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De la Vina-State Intersection at Crossroads; Y Is the Question

Architectural Board of Review weighs in on proposal to replace veer with stoplight as debate goes round in circles.

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The city of Santa Barbara is considering a proposal to end the “free right turn” currently enjoyed by motorists veering onto De la Vina Street from State Street in San Roque. (Rob Kuznia photo / Noozhawk)

A Santa Barbara proposal to tear down and significantly alter the decades-old “Y” intersection at De la Vina and State streets for safety reasons received mixed reviews Monday from both the public and the

Architectural Board of Review

.

The two biggest changes would include making motorists come to a halt via stoplight when veering right onto De la Vina from State, and removing an island of vegetation from the center of the Y.

Ultimately, in a strange 3-2 vote, the board members said, in essence, that although they didn’t particularly like the city’s $750,000 proposal, they would live with it, if they must. (The City Council will review the board’s recommendation when it takes up the matter June 24.)

In particular, board members Monday said they were disappointed about the idea of losing the vegetation island — which includes a 40-year-old cedar tree — especially in light of the added stoplights, asphalt and other unsightly features of the San Roque-area project.

In its vote, the board directed city staff to study other ways to complete the project without losing the island.

“I do not believe it is aesthetically pleasing to the public,” said board member Gary Mosel, who voted against the measure. “I think we’re moving backward.”

City staff members insisted the island must be eliminated if the city is to end the practice of allowing motorists to turn right to De la Vina from State without stopping. As it is, city staff members say, the intersection is dangerous to pedestrians crossing De la Vina to get to and from places like Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on one side of the street, and Trader Joe’s on the other.

About 15 residents spoke to the board. Opponents — who made up a slim majority of Monday’s speakers and who have

launched a Web site to promote their side — tended to be neighbors and car defenders, such as the group, Cars are Basic

. Supporters tended to be pedestrian and bicycle advocates.

Marla Hemingway said she has lived in the San Roque neighborhood for three decades.

“I have yet to even observe an accident,” she said of the intersection. “I am opposed to this project.”

Roger Manasse tried to make the case that some of the city’s key numbers were wrong. Specifically, he pointed to a city report saying that while motorists turning right onto De la Vina need a 250-foot line of vision before stopping at 35 mph, the current intersection affords them only 150 feet. Not so, said Manasse, who claimed the actual length is more like 260 feet.

“In other words, you have 10 feet to spare,” he said.

(A city staff member later reiterated the city’s contention.)

Supporters included Santa Barbara resident Keith Kie, a bicyclist.

“As a resident who has been living there, it is very, very dangerous,” he said. “I have had many close calls, not only as a pedestrian but as a bicyclist.”

Also in support was pedestrian advocate Eva Inbar, vice president of the

Coalition for Sustainable Transportation

.

“It’s going to be much safer for the bicyclists going straight across State Street, the pedestrians trying to cross at Samarkand (Drive), and motorists as well,” she said. “It’s a triple benefit.”

Several months ago, the Architectural Board of Review had opposed the project on the grounds that it did not see the need for the new stoplight for motorists turning right onto De la Vina. But city staff members said the board was speaking outside its jurisdiction, because the board’s purview is meant to include only matters of design, and not matters pertaining to traffic flow.

On Monday, it was clear that the directive constrained the board’s efforts to discuss the topic.

Two times, board members made motions that died for lack of a second. At one point, a board member suggested a wordy motion expressing support of the landscaping aspect of the project, but listing concerns about the loss of the island and other matters. At another, Mosel suggested rejecting the city’s proposal outright.

Board member Clay Aurell tried to articulate the reason for the frustration.

“(City staff) simply didn’t address the ABR’s concerns,” he said. “They simply commented on why our concerns weren’t valid.”

Voting for the motion that ultimately passed were Christopher Manson-Hing, Dawn Sherry and Mark Wienke. Voting against it were Mosel and Jim Blakeley. Aurell abstained.

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