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Environmental Impacts of Ellwood Fire Improvements Project Draw Criticism at Goleta Hearing

Neighbors say Rancho Estates Mobile Home Park's plans to install a fire road along Devereux Creek would degrade sensitive wildlife habitats

A dirt path currently runs along the proposed site of a 20-foot-wide all-weather emergency access road along Goleta’s Devereux Creek. Click to view larger
A dirt path currently runs along the proposed site of a 20-foot-wide all-weather emergency access road along Goleta’s Devereux Creek. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

Some Goleta residents are worried about the environmental impacts of an emergency access road and retaining wall proposed for the Ellwood area, which are part of an emergency access project that was discussed during a public meeting last week.

The Rancho Estates Mobile Home Park Fire Improvements Project aims to provide better fire infrastructure and emergency access to the mobile home park, but critics say it could encroach on wildlife habitats in the Ellwood area.

The project became a condition for approval for a larger mobile home park project that would convert the neighborhood into resident-owned condominiums. It’s a private project that requires city and state approval.

Many residents and wildlife enthusiasts say the fire improvements project would threaten the local environment and its wildlife directly south of the mobile home park, which is located at 7465 Hollister Ave.

The rural public land includes the Coronado Butterfly Preserve and is a key migratory spot for a wide array of birds.

On Wednesday, the City of Goleta held a hearing for residents to comment on the draft environmental impact report, a document that catalogs the detrimental environmental effects of development projects.

The proposal includes, most controversially, a 20-foot-wide all-weather emergency access road along the north side of the east-west Devereux Creek that is just south of the mobile home park, along with a 270-foot-long, three-foot-high retaining wall between the proposed road and the neighborhood.

The project also includes new and replaced fire hydrants, the installation of a 575-foot fire line also on the north side of Devereux Creek, and plans to bring into compliance an unpermitted car wash in the neighborhood.

While the city prepares the environmental study and analyzes the project, it’s the California Coastal Commission that will make the final call on both the project and the proposed condo conversion, which has been in the works for more than a decade.

According to the draft EIR, the greatest environmental impacts of the fire improvements project are encroachments into environmental buffer zones and animal habitats, as well as the loss of some habitat space.

“I think overall there’s a feeling that, for the purposes of fire safety, this proposal seems like overkill,” neighbor Jennifer Smith said.

Most of the nearly 30 attendees spoke during the hearing, and virtually all opposed the project as proposed.

Most favored a project alternative that would provide emergency access from Sea Gull Drive and would require 60 feet of new paved road.

That option is considered the “environmentally superior alternative” — a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)-mandated option that maintains the core goals of the project but limits the most serious environmental impacts.

“I’m worried that (the project) is a slippery slope,” resident Kathy Gaden said. “I feel like we’re always fighting to save Goleta, and I’m tired of feeling like we need to save Goleta. What makes it special is exactly that spot just the way it is.”

The draft EIR vastly underestimates the total number of birds that migrate through the area, resident Brad Hacker said.

“Because of ongoing habitat destruction in Goleta by humans, there are surprisingly few sites left that are used extensively by migrating songbirds,” he asserted.

A few residents wondered why the city would allow a private company to develop public property as a way to garner city approval for another project. Several argued that the access road’s especially close proximity to Devereux Creek violated the mandated environmental setbacks of Goleta’s General Plan.

“We’re taking yet another resource away from our community,” neighbor Sarah Estorga said. “That’s a very important resource, and we’ve already fought once to keep it.”

Though widely preferred by attendees, a couple speakers noted that the “environmentally superior alternative” included the removal of two mobile homes.

Should that option be selected, they said, the city should ensure that it at least assists the affected residents and pay their relocation costs.

Comments on the draft EIR can be submitted until Nov. 21.

Written comments can be emailed to city planner Joe Pearson at [email protected].

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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