Friday, October 19 , 2018, 7:44 am | Fair 49º


Local Developments Prepare for Possible El Niño Downpours — Just in Case

Projects in Santa Barbara, Goleta trying to work ahead to lessen impacts of what some predict could be record rainfall

The first phase of the Hollister Village project in Goleta opened this month, with the final phase on track for completion in January. The developers say the project is prepared for potentially strong El Niño rainfall this winter with all of its streets and roofs finished and a complex series of storm drains installed. Click to view larger
The first phase of the Hollister Village project in Goleta opened this month, with the final phase on track for completion in January. The developers say the project is prepared for potentially strong El Niño rainfall this winter with all of its streets and roofs finished and a complex series of storm drains installed. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

That stack of plywood on a construction site might look benign, but it wouldn’t be nearly as harmless if a winter storm came along and lodged it into the mouth of a creek bed.

It would be nice to see some of the heavier-than-normal El Niño rains forecasters are predicting during California’s ongoing drought, although developers don’t want to find stagnant rainwater on a project site — a monitoring issue that could cost thousands of dollars to fix.

In spite of all the speculation, there’s no guarantee that Santa Barbara County will see record rainfall this winter, which is why developers of local projects are rushing to get work done ahead of the storm.

Santa Barbara and Goleta officials are also planning for the worst.

The wettest conditions could come January through March, according to the National Weather Service, which forecasts a 95 percent chance of a stronger than normal rainy season.

“For everybody, but especially the construction industry, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in schedule and forget the risks when the storms come in,” Andrew Stuffler, the City of Santa Barbara’s chief building official, told Noozhawk.

“We want rain, but maybe not that much all at once.”

Much of storm and water pollution preparedness is common sense, Stuffler said, but when city officials see a storm coming in —especially if a construction site is in a floodplain or has drainage issues — they go out the day before to warn developers to keep an eye on any loose debris.

Santa Barbara is especially cognizant of work going on along Lower State Street, smack in the middle of a floodplain and historically vulnerable to high tides during a storm.

The city is trying to finish up its Cabrillo Bridge replacement project near Stearns Wharf while the nearby La Entrada hotel and retail project, which will occupy three corners of Lower State Street, is scrambling to complete portions of its underground parking structure.

Those two projects, along with the neighboring Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation, are all supposed to be complete — or mostly finished, anyway — by the end of 2016.

To remain on target, bridge replacement crews have gotten permission from the city to extend working hours beyond the typical 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., which required notifying surrounding hotels and businesses.

“Their goal is they’re taking it really seriously,” Stuffler said of the bridge replacement project over flood-prone Mission Creek. “They want to be out of the creek for the winter. They’re really looking at their schedules and progressing everything they can.

“Down there, the strategies are prepare. Get sandbags. Flooding in general isn’t very deep, but it’s wide. The worst is usually when we’ve got the holes in the ground.”

La Entrada is a “holes-in-the-ground” project, meaning it hasn’t yet completed subterranean plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems under its buildings.

If all goes to plan, Stuffler said, construction should move above ground before January.

Construction of the Wolf Museum, which broke ground last fall, is above ground, but Stuffler said contractors would have to worry about strong winds and proper bracings.

Someone should also be on site during a rain event to monitor progress, he said, with an emergency generator around just in case.

While not in a floodplain, the developers of Goleta’s Hollister Village mixed-use project went all out last year to prepare for rain, hoping to stem runoff issues by installing a half-mile-long pipe system under the project’s parking lot to hold and then slowly release 1 million gallons of water.

The first phase of 40 units at Hollister Village opened to residents Oct. 15, with all 266 residential units and a shopping center at 7000 Hollister Ave. expected to be done in January, said Ally Ellison with project developer Westar Associates.

“All of our roads are paved, storm drain inlets are installed, all building roofs are on, and we have plans and materials in place to handle storm water,” she said. “We do not believe our construction schedule will be impacted by possible El Niño rains. We believe our project is cutting edge for the Goleta Valley when it comes to storm water treatment and capacity.

“We look forward to being open for business and serving the community and our new residents soon.”

Goleta has a myriad of residential and commercial projects in the works, but none of the developments currently under construction have formally asked to extend the normal hours crews can work.

Pete Kruse, project manager of the 138-room Hilton Garden Inn construction at the corner of Hollister Avenue and Storke Road, is about to break that ice.

He hopes the city will let crews work on Saturdays in addition to weekdays to beat the storms and to finish on time in September.

“We take it very seriously,” Kruse said, noting storm procedures in place.

The civil engineer on the project, Robert Schmidt, said an erosion control plan was already compiled to check soil before and after a storm. Beyond that, crews are working to get storm drainage systems and hard services in before January.

Valerie Kushnerov, a City of Goleta spokeswoman, said the director of planning and environmental review would have to sign off on extending construction hours.

Other Goleta projects set for (or already under) construction include Village at Los Carneros, The Hideaway, Cortona ApartmentsCabrillo Business Park and Old Town Village, which the City Council approved earlier this month.

Meanwhile, at Fairview Avenue and Highway 101, Caltrans aims to complete drainage project facilities to handle winter rains by early 2017, agency spokesman Jim Shivers said.

Another highly anticipated South Coast project, the Miramar Beach Resort & Bungalows in Montecito, doesn’t have any solid timeframes for construction or winter storm preparations, according to Liz Jaeger, spokeswoman for developer Caruso Affiliated.

Earlier this year when the project was still seeking approval — it has since been renamed Rosewood Miramar Beach Montecito — developers said construction would begin sometime in 2016 with the resort opening in spring 2018.

Montecito Country Club, which this month closed its golf course for major renovations, has a contingency plan in place that gets water-catching basins and drainage in place first — sometime between November and January, said Bill Medel of Ty Warner Hotels & Resorts.

Barring any delays, that new golf course and renovated clubhouse are supposed to be ready in early 2017.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff 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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