On Monday, officials from Santa Barbara County and local school districts celebrated the completed pathway-improvement project that weaves through the undeveloped lot adjacent to El Camino Elementary School.
It replaces a dirt path with a paved trail for pedestrians and bicyclists to access shopping areas or the two nearby schools — El Camino in the Goleta Union School District and San Marcos High School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.
When El Camino Principal Liz Barnitz started at that campus two years ago, there was a stabbing in the neighboring vacant property and helicopters circled over the campus.
There have been numerous violent crimes on the undeveloped land known as the Tatum property or Granny’s Field, which is situated between San Simeon Drive and South San Marcos Road on the west and San Simeon Drive behind the Turnpike Center on the east.
In one assault case last year, both nearby schools were briefly put on lockdown.
“It was horrible before,” Barnitz said of the property.
She gave credit to county leaders, including Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf and Public Works Director Scott McGolpin, for getting the project moving.
She also thanked Goleta Police Chief Butch Arnoldi and his deputies for helping clean up the area and address the homeless encampments on the property.
The new pathway project originally was going to include lighting, but that was cut out of the final design.
It does have drainage improvements to prevent flooding.
About 10 to 20 percent of El Camino students use the pathway to get to school now, and Barnitz hopes the safety improvements will encourage more students to bike to class.
This project has been two years in the making, and was made possible by a partnership between the county and the Santa Barbara Unified School District, which owns the property.
“It was very easy for us to say yes,” Santa Barbara Unified Superintendent Dave Cash said.
Funding came from Measure A Safe Routes to School money, which was approved by the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments.
The pathway also weaves through an easement allowed by San Marcos Growers, a wholesale nursery.
Santa Barbara Unified is planning to build a senior housing project on the property and selected VinCal Senior Housing LLC/The Towbes Group as the finalist for a developer.
Architect Detty Peikert suggested the senior housing project to the Santa Barbara Unified School District board members in December and they were interested in pursuing the idea.
Housing project have been considered in past studies for the Tatum property, including one that would build homes for school district teachers and employees.