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Poodle’s Instantly Obsolete Take on Showdown Over Freeway Widening


Thursday, May 16, 2013
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THE FRENEMY OF MY ENEMY IS MY WHAT? Sometimes even I can’t figure out the convoluted geometry of all my carefully cultivated prejudices. Like right now, whom am I supposed to root for in the massive hairy-eyeball fest pitting some major-league movers and shakers from Montecito against Caltrans ​— ​the ultimate über-state-bureaucracy ​— ​over the proposed widening of Highway 101? This is arguably the biggest public-works construction project ever to hit Santa Barbara County ever since God and Father Junípero Serra ​— ​whose 300th birthday was just celebrated ​— ​conspired to “discover” Santa Barbara, much to the surprise and demise of the thousands of Chumash and the proto-Chumash who’d been occupying this area for roughly 10,000 years. Are we supposed to root for the overly entitled, retired multimillionaires residing in Monte-snitto who are not-so-subliminally threatening to take the project to court ​— ​thus putting at risk the only viable plan to save area motorists from the terminal Congestion Creep now engulfing their daily commute on Highway 101? Above all else, the Montecito crowd ​— ​calling itself Common Sense 101 ​— ​wants Caltrans to keep Montecito’s two left-hand-lane exit ramps just as they’ve been since “Hoonie” Serra conscripted the unwilling Chumash to lay the first roads. (It should be noted that Father Serra — ​who established up and down the coast the string of missions that helped ensconce California as a colonial outpost for Spain — ​was a great believer in self-inflicted congestion as a form of human penance. Serra, who suffered from oozing, pulsating, suppurating sores up and down his legs, famously chose to walk when the means of riding ​— ​either a horse or an ass ​— ​were readily at his disposal. Because of this theologically dubious precedent, Californians have been paying the price ever since in the form of egregiously long commute times.

Angry Poodle

The Monte-snootians have wisely cast themselves as David embroiled in yet another classic David ’n’ Goliath showdown, begging the question whether anyone in the past 2,000 years has cast themselves as the Goliath. Only in Santa Barbara could a guy, Ron Pulice, who used to own a company that built freeways in Arizona, or Jack Overall ​— ​another guy who used to own a company, which printed Hawaiian Punch labels ​— ​construe themselves as Davids. Their argument is that by retaining the existing left-hand-turn off-ramps, the whole freeway-widening project can be completed in considerably less time for considerably less money, with much less disruption to the community at large. What imbues this group with automatic credibility ​— ​aside from the fact that these Davids could hire the former head of the Federal Highway Administration to do some consulting work ​— ​is the fact that they’re going up against Caltrans, now reeling from a massive debacle over seismic reconstruction of the bridge connecting Oakland to San Francisco.

For the past three years, Caltrans’s position has been adamantly unswerving; there shall be no left-lane exits. Left-turn exits, they contend, defy driver expectation and as such are inherently unsafe. Should the left-lane exit be allowed to remain, Caltrans could and would be blown to smithereens by the first accident-prone motorists capable of hiring a well-schooled ambulance chaser. That argument has obvious appeal. I saw it firsthand while driving last Friday night to Carpinteria. Some yahoo in the right-hand lane suddenly discovered he needed to get into the left lane to make his exit and cut in front of me, leaving a cushion of about six centimeters. It was exactly the sort of stupid heedless stunt I might have done if given half a chance. Somehow, my brain reverted to that state of lizard-consciousness where panic does not exist, and I ​— ​yes, amazingly and heroically ​— ​managed to prevent a 16-car pileup. More specifically, Caltrans says the left-turn exits at Montecito are 1.5 times as risky as the statewide average. The ’Snooties counter that the left-turn exits can, in fact, be engineered to achieve state safety standards and note that the two Montecito exits rank among the top three safest in the county. They are now attempting to achieve yet another delay of game by introducing ​— ​at the last possible second ​— ​a brand-new engineering report for which they paid $100,000. This report comes at the tail-end of the last six-month delay they secured to enable SBCAG and Caltrans to respond to their alternative plan, which, incidentally, they have since walked away from.

Normally, this wouldn’t be a debate, but Caltrans is freaking. For good cause. The last time Caltrans tried to widen Highway 101 through Santa Barbara ​— ​back in the 1990s ​— ​Montecito killed those plans in their tracks. Those plans, for the record, were god-awful, and Caltrans’s response to native insurrection even worse. To quell the current unrest, Caltrans is dispatching its executive director, Malcolm Dougherty, to Santa Barbara this Thursday. By any measurement ​— ​even geologic ​— ​that’s huge. No one living can remember the last time anything so momentous has happened, and the dead aren’t talking. Dougherty’s message ​— ​to be delivered unto the board of SBCAG, Santa Barbara’s alphabet soup of a secret government that dispenses hundreds of millions of state and federal transportation dollars a year ​— ​can be boiled down to two letters: N-O. Dougherty is also expected to put the natives on notice that he will be forced to take his ball and go home with it if they don’t behave. That means the four hours of daily congestion we now experience on the 11-mile stretch of 101 slated for widening will soon expand to 11 hours a day. It’s a nice bluff. The fact is Caltrans can’t walk away. This stretch of road poses the worst congestion in all of Caltrans’s District Five. It needs fixing. And SBCAG itself is paying fully one-third of the $450 million it will cost to widen the freeway using funds generated by a sales tax county residents voted to collect from themselves for just this purpose. Money talks and Dougherty can’t really walk. I don’t pretend to know what kind of face-saving kabuki theater will unfold this Thursday as David goes eyeball to eyeball with Goliath. I just hope someone remembers to bring the popcorn.

POODLE POSTSCRIPT: From time to time, I lard too much spit on my spitball and the pitch gets away from me. Such was the case with this week’s column. In my haste to pursue side tangents about Father Junipero Serra and his superating leg sores, I sacrificed the space needed to inject some much needed perspective into the controversy over the freeway widening project now before us. So let me do so now. As irritating and self-important as Montecito activists can undeniably be, the community has been exceedingly well-served by their involvement in the Highway 101 widening project.

That’s because there are few bureaucratic entities on the planet bigger and more powerful than Caltrans. With Caltrans, its way is the highway. Embedded into Caltrans’s cultural DNA is a powerful mixture of mother-knows-best superiority and raw engineering arrogance. Making matters worse, Caltrans is currently facing a multitude of extremely demanding challenges and, like all state agencies, lacks the funding needed to get the jobs done. In that context, the proper sensitivity to community concerns frequently gets lost in the shuffle.

Common Sense 101—the name adopted by the Montecito activists—has seen to it this has not happened. Regardless of the merits of its proposals to keep the two left-turn exit lanes by Montecito, the group has sufficient muscle, clout, money, connections, arrogance, and audacity to push back. Because of their involvement, Caltrans has been forced to give its 11-mile plans for widening Highway 101 a much more thorough inspection. Out of that second look, new design and engineering modifications have emerged that collectively promise to reduce the construction time and cost.

As to the left-turn exit ramps, I remain ambivalent. One one hand, it seems intuitively obvious that because left turn exits are not the norm, they challenge driver expectations and are inherently more dangerous. As noted above, I have seen it in action. But having sat through the SBCAG meeting referenced above, I also saw Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider elicit an acknowledgment from Caltrans pope Malcolm Dougherty that the Sheffield exit has had zero accidents and thus falls well within the statewide average.

The other exit—to Coast Village Road—is admittedly another matter. Caltrans states the accident rate there is one-a-and-a-half times higher than the statewide average. That should be of genuine concern. At the SBCAG meeting, the quavery-voiced engineer hired by the Commonsense 101 crowd has raised the possibility—and more than a merely hypothetical one—that this left-turn exit could be re-engineered and reconfigured to bring its accident rates down to the statewide average. Maybe so and maybe not. But I’m open to the idea. And so, too, should be the community at large and Caltrans itself. The chief advantage of the left-turn exit is time and cost. Common Sense 101 contends that the savings to both will be substantial if the left-turn exits are retained, maybe by a factor as high as $45 million.

I’m not saying this is true. I am saying any figure with six zeros to the left of the decimal point is worth taking a serious look at.

The meeting was long and complicated. Dougherty came down from Sacramento and told the 13-member board of SBCAG “No” in no uncertain terms, more times than I have fingers and toes. No, he said, he would not ever approve a freeway widening plan that retains the left-turn lanes, and neither would anyone who ever worked for him. But as Lompoc Mayor John Linn retorted, Caltrans directors come and go, and Dougherty would not always be in charge. Linn was one of the seven SBCAG boardmembers—the slimmest of possible majorities—who voted to include the left-lane exit alternative in the $450 million project’s environmental impact report anyway. Given that Caltrans insisted this alternative is not viable, it’s not clear exactly what this means. From where I sat, it definitely does not mean the Montecito alternative is alive and kicking. But it does mean it’s not dead.

For all the real details on what happened, stay tuned for Independent reporter Chris Meagher’s upcoming article on the subject.

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Comments

Independent Discussion Guidelines

Very simple and inexpensive solution: close all on ramps and off ramps in Montecito. Period.

fredb93117 (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 12:08 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Seriously. This pathetic devotion to left lane exits is a danger and a detriment to the community as a whole.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 12:45 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I drive the route every day, & Nick's correct that drivers constantly feel surprised that they have a LEFT side offramp and slam over from the right lane into the left lane to get off at Hot Springs or at Sheffield. What hasn't been noted is how incredibly slow drivers are in the fast lane when they DO know about the left offramp and they slow ridiculously long before getting fully onto the offramp.
The 'Snooties just hate change. End the left lane off-ramps and let's fix this monster.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 4:12 a.m. (Suggest removal)

fredb93117 nailed it. And widen it to 4 lanes each way, just through Montecito.

sevendolphins (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 6:12 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Oh come on people, this is the good old USA where money talks and other stuff walks. Caltrans was always going to have to deal with the well-healed Montecito residents, by ignoring them, Caltrans just made the rich more angry and determined. It is past time for Caltrans to sit down and negotiate with these people. Is it fair that the rich have more power and rights than the rest of us? No it is not. Is it the just the way things are? Yes, afraid so.

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 7:14 a.m. (Suggest removal)

First it was cell phone repeaters, now freeway improvements. These cry baby plutocrats don't deserve the level of deference they always expect that everyone else never gets.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 10:07 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Nick it appears that you have been misled on this matter and are now misleading others.

The issue of which plan should be used by CALTRANS directly concerns all of us in the South Coast and not simply those who may live in Montecito.

For those of us who live west/north of the Hot Springs freeway exit on 101, the length of time the freeway be closed or significantly impacted by this construction work (read that as very badly congested all day not just during normal commute times and summer weekends) will be reduced by approximately two and a half years if the alternate plan is adopted retaining the left lane exits.

For any business in Santa Barbara or Goleta, the direct economic impact of that two and a half year period will be significant, as employee retention and morale will decline, customers will find alternate retailers and services, and tourism in general will be reduced.

The burden of that additional two and a half year period will be felt by each and every one of us, not simply by those who live in Montecito whom you have unfairly chastised.

Additionally, there are plenty of well functioning left lane freeway exits elsewhere in California and the accident and safety rate at this specific one is better than the right-lane exits nearby.

In short there is little to support the rigid and unyielding view of CALTANS.

RobEgenolf (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 11:35 a.m. (Suggest removal)

This is one battle where I hope Goliath stomps on David's face several times and then moves forward with whatever he wants.

Num1UofAn (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 1:57 p.m. (Suggest removal)

So RobEngolf - saving 2.5 years of construction time is more important than eliminating a known and proven hazard?

And to note - I would say that the people of Montecito (such victims of the terrible terrible world out there) have been pretty fairly chastised.

Num1UofAn (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 2:01 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Mr. Engolf,
Why don't you and some of your country club buddies camp out on the left lane, indeed start your own Occupy 101 movement.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 2:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I agree it's dangerous, but is that an integral part of Caltrans' plan to eliminate left lane exits? It's dangerous because Caltrans' sign
informing drivers of the exit is so close to the off-ramp that if you're not already in the left lane, you've got to make a 90 degree
turn across lanes to get there. My impression is that it's an example of dysfunctional-by-design traffic engineering, but eliminating the exit would be a just reward.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 2:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Cant you people at least spell my name correctly?

I proudly use my real name which is more than most of you can claim.

In response:

The evidence I have seen does not appear to support the claim that a right exit would be safer.

I don't belong to any Country Clubs and I don't live in Montecito

I agree that improved signage and an earlier placement of signs indicating a "left exit ahead at Hot Springs" would be of significant assistance in eliminating this confusion

Maybe CALTRANS does want that confusion to remain as justification for their right lane exit plan.

RobEgenolf (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 3:13 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The elimination of two and a half years of construction -- and the accompanying traffic delays and congestion and negative impact on the economy of the whole area -- is well worth looking at as a reason to revisit the question. If, as Mr. Egenolf suggests, there is objective evidence that the safety concerns advanced by CalTrans are misleading, if not downright anecdotal, then I'd say that good cause exists to swing the decision in favor of David.

Why the ad hominem attack? This is not a one percent versus ninety-nine percent issue. (If it were, the one percent would be seeking the right to build helicopter pads on their Montecito estates, not squabbling over freeway exits.) We all depend upon a healthy local economy, kept healthier if we can avoid two and a half years of freeway construction.

zauche (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 6:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Egdorf and zauche act as if there has never been traffic congestion until the construction began. Frankly the construction hasn't made the snarl any worse than it already was. The traffic was jammed up anyway. the traffic will be less jammed up when it is over. In addition a truly healthy economy isn't dependant on one industry and an industry that is dependant on people having excess money to burn to bring into the economy. In addition what such economies have survived did so without giving the store away to outside ownership. Healthy economies produce products, not act merely as the point of consumption.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 6:34 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Out of curiosity, how many left exit lane defenders also opposed the evictions and demolition of the Cabrillo Hotel? I'm sure you know to what I refer without Googling.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 6:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Ken you deserve no response unless you exhibit some common courtesy

RobEgenolf (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 6:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)

In what venue shall I present this extravaganza of good taste and breeding?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 7:07 p.m. (Suggest removal)

No1uofan is just parroting untruths without actually studying the stats. The absolute truth is that accident rates for the two fast lane offramps , which have been there literally for decades, are lower than for the 60 plus slow lane off ramps in the area. Don't distort the facts. These fast lane offramps are safe and will be made even safer if the Common Sense 101 plan is adopted.
If you guys trust Caltrans so emphatically , why don't you ask why they are tearing out the concrete at Bailard? Concrete that was just recently poured. I'll tell you why- Caltrans engineers flubbed the elevation and missed minimum height requirements on the underpass. Go ahead trust them and their poor design history . I sure don't.

geeber (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 7:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

But unlike Halleburton/BP in the Gulf- Cal Trans went back and corrected the mistake. Gotta give'm that much- they didn't try and sweep it under the rug until some catastrophe happened.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 7:38 p.m. (Suggest removal)

In my humble opinion, the left hand exit safety problem is not so much a problem of people changing lanes or slowing down to get off the freeway. It is rather the need that most drivers feel to drive 75-80 mph. I drive to Ventura a lot and I avoid commute times in the mornings and afternoons and seldom experience congestion, even with construction going on between Mussel Shoals and Carpinteria. Most of the safety problems that I encounter have to do with intolerance of most drivers to be behind any other driver. Sometimes, when I am feeling particularly zen, I get in the slow lane and put my cruise control on 57. That way, I never catch up to any trucks and most people can merge from on ramps ahead of me. People do not tailgate me and neither do they scoot in front of me and slow down. The hurried world passes me by and my drive to Ventura is mellow and pleasant without encountering any safety issues. It's quite nice, I recommend it. Perhaps if everyone did it, we would not be spending so much money widening the freeway.

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 8:12 p.m. (Suggest removal)

All too true, selfish drivers are endangering and inconveniencing us all. There's a lot of drivers who would be pedestrains if I were a traffic cop.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 8:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I want to drive like Eckermann

hodgmo (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 9:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Volok talks a lot . Now we give credit to Caltrans for not being Halliburton? Huh? As though endemic bad planning and imprudent expenditure of public funds trumps criminal theft . I say they are both bad and that Caltrans is not to be trusted any more than Halliburton.
Also there are a lot of us that are not monied Montecitans that are opposed to the Caltrans plan for myriad reasons. In Voloks typical simple view , that is not understood.

geeber (anonymous profile)
May 16, 2013 at 10 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Here's an editorial on the freeway project written by the politically-connected consultant hired by Pulice's group, Mary Peters:

http://www.montecitojournal.net/archi...

Interesting lines from her editorial ...

"While I do not pretend to have a full grasp of all of the issues associated with the project ... it would be a shame to forever alter the historic and scenic beauty of this area without fully considering the alternatives proposed by the MontecitoAssociation"

" ... would allow the opportunity to open a dialogue between the Montecito-Santa Barbara communities and perhaps a design review team comprised of county and city members working with Caltrans ..."

I other words, their consultant doesn't know much of the details, and she implies the community hasn't had a chance to provide input into the design. Wrong!

There has already been a lengthy public comment process which resulted in locals adding 2 design options to the orignal 3 proposed by Caltrans. And guess what ... Montecitans loved the design selected by the SB Planning Commision (I believe that's the one Caltrans went with, correct me if I'm wrong). Read about it here:

http://www.montecitojournal.net/archi...

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
May 17, 2013 at 1:11 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Gee Geeber, it's too bad that attacking me was somehow more important than those "myriad reasons" that nonmonied Citans oppose the lane change.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 17, 2013 at 1:40 a.m. (Suggest removal)

KV ,unplug , go outside , get some fresh air. You live on the computer , dude.

geeber (anonymous profile)
May 17, 2013 at 4:44 a.m. (Suggest removal)

First, using strange statistical analysis to prove or disprove the safety of a particular ramp is idiotic. There are too many independent factors to make any causal comparison for proving a high or low accident rate(curve, tree's, traffic volume, average speed etc).
Second, the ad hominum attacks started from the get go in this comment string. Why is this issue so important that detractors started with personal attacks immediately?
Third, while I am no fan of the country club set, CalTrans is an absolute failure and black hole for money and efficiency.
Fourth, if it was not for the country club set CalTrans would have rammed a super freeway down our throats years ago. We can praise all of the "community activists" but without money and clout we would be worse off in this case.

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
May 17, 2013 at 10:35 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Geeber, give me advice when you can write in complete sentences.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 17, 2013 at 12:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

How's this Volok? Unplug your computer for a few hours a day. Go outside and get some fresh air . Go catch a wave or two , just not at any of my spots. We don't like guys who never stop talking in the water.

geeber (anonymous profile)
May 18, 2013 at 1:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Speaking of sentence structure , KV , you must have been trippin when you put together the one posted @ 1:40 a.m on the 17th.

geeber (anonymous profile)
May 18, 2013 at 2:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

yeah guys, let the ad hominem stuff go...
I disagree with the italian when he writes, "if it was not for the country club " we would have an even worse freeway situation here, no, it's all those liberals and activists as well as the dough from Montecito 1%ers.
Let's end the left-lane ramps nonsense now. The southbound on-ramp from Sheffield of course enters the 101's fast lane [left lane]: this disaster should be closed immediately. Too bad for Montecitans.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
May 18, 2013 at 2:35 p.m. (Suggest removal)

uh "...if not for the country club SET" sorry

DrDan (anonymous profile)
May 18, 2013 at 2:36 p.m. (Suggest removal)

There are already three lanes through most of Santa Barbara. There are only two reasons we need expanded freeway capacity:
1. People who work here are priced out by people who merely want the zip code to feel glamourous.
2. Att the tourists being invited in in such droves to feed the corporate tills that we gotta boat them in now.

One reason "high profile people" escaped to Santa Barbara is because it was LOW profile. Mountains and oceans up and down the coast otherwise, but the proximity to LA made it a reasonable option in addition to the artists and culture offerings that other places such as Ventura at that point in history really did not offer.

Now you're practically guaranteed a celebrity sighting by the tourism boosters, as if it's a safari. So much for privacy.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 18, 2013 at 2:47 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Where do I stand in all of this?

billclausen (anonymous profile)
May 18, 2013 at 7:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The center divider?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 18, 2013 at 7:25 p.m. (Suggest removal)

BC, on the far right shoulder, enjoying guns, wanting the old days, decrying government and all booze? :)

DrDan (anonymous profile)
May 19, 2013 at 6:05 a.m. (Suggest removal)

BTW, but why are exit/entrance ramps even needed if where they go is going to be so divisive especially? There's ramps right on the other side of the hill..
That should please everyone...

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 20, 2013 at 1:51 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Oh man, I sat through the entire 3-hour video of the SBCAG meeting with Caltrans held last Thrusday. On a 7-6 vote, SBCAG voted to have Caltrans consider the new last-minute design alternative pushed by Pulice's group.

I disagree with the decision but applaud the professional way the meeting was conducted. Roger Aceves did a good job chairing the meeting and Caltrans did an excellent job with their presentation (yes, that government agency). In the end.

Left-hand offramps/onramps has become religion.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
May 20, 2013 at 9:40 a.m. (Suggest removal)

So Porky wins another round.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 20, 2013 at 9:52 a.m. (Suggest removal)

A N Whitehead felt that in an era of materialism and lacking much religion then "religious" impulses fasten onto things like
[right] off ramp positioning, taxes (as evil), etc.
[left] more taxes Obamacare etc.
So yeah, left-hand offramps has become "religion" in a trivializing time

DrDan (anonymous profile)
May 20, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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