Saturday, March 9, 2019
When discussing an issue, the temptation to exaggerate in order to make a point or to avoid inconvenient facts is often hard to resist. The result: statements sprinkled with myth information. How much, then, to believe?
Such was the case with the Independent op-ed opposing the Mission Creek Bridge Project. The author writes that "greed" is behind the city and Natural History Museum plans to "replace" the canyon bridge; in the first instance, by getting city hands on $11 million in available grant funds and, in the second case, by increasing visitations to the museum's front door.
Surely, one can argue against the city seeking available grant money to fund a project or point out the Museum's interest in promoting a safer passage to their site. Yet to claim these activities are motivated primarily by greed is a stretch, to say the least. Sometimes individual and community interests coincide.
For years, even decades, both City of Santa Barbara and Natural History Museum officials, not to mention a coalition of concerned canyon residents, neighborhood associations, and long-established area institutions, have expressed concern over the need to improve the canyon's emergency evacuation corridor and address vehicular and pedestrian safety issues — including those on the bridge — while protecting and honoring the canyon's historical assets. That's not greed. These are legitimate concerns.
The author claims, twice in the Independent article, that the project would "replace" the historic bridge. As a longtime area resident, owner of the property abutting the bridge, and member of the Mission Heritage Trail Association, I've been following the bridge and canyon corridor issues for years. I've never heard anyone advocate replacing the bridge. Widening it to include safer bike lanes and to conform to updated standards, yes. Curving or bending part of the "stegosaurus" wall to accommodate a second pedestrian passageway, yes. But replacing the bridge, no.
The fact that the canyon bridge survived the 1925 earthquake intact and that Federal Bridge Inspection Reports found that the bridge was "structurally sound and does not have to be replaced" is cited as evidence for leaving the structure alone. Surviving the 6.5 magnitude earthquake of 1925 is, of course, no guarantee it will survive another, possibly larger one, nearly a century later. A lot of mortar has settled over those years.
The author further writes that both local police and Sheriff's department records "show no deaths or serious accidents on record throughout the corridor." Unmentioned is that over the past decade there have been several major accidents along the "stegosaurus" wall and that the CHP office records contain some of them. Not long ago, an Edison pole astride the wall was felled by a skidding car, the toppled pole crossing Mission Canyon Road, blocking all traffic for approximately 18-24 hours. Adjacent poles were also impacted as loose cables were jarred from their moorings, settling on the road in a pool of tangled wires. Then it happened again about four years ago, requiring yet another pole replacement and shutting down electricity for approximately 36 hours.
Seven years ago the wall itself was hit twice in the same day resulting in the inward collapsing of some 20 feet of the wall. Again, a year later, the wall was struck, buckling inward once more. More recently, a stone pillar at the driveway entrance along the wall was severely damaged, requiring total reconstruction.
Fortunately, in none of these cases was anyone killed. Yet the damage was severe to the poles and the wall, not to mention the pretzeled front of cars. And this doesn't include the near misses, as evidenced by car tracks appearing regularly on the dirt shoulder between the paved road and the wall.
Lest we forget, the Mission Canyon Bridge, built in 1891 by legendary local stonemason Joseph Dover, carries a lot more today than its historical weight. It is an everyday, busy working bridge, vastly busier now than a century ago, crossed daily by hundreds of vehicles and pedestrians as they wend their way into and out of the historic canyon corridor. It has never, literally, been "fixed in stone." Originally replacing a wooden structure, the bridge was widened and a pedestrian walkway added in 1930. Among those active in promoting the project was the Santa Barbara Woman's Club whose efforts benefitted directly not only their members but the general public as well.
Our concern today is to reconcile the urge to preserve a genuinely historic and gracefully constructed bridge and connecting roadway with the changing realities of life along the canyon corridor. There are sincere stewards on both sides of that challenge including, no doubt, the article's author. Minus the false assumptions and misinformation found in the article, however, one wonders if the writer might be more receptive to some alternative proposals, including those of the Mission Heritage Trail Association.