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Tuesday, December 18 , 2018, 10:26 am | Partly Cloudy 61º


Santa Barbara Maneuvers for Control of Cliff Drive, But Caltrans Has Failed to Yield

Safety, maintenance and cost concerns are at the forefront as the City Council votes to continue negotiating with the state agency

At best, Cliff Drive is inconvenient for pedestrians to cross on foot. At worst, it’s a terrifying experience, according to some of the Mesa residents who spoke during Tuesday’s Santa Barbara City Council meeting.

Any hyperbole aside, the stretch of road residents are concerned about is actually a state highway, owned and maintained by Caltrans, that winds through a heavily populated area.

Nearly five miles of roadway make up Highway 225. The span owned by the state begins at Montecito and Castillo streets on Santa Barbara’s Lower Westside and snakes around SBCC, blending into Cliff Drive and ending where Las Positas Road meets Highway 101.

The city has been working for several years to come to terms with Caltrans to purchase the span of road, bringing it back into local jurisdiction, but the two sides are at odds. Caltrans’ mission is to focus on traffic movement, with less priority on pedestrians and neighborhoods. The city wants to see more improvements in line with the surrounding community.

The biggest hurdle is cost. Caltrans has offered the city $1 million to assume control of the road, but the city believes that amount is about $300,000 short of what’s needed. An additional $355,000 per year also would be needed to fund ongoing maintenance.

One speaker Tuesday said he had personally witnessed two deaths on the road, and others told of close calls. Still others spoke to a general quality of life that’s affected by speeding vehicles driving through. That liability has given pause to the city attorney’s office, which is suggesting the city work out an agreement in which the state would indemnify the city if any accidents occur.

“You basically have a highway bisecting the Mesa,” resident Tom Ochsner said. “Cliff Drive, as a neighborhood street, needs a lot of help.”

Ochsner’s 15-year-old daughter, Natalie, also spoke to the council, saying she would be driving soon and would like to see the road become safer for those in the area.

The talk even brought our Mesa resident and former Councilwoman Iya Falcone. She reminded the council that the Mesa area is huge and is used by a “tremendous amount of people.” She encouraged the council to reclaim local control of the road, and that shelving the project would be a “huge disappointment.”

As a matter of policy, most of the city leaders agreed that the road should be brought into the city’s street system. Cost remained an issue, however.

Councilman Dale Francisco said that although it makes sense to bring the street into the city’s jurisdiction, the roads the city already maintains are underfunded as they are.

“We frankly don’t have the money to do this,” he said, adding that he was puzzled at why the state wouldn’t make it easier for the city to take control.

Councilman Frank Hotchkiss said the city should negotiate a better deal, even walk away from the table if that’s what it takes for the state to come around.

“It’s just good public policy to get local control,” said Mayor Helene Schneider, adding that the city should ask for help from Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara. The former councilman has offered to do what he can to can to smooth the transaction.

The council voted 5-2 to proceed, with Hotchkiss and Councilwoman Michael Self dissenting. They’ll be moving forward with the process, but will be working on indemnification terms with the state, as well as exploring whether the state may come down in price for the stretch of road. It’s a process that could take years, but staff will move ahead with talks to the state agency.

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. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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