A roundabout at the San Ysidro Road and North Jameson Lane intersection in Montecito would replace the existing four-way stop sign-controlled intersection.
A roundabout at the San Ysidro Road and North Jameson Lane intersection in Montecito would replace the existing stop signs. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

After an all-day video hearing on Wednesday, the Montecito Planning Commission gave unanimous approval to continue discussions about a proposed roundabout at the San Ysidro Road and North Jameson Lane intersection.

The vote came after nearly six hours of testimony, including presentations from county staff, public comments on the proposal and questions by planning commissioners.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to deliberate the future of Montecito’s San Ysidro Road and North Jameson Lane intersection at a meeting on May 20. The commissioners will be asked for approval to move the project forward.

“We haven’t asked all of the questions, but we are close,” chairwoman Donna Senauer said.

Before the staff presentation, planning commissioner Charles Newman described the roundabout project as “likely the most important and most controversial that has come before us.”

The planning commissioners focused their questions on seven issue areas — traffic circulation and level of service, safety, landscaping, lighting, signage, compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act and construction impacts.

Pedestrian safety is “paramount,” Senauer said.

The roundabout would replace the existing four-way stop sign-controlled intersection.

An overview of the proposed roundabout project.

An overview of the proposed roundabout project. (Contributed graphic)

The one-lane roundabout traffic circle would encompass the Highway 101 entrance and exit ramps. It’s needed as mitigation for the massive Highway 101 widening project.

County project planner Nicole Lieu said the “proposed roundabout would improve the intersection level of service, thereby improving traffic flow and reducing delay for vehicles, and also provide improvements for pedestrian circulation.”

The San Ysidro roundabout is identified in the 2017 Highway 101 project description as a mitigation project — among other traffic improvements — for intersection impacts as a result of the highway widening, said Chris Sneddon, deputy director of transportation for the Public Works Department

Another roundabout is planned at the intersection of Coast Village Road, Olive Mill Road and North Jameson Lane.

Sneddon said the San Ysidro roundabout has two key goals — address traffic congestion and include a recreation of the neighborhood-lane feel.

The roundabout will be designed to help alleviate the “increased onslaught of traffic,” he said.

The project area has received failing ratings because of the delays for drivers and high volume of traffic, according to Sneddon.

The San Ysidro Road and North Jameson Lane intersection received a failing rating during morning and afternoon hours. Montecito’s community plan and the county’s policies call for improvements when an intersection operates below a “C” rating, Sneddon said.

“If you are looking at a grade just like a report card,” Sneddon said, “F is not very good.”

The San Ysidro intersection has been the subject of study for quite some time.

In 1992, Montecito’s community plan recognized the need to improve the San Ysidro Road and Jameson Lane intersection. The level of service at the intersection was “unacceptable” during peak hours, according to county project planners.

Roundabouts reduce the time spent idling at intersections, Sneddon said, and the project in Montecito improves stormwater runoff.

“A question we get sometimes is, ‘Does this particular project help Montecito?’” Sneddon said. “The answer is yes.”

The intersection of San Ysidro Road and North Jameson Lane is heavily clogged at times. Motorists often try alternate residential streets to move around when intersections become overly congested, Sneddon said. The cut-through traffic leads to increased traffic jams on smaller roads.

County project planners want to “keep the traffic on the appropriate level of road that it is traveling on,” Sneddon said.

A few speakers expressed their concern about the project’s potential impacts during the public comment period. With government buildings closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic, residents could comment by phone or email.

Buellton resident Thomas Becker said he wanted an environmental impact report to determine “if reducing vehicle miles traveled can fix whatever problem you have at that intersection. I have been asking this for two years to do an EIR for reducing vehicle miles traveled instead of a construction project.”

In a letter, Montecito resident Laini Millar Melnick said there is worry about the roundabout’s impact on the nature of the historic neighborhood and on the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. She urged the five-member board of commissioners to “reconsider the project in its entirety, and failing that to consider appropriate mitigation measures to address the safety and other neighborhood issues.”

Others expressed their acceptance of the project.

“We want to offer our support,” said Sharon Byrne, executive director of the Montecito Association. “The one request we have … please keep the outreach going with us.”

The San Ysidro Road roundabout project is a partnership between the county Public Works Department, the California Department of Transportation and the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments.

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