The Carpinteria City Council ruled 3-1 to pursue alternative three – an altered version of the proposed Rincon Multi-Use Trail project that sparked controversy for impacts to paragliding and safety concerns – during a special meeting on Monday. 

The Rincon Multi-Use Trail Project was originally conceived as a solution to the current gap between the Pacific Coast Bikeway and the Carpinteria bluffs in the California Coastal Trail. The project gained controversy, however, following the Planning Commission’s Jan. 18, 2022 approval of the project’s environmental impact report and Conditional Use Permit and Coastal Development Permit. 

The completion of this project is mandatory for the city of Carpinteria to be in accordance with its Coastal Land Use Plan and the conditions of approval for the Caltrans Casitas Pass and Linden Avenue project. 

The original environmental impact report outlined four alternatives for the project to take, and said that the third option, the “steeper slopes / reduced earthwork alternative” – has the least significant environmental impact. 

Three appellants – Karl Cameron, Helen O’Neill and the Santa Barbara Soaring Association represented by Stan Barankiewicz of Orbach Huff & Henderson LLP – disagreed with the certification of the report, and more specifically, disagreed that the third alternative was the environmentally superior alternative. 

The appellants presented their qualms during the March 28, 2022 meeting of the Carpinteria City Council, and suggested that the project instead adopt the fourth alternative from the environmental impact report: the “freeway adjacent trail avoiding bluff face” alternative which runs parallel to the U.S. Highway 101 freeway. Last March, after hearing the appellants’ objections and those present for public comment, the council voted 4-1 to conditionally grant the appeal and asked staff to assess the feasibility of alternatives two and four — alternative two being the “maximize existing benchwork / topography” option. 

The May 15 meeting began with a staff report updating the council on the project’s community engagement efforts with stakeholders and the staff’s research on potential alternative options for the project. 

The project team met with project stakeholders, including the project appellants, six times since the March 2022 meeting, according to Principal Planner of Community Development Nick Bobroff. 

“(The meetings) ultimately allowed all parties to better understand some of the constraints and challenges of the different alternatives as well as hear out each other’s concerns and interests in this project,” Bobroff said. 

Though these meetings lead to an additional six alternatives with a total of 10 for the project to pursue, the meetings ultimately failed to facilitate the selection of an alternative that satisfied the requirements of all parties involved in the stakeholder meetings.

The staff report found that alternative two was not an advisable option for the project, citing safety hazards, projected lack of ADA compliance, geological instability and more. Alternative three was modified to be narrower and steeper to mitigate some of the environmental concerns from the previous version. 

Both the city and the appellants stuck to their previous position on the third alternative. While staff maintained it met the project objectives best, the appellants maintained that the third alternative posed negative environmental impact and safety hazards. 

Alternative four, which presents the longest trail, still presented a significant impact to the environment, which is why the “soaring community withdrew its support for this alternative,” Bobroff said. Several alternatives – including six, seven, eight and nine – were deemed unfeasible or impractical. 

During an extensive public comment period, community members expressed concerns regarding alternative three and the overall project, particularly over the impact to soaring activities, environmental impact, the cost of the project, the width of the trail, its capacity to hold the population occupying it and more. 

Staff took notes of community members’ questions and a few misconceptions and clarified them after public comment ended. 

“I wanted to spend a little bit of time reiterating the multi-use intention of the trail. I hear lots of people that say, ‘Oh well, cyclists don’t need this, or they don’t want that,’” Bobroff said. “And that may be true for some cyclists but we’re really trying to create a trail here that can benefit and serve the broadest segment of the population and a big part of that – besides conveniently or efficiently moving cyclists from one point to another – is the public coastal access and recreation component. This is meant to be a trail that everybody can use.” 

Following the public comment period, the councilmembers presented their own thoughts on the presented alternatives. 

“My feeling really is that option number three sounds like the best choice for allowing the widest variety of users to experience an ocean-facing coastal view trail, which sounds like was the initial objective of this trail to begin with,” Councilmember Monica Solorzano said. 

Solorzano added that she had concerns about the switching proposal and its implications with the city sanctioning soaring activities. 

“A concern that comes up for me with some of the other options is that if the council were to choose a different route in response to the compelling feedback from the paragliding community, it might give the impression that the city is sanctioning the activity in some way which I know that the city can’t necessarily do given the nature of that particular activity,” she said. 

Vice Mayor Natalia Alarcon concurred with Solorzano’s approval of alternative three. 

“It’s clear that we as a council about a year ago paused the work that was happening because of the paragliders. You guys came in droves and were really able to describe the unique community that you all have,” Alarcon said. “Since then, I do feel as though city staff in good faith effort looked at other alternatives and I do feel as though option No. 3 or alternative No. 3 is what will best suit the community of Carpinteria.” 

She added that she wanted to see traffic calming measures for the project regardless of what alternative proposal was selected. 

Councilmember Roy Lee also expressed his support for alternative three. He added that the “soaring community” needed to share the trail space with all Carpinterians. 

“I respect the soaring community, but you say you want to share, but from your comments it seems like you do not. Carpinteria belongs to everybody, not just one group or one special interest group, so I hope we can work together to make that space for everybody,” Lee said. 

Mayor Al Clark followed Lee, saying that his decision to ask staff to research other alternatives was not an indication of his support of the soaring community, but a decision stemming from his concerns over the extent of the cut to the bluffs and safety concerns within a parking lot on the trail. 

“I wish we had spent the last year maybe doing a little bit more research on that, if we really wanted push No. 3, we would try to address that concern better than we have,” Clark said. “The end of our project is dumping people into what I consider an unsafe situation. If we can resolve that, then I’m all for (alternative three).”

In order to avoid delays with the project, the council asked the First District City Committee to pursue research into additional traffic calming and safety measures regarding the parking lot. Solorzano’s motion to pursue alternative three for further evaluation passed 3-1, with Clark dissenting and Councilmember Wade Nomura absent. 

[For the Record: The City Planning Commission approved the Rincon Trail in January 2022, not the county.] 

(3) comments


Glad to see the Council approved the Coastal Vista Trail instead of the Freeway Vista Trail.


Just get it done while we’re still alive please

Ottis Gillespie

The non ADA compliant, steep, unsafe slope into the west end of the Santa Barbara County parking lot, will cause multiple increases in accidents, and incidents involving, bicyclists, pedestrians and motor vehicle traffic. Alternative #3, cannot overcome it's proximity to known earthquake faults (city planners records), proximity to rising sea levels, destruction and reconfiguration of Little Diamondhead Bluff. Without being connected to the southbound US 101 freeway, it will be a repeat of the disaster of Ventura City's bike path placement, which was devoured quickly by the Pacific Ocean.

Much like the recent debris field, placed on the City's beach, from "clearing," the creek beds, then pushing the debris, into the Pacific Ocean, the debris/spoils, for construction of Alt #3, have no safe designated location for placement or disposal.

The City has no Pacific Ocean View, within city limits, for this proposal. Since Federal and state funds are primarily being used for this project, I hope the City Council can refrain from considering this project a "local project." With a projected annual use of 100,000 for the trail/path, that is a substantial regional impact.

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