Sunday, February 14 , 2016, 11:07 am | Fair 83º

Santa Barbara Council Delays Decision on Taking Over Highway 225

Liability remains a sticking point in negotiations with Caltrans as city leaders err on the side of caution with a go-slow approach to a changeover

The City of Santa Barbara has completed some safety improvements on Highway 225 on the Mesa but would need to purchase the state-owned roadway if it wants to do more.
The City of Santa Barbara has completed some safety improvements on Highway 225 on the Mesa but would need to purchase the state-owned roadway if it wants to do more.  (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk file photo)

By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @magnoli |

The Santa Barbara City Council voted Tuesday night to postpone the issue of taking over control of Highway 225 from Caltrans until later this month, asking city staff to come back with more information about accident rates, pedestrian safety improvement ideas and an analysis of legal liability.

The 4.6-mile highway stretches from the Castillo and Montecito streets intersection around Santa Barbara City College, along Cliff Drive and north on Las Positas Road until it hits Highway 101. To improve pedestrian and vehicle safety, and at the behest of Mesa neighborhood residents, the council is considering taking ownership of the highway from Caltrans.

Caltrans has agreed to keep ownership of the Las Positas Bridge railroad overcrossing and to pay the city for drainage improvements if the transfer goes through, but at Tuesday night’s council meeting, a representative said there is no way the state will take on any liability for the road after it changes hands.

Liability is a sticking point for City Attorney Steve Wiley, who noted that there have been six fatalities in the past five years alone on that stretch of road. The road has double the average accident rate for a state highway.

“It would only take one serious accident to expose the city to tremendous liability,” Wiley said, adding that he wants Caltrans to indemnify the city for five to 10 years, as long as no major design changes occur, but Caltrans refuses to do so.

“Unfortunately, this issue of liability is not negotiable,” Caltrans Deputy District Director Aileen Loe said.

While Caltrans will defend legal claims from incidents during Caltrans’ ownership, even if filed late, she said the city is responsible for defending any legal issues that come up after it takes over.

The city would also take on the costs of maintaining the streets, which was estimated at $367,000 per year, according to Public Works Director Christine Andersen. Caltrans did a $600,000 preventive maintenance project with a five-year lifespan last year, so there would need to be another costly micro-surfacing project in five years, Loe noted.

“If this conversation is about total cost to the taxpayer, we’re your partner you want to keep at the table to maintain the route, because we can do it cost effectively,” she said.

Mesa residents, who have advocated for decades for this transition to go through, asked the City Council to move forward with the project and said the resurfacing and restriping project by Caltrans last year had already made a world of difference. They argued that no pedestrian safety improvements will happen while the state owns the roadway.

Resident Timothy Harding said during the public comment period that there’s no reason to wait for a better economy that may never come, and postponing a decision would jeopardize the lives of more people.

While the majority of the City Council members agreed that owning Highway 225 was the long-term goal, they argued over the process — and timing — of the changeover.

“We’re fighting tooth and nail right now to find money for restoration of some services, paying our employees, looking at the library — I know it’s not the same pots of money, but everything is tight,” Councilwoman Cathy Murillo said. “I’m wondering what can be done to improve safety without relinquishment.”

Councilman Grant House said the liability of the road speaks to the danger, and the only way to make it safer is for the city to take control of it.

He and Mayor Helene Schneider tried to move the project forward Tuesday night, but the other council members weren’t on board.

Councilman Dale Francisco said the council needs to know more about the impacts of restriping on accident rates, a more thorough analysis of the potential legal liability issues, and conceptual ideas from city staff on pedestrian safety improvements that could be done if the city owns the roads.

He said not everything would be, or could be, changed for the better just because of the changeover — there aren’t many crosswalks across Cliff Drive because it’s a wide, heavily trafficked street, not because the state owns the road.

Other council members agreed, urging caution and reiterating that there was no rush to take up the high maintenance costs that would divert resources from other city streets.

City staff members will come back with more information on these issues at a meeting later in May, when the council will again be faced with the choice to move forward, postpone a decision or table the idea.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

» on 05.02.12 @ 01:20 PM

Costs?  Liabilities?  That is what is delaying this decision?

Again, people it is about the overall transportation plan.  The above is nothing more then how much “added” costs, in the long run, will this really insane idea going to cost the taxpayers.  This is the “blue line” and “Bulbout Hell” for the Mesa all tied up in a new ribbon.  (don’t look behind the facade)

What the City is facing is the destruction of a working middle class “core” transportation route.  That is the key…“core.”  Every community and area needs these “core routes.”  They move people and goods/services efficiently.  They provide emergency alternatives to freeways and other core routes if impacted.

The anti’s see civilization collapse related to anything oil.  As far as modern private transportation and the post WWII improved quality of life, they do not care one whit about any of that.  Is that over the top?  Consider the following.

The comprehensive unified transportation plan by anti car groups all over the State of Calif. have imposed these type of street and highway destruction planning to the end of doing away with private vehicle use.  Has 40 years of policy and implementation worked?  Are there more bikes per population then say 1974?  Are there fewer single rider car trips or total cars on the road?  Does public transportation because of the supposed massive shift break even or make money? 

The answer is a resounding NO!

What are the destroyers reaction to this?  You just don’t get it…one more piece of the puzzle and it will all turn into utopia.

They have lost the will of common residents who look at them and shake their head.  Us common folk are looked down upon, and considered 90-IQ’ers.  The anti’s are fortunate they have turned off such a large segment of society they really don’t have any opposition.

The scary thing is supposedly intelligent elected officials are unwilling to acknowledge the failure of close to half a century of policy and implementation.

» on 05.02.12 @ 03:04 PM

Mostly this is about priorities. Given a pile of money, Cliff Drive Reduction plans place dead last in terms of roads that need degradation. Secondly, this road is currently functional and operates beyond adaquate and within the boundries of safe operating standards. Although it could use some improvements for pedistrian right-of-way and bicycle use, there is no doubt that the intention of certain Mesa organizations go beyond the scope of proper planning and even slight towards undue influence.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.


Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.