San Ysidro Road intersection in Montecito
A proposed roundabout for the San Ysidro Road intersection in Montecito remains under review. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

A proposed roundabout at the San Ysidro Road intersection has the Montecito Planning Commission going ’round and ’round again.

During a virtual meeting Wednesday that lasted from morning to sunset, the planning commissioners weren’t quite ready to give final approval on a multiagency project at North Jameson Lane and San Ysidro roads that also would encompass the northbound freeway entrance and exit ramps.

The Montecito Planning Commission voted 4-1, with chairwoman Donna Senauer dissenting, to continue to review the conditions at a special meeting scheduled for June 10. 

At the June virtual meeting, the San Ysidro Road intersection roundabout is expected to be ready for approval with the conditions discussed.

Planning commissioner Charles Newman made the motion this week, and he recommended coming back to look at several conditions at a future date. He said he supported the concept of a roundabout, but only if the current conditions were revised and if some conditions were added.

“Some of the notes I made are handwritten, and I need to type them,” Newman said. “Not all of the conditions I articulated are readily available.” 

Earlier in the day, Newman described the project as “phenomenally complex.”

Senauer urged for a different approach.

“I think staff can — with what has been offered as far as conditions — can incorporate them tonight,” Senauer said. “I would strongly recommend we continue, we take a break, and by 9 p.m. progress to a roll call to a vote on this.”

First vice-chair Bob Kupiec advocated for “taking the diligence to do this right,” and he said it’s prudent to take the necessary time.

“This is the largest project we looked at, and probably the most important project we will look at in a long time,” Kupiec said. “I think we are all generally in agreement we are ready to approve this project to move forward based upon some careful language and robust conditions of approval.”

Wednesday marked a second public hearing on the one-lane roundabout project aimed to create a neighborhood buffer from the freeway and address traffic congestion. 

Last month, the Montecito Planning Commission voted to continue the item after an all-day video hearing that included nearly six hours of testimony, presentations from county staff, public comments on the proposal and several questions by planning commissioners.

To date, the Montecito Planning Commission has spent 15-plus hours in two days on the proposed project.

The intersection has received failing ratings because of the high volume of traffic and delay for drivers, according to project planners. Drivers often try alternate neighborhood streets to travel around the traffic when intersections in Montecito become congested. That leads to increased traffic on smaller roads, project planners said.

The San Ysidro Road roundabout, among other intersection improvement options, is one of many projects identified in the Highway 101 carpool-lane project for the South Coast as a mitigation project for impacts that would occur as a result of widening the highway.

The county is leading the roundabout project, which would feature new landscaping and trees, concrete sidewalks, roadway pavement, pedestrian improvements, lighting, signage, fencing and other design elements.

Some members of the Montecito Planning Commission asked for clarification about the genesis of the project.

In 2019, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors adopted local coastal plan policies requiring a roundabout implementation. It also received approval from the California Coastal Commission. The plan indicated that certain transportation and coastal access improvement projects were required, and it mentioned a roundabout at the San Ysidro Road intersection. In addition, Montecito’s 1992 community plan recognized the need to improve the San Ysidro Road intersection.

On Wednesday, Montecito residents expressed mixed feelings about the proposed project during the public comment period.

In a letter, Montecito resident Mary Smith urged the “commissioners to focus on the semi-rural character of Montecito, something the residents do not want to lose. Please come up with another way to address the traffic congestion that is less ‘invasive’ or do nothing.”

In addition to written statements, members of the public were allowed to comment by Zoom or phoning in.

Montecito Fire Protection District Division Chief Kevin Taylor said the organization had been involved in the design of the San Ysidro Road roundabout project. The project footprint is served by the Montecito Fire Protection District, and the layout of the roundabout will meet access requirements for fire engines.

“Emergency vehicles can safely navigate roundabouts,” Taylor said. “This roundabout clearly meets the design standards that are required for our vehicles.”

The Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition and the Coalition for Sustainable Transportation were stakeholders in the design stage and participated in the discussions focused on the roundabout’s future.

The group of bicycle advocates supported the staff recommendation and finding, said David Landecker, interim director for the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition.

“Some people seem to say there is not a need for this roundabout because there isn’t a lot of traffic at this intersection,” Landecker said. “It’s important to recognize the Highway 101 widening will increase traffic on (Highway) 101 and all of the off-ramps.”

Local planning consultant Laura Bridley expressed support for the project and described the San Ysidro Road roundabout as “a great improvement.”

“This thing has been on the books for many, many years,” Bridley said. “This is for everybody in Montecito, not just the folks that are within a mile of the real estate. This is a capital project — one of the most important in Montecito for probably two decades.”

By the end of the public comment period at 12:45 p.m., Senauer told fellow planning commissioners that “we all are obligated to give this project our diligence.”

The meeting ended shortly after 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.