Land Use Committee Meets
On Tuesday, May 3, the Montecito Association Land Use Committee met via Zoom to further discuss the parking issues at the Hot Springs Trailhead, which we’ve covered extensively over the last several weeks.
On the call were 30 members of the community, including members of the Land Use Committee, as well as representatives from the California Highway Patrol, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, and Montecito Fire District.
Parking woes at the trailhead have come to a head, as four members of the community took legal action against the County last month in response to a proposed parking project near the trailhead. The parking project could add up to 62 parking spots in the public right-of-way in the area, which has become increasingly popular due to the active hot springs and increased exposure on social media sites. There are roughly eight parking spots currently at the trailhead, with dozens of additional cars parking illegally at most times of the day.
The County’s plan includes notifying homeowners in the area to remove anything that may be impeding parking in the right-of-way, such as boulders, landscaping, and even homemade “No Parking” signs. Homeowners contend that the hundreds of cars that frequent the area on any given day are blocking driveways, blocking emergency vehicle access, and are being parked in such a way that causes safety issues for pedestrians and other vehicles. In addition, neighbors say that they’ve seen people go up the trail with firewood and camping stoves, and stay on the trail overnight, which is prohibited and could create a fire hazard.
California Highway Patrol Lieutenant Michael Logie reported that his agency has issued over 400 citations and towed 30 cars so far this year. “While I can’t get into the politics of it, I can tell you that our function is to make sure the community is safe,” he said, adding that one of his concerns includes the lack of signage in the area. “In my opinion, adding more parking spots may exacerbate the issue,” he said. Sheriff Lieutenant Butch Arnoldi reported that deputies are actively walking the trail and monitoring the hot springs, but can only do so when staffing availability allows. He added that his deputies are also actively writing citations for cars parked after dark.
Former Land Use Committee Chair and current Montecito Water District Director Cori Hayman, speaking as a private citizen, said that in the past several months there have been many more cars, people, campers, and even reports of nude bathers in the pools at the break of dawn. Hayman, who lives nearby, made the point that many of her neighbors, herself included, are “woefully underinsured for fire.” “The fire danger is a real risk to our neighborhood,” she said. Hayman cited the Montecito Community Plan and the Montecito Land Use and Development Code as guides on how to develop Montecito with respect to its semi-rural nature. “The whole notion that the County needs the right-of-way for parking is not based on our community plan,” she said, encouraging the Land Use Committee to advocate that the County not add the additional parking spaces.
Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Taylor weighed in, voicing concern about the very real threat of fire and the District’s ability to evacuate areas above Highway 192 during a fire. The District has undertaken an $85,000 study to look at evacuations in Montecito during a wind-driven fire; the study is expected to be presented to the MFPD Board of Directors in June. “The purpose of the study isn’t to evaluate the fire risk, it’s to evaluate our ability to move community members out of the area during a down canyon wind-driven fire,” he said. In addition, a Community Forum will be held on July 7 at Westmont College, in case there are substantial changes to the current evacuation plans that need to be presented to the community.
No one on the Zoom call was in favor of adding additional parking at the trailhead; chair Chad Chase said the meeting was a time for people on both sides of the issue to come forward for a discussion. Suggestions to the ongoing problem were discussed, including adding parking signage, hiring a dedicated deputy to monitor the parking and give citations to people parked illegally, advocating for a management plan of the hot springs, and waiting on the MFPD study before weighing in on a solution. A preliminary injunction on the lawsuit against the County is scheduled for this Friday.
Also at the meeting, reps from the 101 widening project reported that the application to the County is ready to move forward, and the project will be heard for conceptual review by the Montecito Planning Commission on May 18.
A discussion was held regarding the removal of the sound walls from the project, which was announced in February after County Flood Control required project reps to analyze if the sound walls would create a rise in flood waters, based on Recovery Mapping; it was determined that the proposed sound walls would create a rise in flood waters. Since then, there have been differing opinions on the sound walls, with some residents happy they are gone for aesthetic reasons, and some unhappy that the sound mitigation the walls would have provided is now gone. “We also studied staggered walls, and walls with floodgates, and it is proving to be infeasible to have walls without creating a rise in flood water,” Ayars said.
The sound walls were not required as a sound mitigation measure as part of the project’s Environmental Impact Report. Noise in the area is expected to increase up to three decibels, with an average dishwasher creating 80 decibels, according to Ayars. Other sound attenuating measures were built into the project, including a continually reinforced concrete pavement surface, which has a longer lifespan than typical asphalt, offering a reduction in noise over the length of its lifespan. The pavement is jointed differently, under the lane lines rather than horizontally, which helps mitigate sound as tires make contact with the pavement. Sound walls in other areas of the highway widening have also been removed, including in Summerland, where they were removed due to visual impact.
A discussion ensued regarding the visual blithe of the coated chain link fence that will act as a barrier between the freeway and the surface streets. Ayars said a number of plantings will be included in the project, and there is a plant establishment period that will call for the replacement of plants if they die off right away. A more decorative fencing option is prohibited, as certain objects cannot be used on the freeway because they can become objects that can impale a vehicle during a collision. “We’ll keep talking about decorative options, but there are some pretty significant limitations,” she said. “Any decorative fencing would have to have the same water flow capacity of the chain link fence.”
The project will be in front of the Montecito Planning Commission later this month.