Modoc Road Trees Saved…For Now
So you ask…
What happened, what have we learned, where are we now…and, where do we go next?
All great questions…;-)
In a nutshell…a cease fire was called on the 48 trees in Alignment A, including the 29 iconic heritage Canary Island Palm Date palms, the County saved their $5.35MM ATP grant money from expiring…
it turns out that was the #1 purpose of the BOS meeting yesterday…and, the battle is now focused back inside the protected Modoc Preserve boundary with Alignment B…
To keep from losing the grant money, they had to check the box that the FMND was approved…(Faulty) MND…which BTW, was a foregone conclusion…it’s on it’s way to Sacramento so that the next tranche of free money ends up in the County coffers…politicians grabbing power and taxpayer money to benefit special interests and their political allies…think pork barrel spending…;-)
Disgustingly, not one MND question was asked by the BOS…zero…zippo…nada…it was that transparent…we witnessed the sausage making in broad daylight!
Despite the dozens of legal, biological (flora & fauna), aesthetic, and historical holes that were punched in it by 3 legally backed comment letters challenging it’s veracity & completeness…errors, omissions, and, obfuscations…along with a letter from CDFW (CA Dept. Fish & Wildlife) biologists raising a host of issues discussed here previously…that were more than enough to cause it’s rejection as a failed informational document alone…
This “fair argument” should have triggered an EIR…a more objective, far more robust environmental review…
It was predetermined ahead of time that they were going to save this “free” grant money (taxpayer dollars) from expiring come hell or high water!
From Das Williams 1st District Supervisor – “I understand you did not want to see this project moved forward and have concerns with the Final Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND), however, adopting that document was critical to ensuring we will receive funding from the state and are able to move on to the design phase.”
The CEQA environmental review process is a sham and often fails to protect wildlife. A paperwork formality bought and paid for by Public Works to make it L@@K like due diligence was done. Signed off on internally with no objective oversight.
In fact, if a project is in the County ROW (right of way) they simply sign off on a “categorical exemption” from environmental review internally, like they did for Phase 1 of this project.
That said, the BOS only voted to allow the process to continue…they did not require a more robust EIR environmental review be conducted before proceeding.
That does not mean that construction of the project is commencing to start and it has made the County vulnerable to litigation, because the MND is so full of holes and the County still limped it to the finish line perpetuating it’s many errors.
Alignment A is on hold. So, all of the non-native tree haters out there, you can put your chainsaws away for now…;-) 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson, who it turns out lived in Santa Barbara where his dad pastored a church, is fond of the row of Canary Island palm trees and suggested that if the County can’t work out an easement for Alignment B, the matter would have to come back to the BOS. 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart agreed and introduced a motion for the matter to return to the board if an Easement is not obtained, while expressing his love of the trees and desire that they not be touched…and, Bob Nelson seconded the motion…so, there is that…
Alignment B is no closer to a reality than it was before the meeting…and, due to the continued lack of respect for both the Land Trust of Santa Barbara County, as well as the owner of the property, La Cumbre Mutual Water Company, regarding the Deed of Conservation Easement, could be even further away. Meredith Hendricks (LTSB Executive Director) and Doug Campbell (LCMWC Board member) spoke on the importance to respect and uphold the Deed of Conservation Easement…it is still the law…the letter of the law and the intent of the law…enforced by the top law enforcement officer in California…the State Attorney General…
Very difficult to see a path forward for Alignment B…this is a protected nature preserve…protected from development by a Deed of Conservation Easement Agreement…no roads…no structures…no degradation of soil…no alteration of topography…no manipulation of watercourses…etc…
Here is an informed legal opinion…
“The Land Trust Is Required to Enforce the Conservation Easement in Accordance with its Terms As the grantee of this Conservation Easement, the Land Trust is charged with enforcing its terms, conditions, and restrictions. This enforcement obligation is codified at Civil Code sections 815–816, which created conservation easements. In addition, the Corporations Code applicable to California nonprofit public benefit corporations requires the Land Trust to prevent loss of or injury to its charitable assets. The Land Trust’s interests in real property, including conservation easements, are assets of the Land Trust. The Land Trust’s obligation to appropriately steward its charitable assets is enforced by the California Attorney General through its Charitable Trusts Section.
Failure of the Land Trust to competently manage its charitable assets could result in penalties or even loss of its state status as a nonprofit charitable corporation. This obligation is also a requirement of being a land trust accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, and the Land Trust is required to enforce each of its conservation easements in accordance with each of their terms. The Land Trust has adopted a written policy and developed written procedures for documenting and responding to potential conservation easement violations, is obligated to investigate potential violations in a timely manner and promptly document all actions taken, and must involve legal counsel as appropriate to the severity of the violation and the nature of the proposed resolution (Land Trust Alliance Standards and Practices, Standard 11.C) Section 8 of the Conservation Easement states that if there is a threatened violation, the Land Trust may resort to a lawsuit, including an injunction to stop the violation.
The Land Trust will be entitled to damages and recovery of its attorneys’ fees and costs both under the Conservation Easement Section 8 and under California Civil Code section 815.7. Section 815.7 also permits the Land Trust to not only recover the costs to restore any harm to the Easement Area and other damages, but also the loss of scenic, aesthetic, and environmental values.”
Ted Rhodes from Citizens for Carpinteria Bluffs also spoke of the importance of this Easement as well as ALL open space Easements. If this Easement signed in 1999 (settled law for 23 years) is allowed to be violated, it would set precedent for any other open space Easement to be similarly violated.
How we see it playing out…Greenbelt Alignment…
At 9:00 AM, opening, we were told going in that speakers would be allowed 3 minutes for comment. However, due to the inordinate amount of time spent of agenda items mostly involving cannabis, the time to speak was cut to just 60 seconds. Again, it was clear that money talks…it’s the driver…cannabis is a revenue tax stream for County government. So is writing grants for “free money”. It’s like a leaky machine running on a few burnt cylinders…constantly requiring fuel and lubrication…spewing it’s pollution down the road…but, since it’s the sheriff of the small town, nobody can call them on it…;-)
By the time I submitted a printed copy of our 5202 petition signers, (5518 now) and over 200 comments to SAVE MODOC ROAD TREES into the record with the clerk, I had less than 30 seconds to give a 3 minute speech…I tossed the speech and winged it…this is wrong…so, I sent it to all of the BOS and their staff…I will reprint the prepared speech at the bottom of this blog post.
What else did we learn? hmmm…people will say anything to further their agenda.
The Sierra Club is a sham of an environmental organization that advocates eradicating trees based on their immigration status. They go so far as to say that non-native trees basically have zero value.
“It is important to understand the difference between native trees that provide habitat for native species and trees that do (NOT) provide such habitat. Most of the trees that need to be removed have little or no ecosystem importance as habitat. We very much support replacing these invasive non-native trees with trees and other vegetation that can sustain native animal species.”
Vice Chair and Transportation Chair – Sierra Club Santa Barbara Group
Well, it seems like the Sierra Club is an invasive non-native…;-)
They will also perpetuate lies about bike accident stats and obfuscate numbers and locations…etc…fear mongering at it’s worst!
Where does this leave us?
Pretty much in the same place…Alignment B is still not viable…building a 14′ wide asphalt road with concrete retaining walls in a protected nature preserve with a legally binding Deed of Conservation Easement won’t be allowed…no matter if the County photoshops the asphalt
path/ trail/road with a brown earth colored tone…;-)
Alignment A is still not tenable…for OBVIOUS reasons…and, it’s political suicide with Gregg Hart and Bob Nelson both publicly expressing their desire that they not be touched…thanks to ALL 5314 of you petition signers…;-)
That leaves the County with the only obvious solution…the Greenbelt Alignment…or, as we also call it, the Obern Trail extension…we (you & us) have forced the County to move the MUP up onto Modoc Road out of the Modoc Preserve…over half of it…so, now they simply just have to finish the last 3/8 mile along Modoc Road outside of the Preserve and tree line…
The SB County Public Works application for the $5.35MM ATP grant explicitly stated “The project will reduce barriers along the corridor by REPLACING SECTIONS OF CLASS II BIKE LANES WITH A MORE SAFE AND ATTRACTIVE SEPARATED PATH, suitable for people of all ages and abilities.”
Key words: REPLACING THE CLASS II BIKE LANES…
Which is exactly what we have been asking for…Greenbelt Alignment…or, the Obern Trail extension… Building the MUP, up on Modoc Road, which is what the County asked for in the first place and is currently designed for the western half of the MUP. So, just like the 4.5 mile Obern Trail from Modoc Road out to Goleta Beach does not have Class II bike lanes running on either side of it…the Modoc Road MUP was never intended to also have Class II bike lanes…this is right up on the top of the application and was used to sell the $5.35MM ATP grant to CalTrans in Sacramento…
In a jaw dropping moment, the County Deputy Transportation Supervisor couldn’t answer Madame Chair’s question as to how long the bike path network is that they are trying to “bridge the gap” for…
Multiple shouts rang out from his friends in the various bike coalitions…he finally answered “15-20 miles”…WHAT THE WHAT?!?! Again, obvious that this grant money was L@@King for a project…
There is no gap…the Class II bike lanes on this 3/4 mile long stretch of Modoc Road are provably wide and safe…stop trying to include the eastern stretches of Modoc Road that go through high density housing to the westside of the city of Santa Barbara…also, on what planet is an accident that happened on the other side of HWY 101 considered near Modoc Road?!?!
They should also start considering trying to get an easement to run a high speed electrically motorized e-bike vehicle commuter path/trail/road along the railroad tracks between Santa Barbara and Goleta like they considered back in 2008. More on this idea later…
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS NOVEMBER 1, 2022 PUBLIC COMMENT (3 MINS)
Madame Chair and honorable members of the Board.
I am here today representing CAMP (Community Assoc. for the Modoc Preserve) and its 5202 supporters, including many nature loving cyclists.
We stand in opposition to the PW Dept.’s “Bridging the Gap” project…which as proposed, is a bridge too far and would open the door for the erosion of open space agreements elsewhere in the County.
A couple of weeks ago, Fish & Wildlife biologists witnessed evidence of woodpeckers storing acorns in ALL 29 historic Canary Island palm trees that could be destroyed along this bucolic section of Modoc Road in Alignment A.
Joining those woodpeckers are 70 other bird species …wildlife like foxes, coyotes, bobcats, and Monarch butterflies which we see all summer long…and, are noticing an uptick in population so far this fall…
Any reasonable person looking at a rendering of the County’s preferred path…which would pave a road through part of a protected nature preserve using over 2300 tons of asphalt and road base, along with 2000’ of 2’-4’ high concrete retaining walls…oops, forgot…there is no 3D rendering…just a simple mockup released the other day…I guess to make Alignment A L@@K as bad as possible…and, Alignment B being depicted with brown dirt colored asphalt…we deserve better than this with the $8MM price tag.
The project, as designed, does not fit within the guidelines of the conservation easement which legally guarantees that this land will be protected forever and in perpetuity. The Land Trust continues to be ignored and disrespected in this process.
The Alignments before you to vote on, are the choice of the lesser of two evils…A (Awful) and B (Bad). Again, we deserve better than this.
It is shameful that the Public Works dangled their alignment B as preferred and are still marketing it to you and the public as viable even though they know better. That is why they are asking you to also vote on Alignment A.
Importantly, the destruction of these heritage trees in Alignment A would erase a piece of Santa Barbara history. These trees have a historical connection to Harold S. Chase , developer of Hope Ranch and the surrounding area, 100 years ago…over 2000 acres in all…including Modoc Preserve…fortuitously, he was also the first president of La Cumbre Mutual Water Company back in 1925…the same entity that the County is trying to coerce into an easement with Alignment B.
Please don’t erase this important Santa Barbara history…please help stop the devolving into Tik-Tok time bits where people and things that have come before us don’t matter anymore…lowered expectations resulting in 5 second attention spans and 24 hour news cycles!
Electrically motorized bike vehicles are over half the bikes we see. This project certainly didn’t take them into account.
These tech changes are like that proverbial water under that bridge too far…
Unfortunately, that water under the bridge can’t be tapped into in the 5th year of this drought that scientists say is a megadrought. If that’s not scary enough, Madame Chair even mentioned a giga-drought earlier this morning. Which makes it even more crucial to not cut down vital shade canopy and wildlife habitat because of a tree’s immigration status.
The County’s updated alignments along Modoc Road now have over ½ of the ¾ mile length of this project on the existing asphalt infrastructure outside of the tree line. CAMP’s Greenbelt Alignment…keeps the green belt protecting the Preserve’s wildlife from the ever encroaching urban development overtaking semi-rural areas of Santa Barbara County.
CAMP requests that Public Works finish this up onto Modoc Road as simply an extension of the 4.5 mile Class I Obern Trail MUP…which started as the Atascadero Creek Bikeway…originally proposed by Vie and George Obern in 1967, it was renamed the Obern Trail in 2004 to honor their efforts, and has served our community well.
The Faulty MND has had dozens of holes punched in it…due to it’s lack of veracity and completeness…potentially leaving the County vulnerable to expensive lawsuits.
We have made a fair argument…so, at a minimum, we are asking you to just tap the brakes…adopt a motion to require a full EIR before proceeding.
Vote No on Alignments A and B.
Preserve the Preserve