“Access” was a word that popped up dozens of times at a town-hall style meeting Tuesday night, and is at the heart of Measure Y, which will be going before voters in the City of Santa Barbara on June 5.
That access centers on a bridge that would span a strip of city-owned property — designated as park land — surrounding the banks of Arroyo Burro Creek. The bridge would connect Las Positas Road to 25 homes planned by Mark Lee as part of his Veronica Meadows development.
The project already has been approved by city leaders, but voters must give their OK for the bridge, or the main entrance of the development will have to be routed via Alan Road, a route opposed by residents of the area.
Lee, who has spent 12 years in the development process, reminded the public of the tedious review the project has been subject to. He and Seybold noted that after extensive review, the project already has been approved, and the vote on the bridge is the last hurdle.
Throughout the night, Lee painted a picture of the creek corridor that he said was desperately in need of improvement. After buying a pair of waders, Lee said, he recently trekked through the creek bed, which wasn’t a pristine sight.
“The only sign of humans being in that corridor were bits of toilet paper,” he said.
Noting that the city is strapped for cash, Lee said there will never be enough revenue for all of the city’s improvement projects.
“This is a boon to the city and the community,” he said.
Seybold also spoke in favor of the measure, saying that parking and traffic already are difficult in his neighborhood, and would become more so if Measure Y fails.
“I’m asking you to vote yes to save our neighborhood,” he said.
But others worried that the move would set a dangerous precedent for development on the South Coast. Chytilo raised the prospect of bucolic Parma Park, also rimmed with residential homes, and said that approving Measure Y could open up other areas around the city for development.
He also voiced concerns about piecemeal development of Arroyo Burro Creek’s restoration.
Murillo said that the bridge should not be on public park land, and would have significant negative impacts on the creek, as well as traffic on Las Positas. Murillo said she believed that creek restoration was possible through other funding means, such as Measure B.
If the measure fails, she said, Lee would have to come to seek a new review by the city Planning Commission, which narrowly approved it the first time. At that point, “the housing project goes back to square one,” she said. “We need a project that benefits all of the neighborhoods in Santa Barbara.”
Exactly how far back in the approval process the project would have to go was speculative, but Lee called into question Murillo’s claim.
“I suggest to you that the answers to these kinds of questions are convoluted, and to be taken with a grain of salt,” he told the audience.
But Murillo didn’t buy it.
“Our city attorney did not give a convoluted answer, I assure you,” she told Lee.
Past city officials who had weighed on the project also spoke. Former Mayor Marty Blum, who supports the measure, said that the council worked hard to review the project.
“It was a very thoughtful decision,” she said, adding that the creek would finally be cleaned up if it passed.
But Councilman Bendy White, who served on the Planning Commission when the project was approved, said that he felt it had been a mistake to zone the area to a higher density to allow for more housing.
During a question-and-answer time, one resident asked why Lee continues the project, even after all this time.
“I made a commitment to see it through,” he responded. “It’s not a gift from the city to me. It’s a project that stands on it’s own merit, and is doing more benefit to the city at large than I believe any in this region.”