What Happened to Our Sound Wall (Like Other Communities Have)?

By Montecito Journal   |   March 21, 2023

Last year, our own Montecito Association did its diligent best to inform us of the final plan for Caltrans’ highway widening project. Many of us thought further study would be forthcoming, particularly updated FEMA maps (which are now in process). In December 2022, Santa Barbara County Planning Commission approved the project as is.

The final project (1) eliminates all sound walls intended to mitigate noise levels and emissions pollution of the two new freeway lanes; and (2) omits some freeway redesign that would correct existing flaws. 

Informed residents note freeway “choke points” at our four major creeks that flow under the freeway on their route to the ocean. (Oak, San Ysidro, Romero Cyn., and Montecito.) All four have swelled with mud and debris in heavy rains in the past 50 years. During extremely heavy rains, they say these choke points force the creeks to overflow their banks, negating their effectiveness as drainage channels, and subjecting our community to known risks of freeway closures and creek and culvert jam-ups. 

Fortunately, two fleet-footed Montecito residents filed separate appeals of the decision, providing a second chance for the community to weigh in. The appeals will be heard Tuesday, April 4, 2023, before Das Williams and his fellow SB County Supervisors. [Contact info below.]

Here are some points neighbors are making in support of the appeals:

1. With similar topography and as part of the same 2018 Recovery Map, Carpinteria negotiated six new bridges and six retrofitted/new drainage culverts, along with sound walls for its residential areas – these improvements are a model for what Montecito should expect from the project.

2. It is well documented that sound walls reduce noise and emissions pollution, both of which are hazards to health.

3. Sound walls were designed to be gapped at the creeks and drainage channels, and so are unlikely to cause added flood waters as predicted by SBC Flood Control.

4. In 2012-2013, sound walls were completed at northbound 101 and Sycamore Creek Bridge, an area that appears to be lower than many sections of the Montecito corridor. These sound walls are not known to have resulted in added flood damage to this area.

5. Why pursue an all-or-nothing policy? If there are defined areas along the Hwy 101 corridor that have flooded on multiple occasions over multiple years, then postpone sound wall installation within 20 feet of that location. According to long-term residents, more than 50 percent of the stretch from Hixon Road/North Jameson northward to Olive Mill Road/North Jameson has never flooded. Why not build sound walls now, for those sections along the North Jameson corridor (less than a half-mile long) that have never flooded?

6. If the decision on sound walls is not reversed, Montecito’s approximately 2-mile corridor will be the only residential stretch in 40 freeway miles without sound walls.

7. As reported in the Montecito Journal (March 2), FEMA is currently updating its flood mapping for our area; and the County is working on a feasibility study to look at potential projects on San Ysidro Creek. Shouldn’t the findings that form the basis for Caltrans’ project reflect current, updated information before going forward? If the new FEMA maps will be ready later this year, isn’t it a better use of funds and manpower to wait than to rush to perform extensive work on Hwy 101 in this proposed, yet deficient way? It has been 67 years since Caltrans last did significant work on this stretch of freeway (the current four-lane layout and concrete were opened in 1956.)

8. SBC’s Montecito Planning Commission recommended that Caltrans shall include sound walls in their funding request, and the project be designed and constructed such that future sound walls can be accommodated as new FEMA maps are available, and flood improvements added to reduce flooding at the freeway. If no possible alternative or partial solutions to these significant health and safety issues are available, then at least require Caltrans’ written commitment to these recommendations. 

[Letters: Clerk, Board of Supervisors, 105 E. Anapamu St., Room 407, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, cc: Das Williams 805-568-2186; and cc: Sharon Byrne, Executive Director, Montecito Association, P.O. Box 5278, SB, CA 93150; Contact: Chris Schmuckal to schedule a 2-minute public comment. (805) 568-3510; cschmuckal@countyofsb.org.]

Kia McInerny, Montecito resident

A Bear’s Bar and Grill

Carlos, The Bear, having awakened from his hibernation slumber was grazing the internet dating sites for a frisky mate, when he got tired of scrolling the endless photos of she-bears caught on trail cameras and dreaming up good introductory lines. After turning off his device, he went to his lazy bear chair, turned on his reading light and picked up the MJs that had been delivered to him while he was asleep for the last few months.

He took each issue and in turn flipped to [Richard] Mineards’ Miscellany.

Carlos knew Richard’s column would be a good place to start for keeping up on all the happenings in The Cito, so he started there. It wasn’t long before he found something that caught his eye, making his snout twitch and eyes get wide. It seems Ellen DeGeneres might be interested in being part of The Bistro’s comeback.

It appears that Ellen was seen taking a tour of the facility a few weeks ago. No one is sure of why she was there, but Carlos perked up at the news, because he missed The Bistro. It had been Montecito’s “Living Room” for a very long time, as far back as Carlos could remember. His mother used to tell him stories about it, and how, during different iterations and different names, it had been a gathering place for locals of all ilks to relax, converse, and obtain libation. Ellen must know that famed comedian, Jonathan Winters, used to hang there, in his day.

“Come on!”, Carlos growled. “It’s been too long, now is the time for whoever is planning on resurrecting that little corner of The Cito we could rely on to be open when we needed it, had good food and drink with a community atmosphere where folks could just be.”

We need a Bear’s Bar and Grill.

Michael Edwards, Montecito


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