More than a decade in the making, the San Jose Creek Improvement Project is under way after Thursday’s celebratory groundbreaking ceremony.
The creek has long been troublesome for Old Town Goleta and formerly meandered through the center of town before Caltrans realigned the creek to run parallel with Highway 217 when it was built in the 1960s.
The city learned over time, however, that the creek wasn’t big enough for the amount of water that came rushing in after heavy rains.
“It’s just not large enough to pass the flows that come through,” said Steve Wagner, Goleta’s director of Community Services.
The area saw particularly heavy flooding in the late 1990s. Click here to view some of the photos of the flooding.
When Goleta became a city in 2002, it inherited the project from the county’s purview. The Goleta City Council voted in June to award contracts for the project.
As part of the improvements, the creek’s channel will be made wider to increase capacity. The bottom of the creek will also be fashioned to mimic a natural creek bottom, and fish passages will be installed to allow steelhead trout to pass through to the ocean, which they were able to do before Caltrans rerouted the creek.
The first phase of the project will cost $22 million, with that funding coming from the city, the Santa Barbara County Flood Control District, the California Department of Fish & Game, the Department of Water Resources, Proposition 84 monies and the Goleta Valley Land Trust.
Funding for the second part of the project, which will include replacing the Hollister Avenue bridge across the creek, will come from the Highway Bridge Program.
Starting south and moving north, work will begin on the creek near the drive-in theater and continue to just south of the Hollister Avenue bridge. The Blue Ox Commercial Center will bookend the project’s north point, and continue along Kellogg Avenue.
It’s the largest capital project in the city’s history, according to Mayor Margaret Connell.
“With this project done, it’s going to be a great day for Old Town,” she said.
Had Redevelopment Agency funding been a large part of the project’s finances, Connell said it would have been much harder to proceed. But the city was able to sell bonds, keeping funding for the project safe, she said.
RDA funding is in question at the state level, and the state Supreme Court is expected to hear the case Thursday. It will decide whether lawmakers can eliminate redevelopment agencies or whether local agencies have a right to keep the tax money.
Capps said 200 parcels lining the creek will be out of the floodplain when the project is completed, which will mean insurance savings for those owners. She also commended the city for its design to enable steelhead trout to pass through.
“Restoration is what we want to accomplish here,” Capps said.
Wolf said the flooding in the 1990s spanned back to her term on the school board. District leaders had to coordinate with children and families to call off school during the flooding, and “it was a big deal for this community,” she said. “This is a great moment for the county and city.”