-minute parking signs? Much like the speed limit, parking laws rarely get enforced. Why not enact an actual speed and parking enforcement program on the Hollister corridor, enforcing the laws that are already in place?

That same elected official recently wrote that Hollister is full of potholes. He wanted to say that because part of the “Interim Striping Plan” involves scraping off the existing asphalt and replacing it.  We walked up and down looking for those potholes, but they were never located. In fact, Hollister is in very good condition! Why scrape off perfectly good asphalt?

Elsewhere in Goleta is a different story, like La Patera and Covington for one example. Why wouldn’t they repave the Goleta streets that need it instead of scraping perfectly good asphalt off of Hollister?

This is how Hollister looked during the first week of Project Connect, and we still have four lanes of traffic. Can you imagine an emergency evacuation with only two lanes?

Over the decades, the city of Goleta and the Chamber of Commerce have tried to change Old Town time and time again. Over and over, the citizens and merchants have resisted and continued to thrive. Old Town is a community, full of people that love where they live. Of course there are some things that need to be improved, but this plan will create more problems than it fixes.

To quote an Independent article from June of 2022, “Most of the Old Town residents who spoke thought Hollister worked fine and asked to leave it alone.” Those are the people they should be answering to.

Op-Ed’s are written by community members, not representatives of edhat. The views and opinions expressed in Op-Ed articles are those of the author’s.
[Do you have an opinion on something local? Share it with us at info@edhat.com.]


Written by tMo

Tom Modugno is a local business owner, surfer, writer, and community activist. He also runs GoletaHistory.com and GoletaSurfing.com

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    • This is a very well written op-ed that covers many rational explanations of the problems with the re-striping project.
      One additional concern I have is the apparent problem with accessing the reverse angled in parking spaces if you are driving in the lane on the other side of the street. I just don’t see how this will work.

      • The current parallel parking is also hard to access from the opposite side of the street. The solution is to turn around. And there will still be parallel parking on the other side if you really prefer that.

  1. A refresh of Old Town Goleta is well overdue. It’s already slow going and dangerous for cyclists. I’ll trust the traffic engineers over change-resistant locals. I’m happy to eat my words, but I’ll reserve judgement until it’s done.

    • I agree, a refresh of Old Town is definitely well overdue, but I think that there are better options than what has been decided, especially for cyclists. As for the traffic engineers and consultants that the City hired, I only trust them about as far as I can throw them at this point. The data that they presented at the meetings and town halls was full of flaws and was being bent to fit the narrative of the project. I do hope that I can also eat my words in the end, but I do not have a lot of confidence. The sidewalk project is a example of good intentions with poor planning and execution by the City; worked in some areas, but increased danger in most others.

  2. Yeah, their plan will probably screw things up. Vote of ‘no confidence’ on this for me as well. We’d be better off keeping things as they are now than spending a ton of money under this ill-conceived plan. Between this and the disastrous Newsom ‘affordable housing’ mandate, I’d say goodbye to Goleta as we know it. Hello gridlock.

  3. Edhat readers can help the cause by going to the Old Town businesses that have the petition asking the City Council to stop the striping project and sign it. You only need to identify yourselves as an Old Town resident, business owner, employee or customer. Copies of the petition are available at CopyRight Printing, Larry’s Auto, Lazy Eye Shop, Santa Barbara Auto Truck 4X4 Accessory Store, and Santa Cruz Market. You could also email the Mayor and Council Members or call City Hall and leave a message asking that the project be stopped.

    The petition will be presented at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 21st, during the Public Forum. The striping project is due to start a week later, unless the Council can be persuaded to change its mind. The least they could do is delay starting the project until their contractor finishes all the Project Connect work on the roundabouts, the replacement of the Hollister bridge over San Jose Creek, and the Ekwill – Fowler extensions. Why spend $1.1M dollars now to rip up and repave perfectly good asphalt on Hollister between Fairview and Kinman? This asphalt will easily last another 3 years until the Project Connect work is done, after which the striping “pilot project” could begin.

  4. Excellent! Thank you Tom. Both Santa Barbara and Goleta are heading towards disaster.
    It’s almost like our elected leaders and the members of their hand-picked commissions have never driven or shopped in our communities.

  5. Complete chaos and incompetence!

    What needs to happen is the Governor needs to execute an executive order to
    “Stop the housing element mandate”. It is causing the demise of the State of California starting with health and safety, trapping citizens surrounded by high density housing unable to evacuate their communities. Corralling people like cattle in a small area leads to high crime and a drain on the system.
    The Governor also must acknowledge limited resources “ potable water” incapable of “sustaining” the housing element. Long term droughts are here to stay, lasting longer each time with water wars to expand amplified by the housing element

    The Maya are often viewed as a cautionary tale about climate change – this great civilization collapsed due to drought, high density and war.

    We need to replace County BOS for “not protecting the health and safety of their constituents” by not enforcing state law which protects agriculture zoned land or enforcing the Public Resources Codes. Contrary to our BoS, Southern California Cities fought and won against developers. County BoS bowed down to greedy developers threatening builders remedy .

    We do not have a housing shortage. Airbnb’s and VRBOs have caused the housing shortage
    Land lords have moved to profit from Airbnb’s and VBRO’s because the laws for yearly rentals make it difficult for Land Lords to evict squatters.
    Canada is moving to ban Airbnb’s to increase available housing.

    • Furthermore, the current State politicians, yes majority Democrats in office now, could move to remove Builders Remedy from state law, ban owner multiple airbnbs similar to Canada. The Governor could also execute a work around order for Builders remember in the mean time. Also move to ban Airbnbs. This would allow for proper planning without negative health and safety impacts to communities or create high density traffic traps .

      • How these towns are successfully fighting the ‘Airbnb Effect’

        Late last year, New York City made headlines when it all but banned Airbnbs and other short-term rentals within city limits. Since the pandemic, Airbnb had overtaken an estimated 39,000 rental units, hollowing out neighborhoods and causing already-high rents to grow even higher.

        So, in September of 2023, New York City decided to do something about it. A series of bold requirements capped the total number of short-term rentals (STRs) and limited guests to just two at a time. They required STR operators to be primary homeowners — and to be present in the home while hosting. The city also promised to enforce those requirements, a move that would wipe out nearly 90% of active listings at the time.

      • Hi Orv, unfortunately this story is intertwined …the 4000 vehicles from the housing element mandate on Hollister are going to be passing through old town Goleta. Their impact will further congest old town Goleta as well as most of Hollister making evacuations impossible. The Old Town Goleta road stripping is going to further cause a bottle neck with the added vehicles. Furthermore, the mandated housing element is caused by Airbnb’s taking away available housing for workers. The County is fully aware of how many Airbnb’s are in the County as they have been collecting transient taxes for close to a decade. One could say they are responsible for the housing element mandate by permitting Airbnb’s which In turn cause more vehicles to congest Hollister Avenue and run through Old town Goleta. In fact the traffic congestion in general is all about available housing of which Airbnb’s, VRBO’s etc have eliminated for people working in the area. It would appear the elimination of Airbnb’s within City limits like NY has done, would reduce traffic, as the Housing Element mandate and high density housing would not be needed.

      • When one reduces the flow of traffic in Old Town Goleta , while at the same time adding more vehicles from high density housing, you get major traffic congestion with health and safety to follow. It is not realistic to assume high density housing residents will forego the convenience of their own vehicles to drop and pick up kids at school, work shift work, manage sensitive schedules for teachers, hospital workers etc…

  6. You make a lot of good points, but I bet in all of the cars–big SUVs–in your traffic photos there sits only one measly person. Why take a car through old town–ride a bike, and leave the car traffic to those who can bicycle. Better for everyone.

  7. I don’t see how backing into an angle-parking spot will be any worse than trying to back into a parallel parking spot. It also fixes the Old Town problem where, once you’re parallel parked, the curb is so high that your passenger can’t open the door to get out.

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