Until the Cold Spring Canyon Bridge barrier project goes through another period of public review, construction remains on hold. Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderle didn’t elaborate Tuesday on his tentative ruling, which denied Caltrans’ request to continue construction while it complies with the California Environmental Quality Act.
Friends of the Bridge, a group that sued Caltrans over CEQA processes, was victorious in a July 13 ruling in which Anderle told Caltrans to recirculate certain environmental documents again, as it had not properly done so the first time around.
Tuesday’s hearing further directed Caltrans to recirculate — including public noticing, meetings and a public comment period — sections of the environmental impact report in order to comply with CEQA.
Caltrans representative Ankush Agarwal asked Anderle to clarify exactly what to recirculate and what should be done with the project site in the meantime, as Caltrans worries about future legal challenges from the Friends of the Bridge and the group’s lawyer, Marc Chytilo, but the judge refused.
“I have done the very best I could,” he said. “I’m not going to give you any more than I’ve given.”
After the brief hearing, Caltrans public information officer Jim Shivers said he was unsure what the ruling’s effects will be on the project cost or site. Caltrans has received many requests to take down the bright orange plastic fencing, but that was not brought up in court, he said.
The contractors, who worked on drilling holes for the barrier during a brief period before the case went to court, are on standby.
The project is “still worthy of the time and worthy of the effort,” he said. “We’re fully committed to getting this project to construction.”
Chytilo and Friends of the Bridge member Marc McGinnes celebrated the ruling, embracing outside of the courtroom and saying that continuing construction without CEQA compliance would have been inappropriate.
“We want Caltrans to get it right,” Chytilo said.
Chytilo said he and the petitioners believe that the case requires a robust public participation process in order to fulfill the CEQA process, and if Caltrans takes shortcuts, it does so at its own peril.
“Absolutely they know we’ll be watching,” he said.
From here, Caltrans will submit paperwork to the court once it fulfills its recirculation requirements explaining how it has complied. Then, the petitioners can object to it or not, and the court consequently will issue a ruling on the matter.
Anderle reiterated that the court has no authority in discussing whether a barrier should be erected, and said he cannot — and has not — read any materials from the public concerning the case.
— Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.