Thursday, June 21 , 2018, 5:13 pm | Fair 66º


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In Face of Litigation, Santa Barbara Council Delays Bicycle Master Plan

Santa Barbara's controversial bicycle master plan update has been put on hold after threats of litigation and vocal community opposition.

The City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to take more time before deciding on the plan's most contentious aspect: removing 85 parking spaces on four blocks of Micheltorena Street to create spacious bike lanes.

The matter will now go before the Transportation & Circulation Committee in April, then the Planning Commission.

The council will get an update on the status of the proposal likely this summer. 

"We need to do this right, not right now," Councilman Gregg Hart said. "We need more answers before we move ahead."

The council three weeks ago voted to remove the parking, and was scheduled to formally adopt the plan on Tuesday. But since the vote, residents and business owners on Micheltorena have threatened a lawsuit. 

The council in February approved the bicycle master plan just before midnight after nearly five hours of public comment on both sides of the issue. Hart said the council felt compelled to take a vote, but in retrospect, it probably should have waited.

"It was a really tough meeting," Hart said. 

Tuesday's meeting, however, was decidedly more low-key. The council heard from a handful of speakers before going into closed session to discuss the threat of litigation. When it returned an hour later, the council voted to give the master plan a more extensive review

Critics have contended that the city should have paid for an environmental impact report on the project, rather than just deciding at the staff level that the project was exempt from further review. 

Eight city planners and 10 consultants from Melendrez, a Los Angeles-based planning firm, put together the bicycle master plan, which calls for painting bike lanes and removing 85 parking spaces on both sides of Micheltorena between State and Castillo streets.

The council spent $219,000 for the consultant's work.

The four blocks are just some of the many other changes in the plan update, most of which the City Council agreed unanimously to support. 

Santa Barbara is attempting to “close the gaps” in bicycle lane connections all over the city, including painting green lanes on State and Haley streets, as well as shared bicycle and car lanes on Canon Perdido and Cacique streets.

The total cost of all the projects in the bicycle master plan is about $50 million.

Hart said the city needs to get this right.

"We want to create system that's safer for the bicyclists, and we want to protect the neighborhoods," Hart said. 

Christopher Price, an attorney with Price, Postel & Parma, said the alternative of moving the bicycle lane to Sola Street must be considered.

"We still have very serious CEQA concerns," Price said. "There needs to be some sort of analysis. The analysis is crucial to the decision-making process."

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina 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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