By Doug Kern
GAVIOTA COAST CONSERVANCY ACTION ALERT!
You’re invited to participate!
WHAT: Board of Supervisors Hearing on GCC’s appeal of Caltrans Gaviota Culvert Project
WHEN: Tuesday September 1, 2020
WHERE: Virtual participation only
CONTACT: Doug Kern, (805) 222-6184; firstname.lastname@example.org
REQUESTED ACTION: Please email the Supervisors at email@example.com, and/or testify remotely at the Board hearing (suggested talking points below). Instructions for virtual participation are listed on the Agenda, which is available at https://santabarbara.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx#current (see page 16, Item 3) along with the hearing materials. Written comments must be submitted by 5pm Monday 8/31 if 1 page or less, or by noon Friday 8/29 if longer than 1 page.
PROJECT OVERVIEW AND KEY ISSUES: Caltrans has requested County approval of a Development Plan, Coastal Development Permit, and Conditional Use Permit, to authorize the replacement of an existing culvert off Highway 101 in the Canada del Barro drainage on park land just east of Gaviota State Beach Park.
The portion of Highway 101 where the Project is proposed has an extraordinary level of wildlife-vehicle conflicts, documented by studies done by Dr. Stratton and others of UCSB’s Cheadle Center for Biodiversity & Ecological Restoration (CCBER) and Dr. Shilling of UC Davis. Caltrans’ own Wildlife Crossings Guidance Manual[i] identifies culvert replacements as an “opportunity to enhance existing rates of crossing and decrease rates of vehicle-animal collisions if the new culverts are larger than the existing culverts and include wildlife ledges, fencing, and vegetation to enhance their use.” However, for the Gaviota Culvert, Caltrans maintains (incorrectly) that there are no wildlife corridors to consider, and has declined to accommodate wildlife crossing in its project, even though they propose habitat restoration that could attract additional wildlife to the area.
Most of the Project site is zoned for recreation and is currently owned and managed by California State Parks. Several public trail segments exist on or adjacent to the Project site including the proposed California Coastal Trail (CCT) primary alignment along the coastal bluff, and an existing trail segment north of 101. As part of the Project, 5 acres of State Park land will be transferred into Caltrans’ jurisdiction for construction and maintenance access, including over 2 acres of the “Gaviota Village” property. The Gaviota Village property was acquired with funding from the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program (CELCP), Santa Barbara County Coastal Resource Enhancement Fund (CREF), and the Goleta Valley Land Trust, and is deed restricted for use as open space, habitat restoration and conservation, and passive recreation including trails. Caltrans has not provided adequate information about the proposed transfer, and has not demonstrated that the Project is authorized on the deed restricted portion. Moreover, Caltrans proposes no recreational amenities or Coastal Trail (CCT) segment to mitigate impacts of the 5-acre loss of state parkland.
The environmental review Caltrans conducted for the Project is clearly inadequate. The County must rely on Caltrans’ Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND), which was prepared and adopted before the Gaviota Coast Plan was fully implemented in the Coastal Zone and without considering its policies. Since the MND’s adoption, new information of substantial importance including the CCBER and UC Davis wildlife studies and Gaviota Village deed restrictions have come to light and necessitate subsequent environmental review. New mitigation measures/conditions are necessary to reduce the recreational impact of the land transfer out of State Parks jurisdiction, to reduce indirect and cumulative impacts to wildlife, and to achieve consistency with the Gaviota Coast Plan. Additionally proposed off-site mitigation in Refugio Creek is adjacent to a Monarch aggregation site which requires evaluation and mitigation. As a Responsible Agency, the County has a duty to ensure that these environmental impacts are adequately addressed before approving the requested permits.
The Planning Commission approved the Gaviota Culvert Project over the objections of GCC and the Coastal Ranches Conservancy (CRC), downplaying the significance of CCBER’s study and glossing over the land transfer issue. GCC and CRC each appealed the Planning Commission’s approval to the Board of Supervisors, and are asking that the Board uphold our appeal, direct subsequent environmental review, and support Project modifications to accommodate wildlife passage under Highway 101 and passive recreational uses.
SUGGESTED TALKING POINTS:
- Caltrans’ Highway 101 facilities have severely impacted Gaviota Coast wildlife including bobcat and deer, which have been recently observed at the mouth of the culvert proposed for removal.
- New expert studies confirm the need to reevaluate the Project’s impacts to wildlife, including whether the proposed habitat restoration activities will attract wildlife and increase wildlife-vehicle collisions.
- The culvert must be redesigned to accommodate wildlife passage as described in Caltrans’ own Wildlife Crossings Guidance Manual.
- Land under the control of State Parks must not be transferred to Caltrans without offsetting mitigation such as provision of a California Coastal Trail (CCT) segment.
- Unless and until State Parks has secured approval to transfer or encumber the Gaviota Village property, the transfer is not permissible and the Project cannot proceed as proposed.
- The Project cannot be approved as proposed due to conflicts with the Gaviota Coast Plan including with recreation policies requiring that existing and proposed trails be preserved and provided for in discretionary development projects, and policies protecting sensitive wildlife and wildlife corridors.
- The GCC and CRC appeals raise serious flaws in the Project design and environmental review, and should be granted.
Thank you for considering this Action Alert and for making your comments to the Board of Supervisors!
With best regards,
Doug Kern, Gaviota Coast Conservancy, Executive Director
[i] Caltrans Wildlife Crossings Guidance Manual: https://roadecology.ucdavis.edu/files/content/projects/CA_Wildlife%20Crossings%20Guidance_Manual.pdf