Tuesday’s meeting of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors was packed with members of the community who supported or opposed construction of the Modoc Road multi-use path.
There were 53 people who spoke during public comment, and the project has inspired passionate protests and advocacy by people on all sides.
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve the project and authorize Public Works to advertise for construction bids and pursue negotiations with property owners for right-of-way easements to build the trail.
If the county can’t get access to the properties needed for the preferred trail route (owned by La Cumbre Mutual Water Co. and The Land Trust for Santa Barbara County), the project will come back to the supervisors to talk about another trail design.
The “Alignment B” design that the supervisors supported would remove fewer trees, require fewer retaining walls and overall “create a better user experience,” according to the county. It was the route preferred by members of the public who commented during the meeting.
Supervisor Gregg Hart said the “trees and trails” motto of bike path project supporters was appropriate, since it’s important to protect the Modoc preserve and create critical infrastructure.
Those who supported construction of the multi-use path argued that it would be safer for pedestrians and bicyclists and connect the area to other bike paths and trails.
“I think the most important thing is we really believe that this project can help serve the goals of the conservation easement as well,” said Autumn Brook, a project supporter who has lived along the Obern Trail for about 30 years. “So there are some unfulfilled goals right now. One of them is to have access for all because right now it’s just able-bodied pedestrians and horses.”
Modoc Road residents and others urged the board to protect the undeveloped preserve area and avoid cutting down trees to build the path.
Lisa Sands said there are rules governing a preserve, and the iconic 140-year-old Canary Island palm trees along Modoc Road are iconic.
While some people asked the county to choose Alignment B, others urged the supervisors to avoid the project altogether so no trees would be removed from the area.
On Saturday, around 30 project protesters gathered near the Modoc preserve to oppose trees being cut down for the project. An online petition to save the Modoc Road trees has more than 5,000 signatures.
The project will build an off-road, multi-use path along Modoc Road between the existing Obern Trail (which runs from the Santa Barbara area to Goleta) and Santa Barbara’s multi-use path along Modoc Road and Las Positas Road.
Managing editor Giana Magnoli contributed reporting to this article.