Santa Barbara on Tuesday agreed to spend $1.2 million as part of its continued restoration of Arroyo Burro Open Space.
The city’s Arroyo Burro Open Space Restoration and Trail Improvement Project will improve drainage, create formal trail routes and include the installation of a pedestrian bridge over Arroyo Burro Creek in the Arroyo Burro Open Space leading to Las Positas Road across the street from Elings Park.
It’s part of a years-long effort to restore the site at the end of Alan Road in the Los Positas Valley.
“I love this,” Councilwoman Meagan Harmon said. “This project accomplishes so many of our goals as a city.”
Harmon said the restoration of the site creates access to open space, improves water quality and prioritizes the city’s natural habitat.
“These are all things that we have very clearly spoken with one voice about the need to prioritize,” said Harmon, who noted that as the city pursues more housing opportunities, it also needs to seek restoration opportunities.
Developer Mark Lee had considered building luxury mansions at the site. He dubbed the project “Veronica Meadows.”
Lee agreed to spend millions of dollars of his own money to restore Arroyo Burro Creek, as a way to make the project more palatable to the city and neighbors of the site.
Lee first met massive opposition from residents of Alan Road, which feeds into the property. The residents didn’t want any increase in traffic in their neighborhood.
As a compromise, Lee proposed a different entrance to the property from Las Positas Road. To provide a road to the site, however, Lee needed to build a bridge over Arroyo Burro Creek, a move that angered environmentalists and open space advocates.
The city, in a partnership with The Trust for Public Land, then purchased the site from former owner Lee for $4 million. The money came from $2.7 million in Measure B creeks funds, a $500,000 grant from the California Natural Resources Agency’s Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation Program, a $500,000 California State Coastal Conservancy grant and $300,000 from Santa Barbara County’s Coastal Resources Enhancement Fund.
The city awarded the $1.2 million contract to Lash Construction.
The bridge over Arroyo Burro Creek will connect to the city’s multiuse pathway, which is under construction. The project also calls for restoration of vegetation and drainage, formalized trail routes and the planting of 2,600 native plants.
In addition to the main construction grant, the city agreed to spend $124,000 on landscaping, $108,000 for design consultants and $51,000 for construction management.
Construction is expected to start in May and end by September, with final landscaping completed by November.
“We’re looking at improved water quality, as well as our creeks, which feed out to our ocean,” Councilman Eric Friedman said. “This improves the wildlife habitat so our wildlife has that transitional corridor. It is just a tremendous effort.”
Youth Safety Improvements
Interim Police Chief Bernard Melekian spoke to the City Council on Tuesday, calling for the city to focus on intervention and prevention rather than arrests and enforcement.
Melekian outlined a three-pronged strategy of prevention, intervention and enforcement. He talked about the importance of partnering with the community to provide after-school programs and alternatives for young people to do, instead of just “hanging out.”
“For the longest time, law enforcement saw its role solely as to solve the crime and arrest the perpetrator,” Melekian said. “But it is very clear that this is no longer enough.”
The council heard presentations from the Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department, the Santa Barbara Unified School District, the South Coast Youth Safety Partnership and the Santa Barbara County Teen Network.
“One of the challenges for all of us is to redefine the notion of safety,” Melekian said. “The challenge for the police department, and for all of us, is not to make arrests, but to make those arrests unnecessary.”
Melekian opened his presentation mentioning the Jan. 3 shooting deaths of Angel Castillo, 17, and Omar Montiel-Hernandez, 18, on the Eastside. On March 29, 23-year-old Jesus Espinoza-Maldonado of Oxnard was also shot and killed on the Eastside.
“This year has been a tragic one in terms of the impact of violence on young people,” Melekian said. “In terms of deaths or injuries, of violence, particularly youth violence, was treated like a disease, the Centers for Disease Control would declare it a public health emergency.”
Several speakers called for a focus of resources on prevention, and not arrests and enforcement.
“I agree with the police chief, in part, that for some in the community we need to redefine safety,” said Gabe Escobedo, who is also a city planning commissioner. “For others, we don’t have safety. It is about recognizing that there are too many in our community who do not feel safe. Housing is not just about physical harms. Housing is safety. Food security is safety. Community is safety. Policing is not. For many, policing is trauma.”
Councilwoman Alejandra Gutierrez said she is very passionate about the issue.
“I come from a background of education,” Gutierrez said. “I was born and raised in this community. I just want to urge city staff and my colleagues that when it comes down to budgeting, and different areas of the budget that are going to affect children and youth, their lives are at stake. These are the children who are the future of the city.”
Gutierrez said the council needs to hold people accountable.
“For every death that happens in the streets of this city, not just my district, I take responsibility,” Gutierrez said. “We’re all in this together.”
‘Hero Pay’ for Grocery Workers
The City Council will consider an urgency ordinance May 18 to consider “hero pay” for grocery workers. City Attorney Ariel Calonne will draft a proposal that would require grocery store owners to pay employees an additional $5 per hour, on top of their normal hourly wage, for up to 60 days.
If employers have already paid that amount, they would get a credit; if they paid less, they would pay the difference.
The ordinance would apply to companies with 300 employees or more nationwide, or 50 locally. The actual details need to be worked out in the proposed ordinance.
The proposed ordinance was brought forward by Councilwoman Harmon and Councilman Oscar Gutierrez.
“We have all in the city come to realize in the last year, if we didn’t understand it already, just how deeply we rely on these workers,” Harmon said. “These front-line workers can’t work remotely. They had to put their own safety, and through their work, the safety of their own families on the line everyday. They had to show up, in person, day after day, and they had to do so at the absolute worst of the pandemic to keep our stores open.”