The Multi-Jurisdictional Problem in Montecito – Hammond’s Trail
At the Montecito Association, we often work with neighbors on specific issues. Who is responsible for the tree dropping bowling ball-sized pinecones in the street? Who handles the trash at Highway 101 and Hot Springs Road? What do I do if my neighbor’s hedge becomes infested with rats?
These types of questions often require calls to multiple entities to resolve, as there are multiple jurisdictions in operation in Montecito: federal, city, county, and state. Sometimes the answer isn’t one of those, but two or more, and other entities too, as in the case of trail easements. While our good friends at Montecito Trails Foundation lovingly tend to a lot of our local trails, the property may actually belong to the U.S. Forest Service. Parking could be a county easement. It can take a long time to research and lock down just whose responsibility a problem, or portion of it, might be. Sometimes it’s an intersection of a Homeowner’s Association, the County, private foundations, the railroad, and other partners.
Let me introduce you to the Hammond’s Trail area problems. It started with homeless encampments along the trail perpendicular to the beach access trail. Residents at Montecito Shores, Bonnymede, and Sea Meadow were experiencing trespassing and break-ins by homeless individuals living along the tracks. I used to do a lot of homeless outreach on Milpas, so I decided to try the same tactic here in Montecito. We hiked in from Eucalyptus Lane, and the neighbors were right – there was a crew back there. Here’s the trail area (notice the vacation rental nearby):
To get there, you go down the railroad tracks, and up a steep incline to the trail that runs along the backside of the residences, parallel to the track. For the first trip, I took Marcos Olivarez, the first man I moved indoors from homelessness off Milpas back in 2015. He knew the area, having camped here, and who we might be likely to run into. Here’s some of what we found.
We met seven individuals living back there, and documented a lot of trash and fire hazards. Partnering with the Behavioral Wellness Department of Santa Barbara County, I went out to do more outreach, and we offered shelter and services. Some in the camps agreed to come indoors, which is great. The homeowners at the three complexes adjacent to the tracks were super partners in assisting with this issue. Sea Meadow fenced off Eucalyptus trees on their property that were a fire hazard, and indeed we found propane tanks and heaters under them on our first outreach trip. Neighbors from Montecito Shores, Sea Meadow, and Bonnymede hiked there with us to see it and do outreach. We advised them to get more defensive about their properties. But we still had a problem with the trail that led from the track area to the open meadow at Hammond’s. People were using it to camp in the meadow, light bonfires, and they were leaving a lot of trash at the trailhead entrance to the meadow.
We had seen a presentation at the Montecito Association on a restoration project at Hammond’s Meadow by Pat Saley, a good friend to Montecito on many fronts. The meadow is in poor condition, and there is no signage that tells you what you’re looking at: a vacant field, someone’s yard, a County park, etc. An active restoration project could disrupt traffic in the area that’s not treating it with respect.
We also wondered who “owned” the trail and meadow? Who is responsible for maintaining it? There’s a ton of graffiti along the trail, and the brush needs some maintenance. That led us into research on a tangled web of court decisions granting easements for the Surfrider’s Foundation. But responsibility for maintenance is falling to homeowners, County Parks and Recreation, and the Montecito Fire Department, who worked to stop the beach bonfires, along with the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office. Thanks to some great neighbors, who took a lot of time and effort to research ownership, we know Sea Meadow empties the garbage cans, the County “owns” the trail and meadow, but the homeowners whose back fence abuts the trail are responsible for clearing graffiti.
We have a homeless outreach project starting up called Hands Across Montecito because we have a problem, and the only thing I’ve ever seen that works to get people indoors is outreach. It will take a lot of hands reaching across Montecito to be successful. Part of what’s created the staging ground for this problem is years of history of certain arrangements that worked fine at one time, but conditions have changed during the pandemic, so we now have to adapt. Tracking down all the responsible parties and just what they’re responsible for takes a lot of effort. I’m super appreciative of the neighbors adjacent to Hammond’s for stepping up so much to take on responsibility, become incredible neighborhood watchers, and even going out to do outreach with us along the tracks and trails. It truly takes a village.