Land Use Discusses Highways 101 & 192, and Walking Paths
Kirsten Ayars, rep for the Highway 101 widening project, reported on Tuesday at the Montecito Association Land Use and Transportation Committee that recent attempts at deterring the double crested cormorants in the construction area at Sheffield Drive have been negatively affecting neighbors, and that plans have shifted in order to deter the birds while not disrupting nearby residents.
Since 2011, double crested cormorants have seasonally nested along southbound Highway 101 near Sheffield Drive. Biologists have been monitoring the birds and nest counts since 2013. As part of the highway improvements, a bird deterrent and protection plan was created by state and independent biologists focused on the cormorants. The multi-tiered plan began with monitoring, then removal of old nests outside of nesting season when birds were not present, visual deterrents (such as the predator balloons, which are in the trees currently), and auditory deterrents prior to and during nesting season. “The goal is to protect the habitat area in the long term but temporarily encourage birds to find suitable nesting areas outside of the construction zone,” Ayars said.
Ayars said that the auditory deterrent plan, which includes air blasts that go off in the trees, did not initially disrupt nearby residents, but because the birds’ activity in the trees has increased, the air blasts were increased, which began disrupting the neighbors. “We have a very large group of people working on this project. We updated the plan last week and the strategy is to shift the plan to be more dependent on visual and human deterrents,” Ayars said. “The new plan seems to be working, but we have to continue to monitor it.” Drivers and nearby residents can expect to see biologists monitoring the area daily and tree crews rotating visual deterrents. Climbers will also be switching out the use of mylar flash tape for other visual deterrents, including owl silhouettes.
“Our priorities are to build this important project, protect the environment, and be a good neighbor. This is a challenging situation with many variables to consider. We are refocusing our efforts to be a better neighbor and will continue to make sure we are effective. It is also important to keep in mind that if this plan doesn’t work, we could be looking at an additional year of construction and cost to taxpayers up to $10 million,” said Joe Erwin, Highway 101 Corridor Manager at Caltrans District 5.
The Land Use Committee also discussed another Caltrans project, this one on Highway 192. Diane Dostalek of Caltrans reported that this summer, the agency is repaving Highway 192 from Cold Spring Road to Toro Canyon. The plan is to replace two inches of asphalt along the road, which was badly damaged during the 1/9 debris flow. The work will include one-way traffic reversing, and will take place Monday through Thursday, 8 am to 5 pm and Fridays 8 am to 2 pm, for about a month’s worth of work. The project is expected to start in June.
The Committee also discussed the progress of the walking paths in Montecito, which were the topic of some heated social media posts in the last week. MA executive director Sharon Byrne reported that a recent survey of MA members showed that the majority of the survey participants are in favor of the pathways, but have concerns over landscaping and maintenance. “We gleaned a lot of positive information from the survey,” she said. The survey was sent out following last month’s Land Use Committee meeting, when several members of the community voiced concern that the paths, which were built in the County right-of-way and beautified by the Bucket Brigade, looked too much like sidewalks, which is against the Montecito Community Plan. According to several social media posts, some people found the survey to be “elitist” and “anti-trail.”
Abe Powell, founder of the Bucket Brigade and the “Walk Montecito!” campaign, reported that the trails along Hot Springs Road, both the finished area on lower Hot Springs and the upcoming County-led project on upper Hot Springs, will be the last area for formal trails, but that his group of volunteers is continuing to work on “informal trails” to connect local schools including Cold Spring, MUS, Laguna Blanca, Mt. Carmel, and Cleveland. “Our goal is to have a safer and more connected community, in the near future,” Powell said.
Powell said the Bucket Brigade is two weeks out from launching a $2.1M capital campaign for the walking path project, which would earmark $550K for trail maintenance. “Our vision is to create a community where families, schools, and churches are connected to parks, beaches, and businesses within the Montecito community,” Powell said. Dozens of his supporters were on the Land Use Committee Zoom call in support of Powell and his volunteers, who have worked tirelessly in building recent walking paths on North Jameson, Olive Mill, and Hot Springs.
The Montecito Association Board of Directors meets next week, on Tuesday at 4 pm. For more information, visit www.montecitoassociation.org.