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Santa Barbara Council to Push Caltrans for Transparency on Bridge Barrier Project

The City Council votes unanimously to send a letter requesting that the agency share all of its information about design alternatives

With a unanimous vote Tuesday, members of the Santa Barbara City Council voted to issue their support for what they believe will foster more transparency for the suicide barrier project for the Cold Spring Canyon Bridge.

Fifty-four suicides have occurred on the bridge, which spans the gap between the South Coast and the Santa Ynez Valley, since it was built in 1963, prompting state and local groups to advocate for a barrier. A judge ruled last July that Caltrans, the agency in charge of the project, had left out information in its environmental documents, which one group said included viable alternatives.

The group, Friends of the Cold Spring Bridge, sued Caltrans over the indiscretion and won, with the new documents being recirculated to the public.

The item approved Tuesday, calling on Caltrans to re-examine the safety net barrier design, was brought forward by Councilmen Dale Francisco and Frank Hotchkiss.

Francisco told the public that he attended the public information meeting held last week by Caltrans and had talked with Wayne Donaldson, who works as the state historic preservation officer.

Francisco said the advantage of horizontal barriers is that they don’t impede views, at comparable cost. Caltrans engineers reported that the net option would put too much weight on the bridge, but they had been reluctant to share that data with anyone. Francisco said that perhaps it was because of homeland security issues, but that he wants the data to be released to Donaldson “so that we can be confident that there has been an objective peer review.”

“I would like another agency independent of Caltrans to review the data,” he said.

Francisco and Hotchkiss asked Mayor Helene Schneider, who serves as the city’s representative to the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, to support the idea before the board and to send a letter of support, recommending that Caltrans share the data.

During public comment, Marc McGinnes of Friends of the Bridge echoed his support of the letter.

“I’ve learned not to take Caltrans’ word for much of anything,” he said. “We want SBCAG to revisit the information it did not have on the safety net alternative. ... We want to deter suicide at this bridge without needlessly defacing it.”

But another speaker took issue with McGinnes’ suggestion, accusing him of delaying the process.

“The hope is to delay it to death. The only place you can get a good view of this bridge is below it, among the crosses,” speaker Anna Campbell said, adding that views would be impeded from that angle if the horizontal barrier were put in.

Francisco insisted the move was not a delaying tactic.

“If there’s no other feasible alternative, that’s reality,” he said.

Councilmen Bendy White and newly sworn-in Randy Rowse said they supported the letter.

“Anything having to do with transparency is a positive,” Rowse said.

Councilman Grant House, who acknowledged it was a difficult topic for him because he has lost loved ones to suicide on the bridge, agreed with asking for the vetting, as long as it wasn’t a delaying tactic and the process would continue to move forward.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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