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Lower Milpas Street Sidewalk Project Encounters Pushback from Neighbors, Businesses

Plan for missing sidewalks is aimed at improving beach access, but objectives include more noise and increased presence of homeless

Pedestrians walk in the street in front of Tri-County Produce, one of the Lower Milpas Street locations Santa Barbara has identified as needing sidewalks.
Pedestrians walk in the street in front of Tri-County Produce, one of the Lower Milpas Street locations Santa Barbara has identified as needing sidewalks. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The City of Santa Barbara wants to build sidewalks connecting Lower Milpas Street to Cabrillo Boulevard, but some people say the walkways would attract homeless people and negatively affect quality of life and business operations in the neighborhood.

Santa Barbara has proposed the project to improve pedestrian access leading to the beach. The $1 million project is funded by an Active Transportation Program Grant.

Most of Milpas Street has sidewalks, but the walkways are missing south of the Union Pacific railroad tracks on the east side of Milpas Street, from in front of Tri-County Produce, 335 S. Milpas St., all the way to the Santa Barbara Inn, which is under construction at the corner of Milpas and East Cabrillo Boulevard.

The parking spaces in front of Tri-County Produce would be eliminated and relocated to a lot next to the grocery store. Tri-County Produce, which has its own plans for a redesign, supports the city proposal.

The project includes 10 new light poles, a center median island near the railroad tracks, and curb and gutter improvements.

The city also wants to install sidewalks along Calle Puerto Vallarta, from Milpas Street to Dwight Murphy Park and the Santa Barbara Zoo on Los Niños Drive.

“I think it is unsafe to put a pedestrian walkway crossing a bunch of residential driveways and a couple of commercial driveways, especially when you add in the homeless factor to it,” said Alex Jones, who lives on Lower Milpas Street with his wife and 17-month-old son.

“They are not paying attention when they are walking down the sidewalk, like a normal person most of the time,” Jones said.

The yards and frontage of the residences and businesses extend all the way to the curb, into the city right-of-way along that side of Milpas Street. The city wants to create a sidewalk that is inset from the curb, nearly 12 feet into the area the homes and businesses currently use as yards.

Paul Gifford​, manager of Blue Sands Motel at 421 S. Milpas St., also spoke against the project.

A German tourist walks in the street because there are no sidewalks on a stretch of Lower Milpas Street, a block from the beach. Click to view larger
A German tourist walks in the street because there are no sidewalks on a stretch of Lower Milpas Street, a block from the beach. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

“The sidewalk is going to intrude 11.5 feet in,” Gifford said. “Obviously it is going to be a big detraction from the property.

“We are also going to have a lot of noise and people walking back and forth on the sidewalk (in front of guest rooms).”

Gifford said pedestrians should just use the sidewalk across the street, next to the Cabrillo Ball Field.

“Right now everyone uses the other side of the street because that is where the sidewalk is,” he said. “You can see how it is going to destroy the feel of the neighborhood.”

Jonathan Robert Gonzalez, who owns a home on Milpas Street, said his quality of life is impaired daily by homeless people who hang out in the area.

“The last block of Milpas Street basically serves as a highway for homeless people or people from Casa Esperanza to go to the beach at night,” he said.

Gonzalez said he has observed homeless people sleeping in a bush in front of his house, and a sidewalk will further hurt his quality of life. 

“This missing link of sidewalk is missing for a reason,” Gonzalez said. “It will encourage the homeless and other folks who are sketchy to walk on the residential side of the street rather than the other side of the street.”

The city’s Architectural Board of Review looked at the project recently and raised concerns about the proposed sidewalk from Calle Puerta Vallarta. They instructed city officials to meet with the neighbors and identify a solution to area concerns.

The project will come back to the board sometime next year.

Because there’s already a sidewalk on the Cabrillo Ball Field side of the street, ABR member Thiep Cung suggested, pedestrians should use that side instead of the residential side. Building a new sidewalk in front of the homes won’t be an improvement, he said.

“I have my doubts that it would be any better than we currently have,”​ Cung said.

Civil engineer Erik Goodall said the connection to the beach is an important one.

“At the moment Milpas Street is a fairly complete street until you get to this section of Milpas, where we have missing sections of sidewalk and the bike lane just disappears,”​ ​Goodall said.

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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