Retain views from ancestral riverbank

This op-ed piece by Ken Hough was published on Friday, April 8, 2016 in the Santa Maria Times:

The city of Santa Maria is about to give up one of the last beautiful views remaining in the valley — the view from the ancestral riverbank along Betteravia Road between Highway 101 and College Drive.

The sharp incline of 20-30 feet that still partially exists from the freeway all the way out to Blosser Road shows where the river once flowed. Here and there, the top of this escarpment provides views of the valley, Nipomo Mesa and the Sierra Madre, which are not available elsewhere in the city.

The city should ensure that developments are designed to protect those views. There should be hiking trails and benches along the escarpment, allowing continued enjoyment of the view after the land now covered in broccoli and other row crops is covered by buildings and parking lots.

Instead, the city is in the process of approving a development that will cover the upper area of the escarpment with commercial buildings and parking between the freeway and College Drive.

Although over the last four months we have asked the city to require or otherwise provide a modest trail along the escarpment, the Planning Commission denied our requests last week. Instead, the top of the escarpment is to be devoted only to delivery access to the backsides of the stores.

Still, we should not give up. Nothing is built yet. A pathway need not be in conflict with delivery access. A short wall or fence would deter people from walking into paths of delivery trucks. The plans show a 10-foot greenway with ground cover and trees separating the delivery area from the edge of the escarpment — plenty of room for a modest pathway.

Designs can be redrawn to accommodate the wishes of the residents of the city. Perhaps the developers will do this willingly, but residents have to speak out. If you agree some of the views should be preserved, speak out. Let the City Council know how you feel. It is not too late for the city to convince, if not require, the developer to preserve some of this view for our residents.

At the very least, as plans are developed for the proposed park at the bottom of the escarpment below what is known as Bradley West let’s plan for some paths or stairways to let people get up off the floor of the park and get a bit of a view. Maybe even sit on a bench or at a picnic table with a view.

Just across College Drive from Bradley West there are a few acres both on top of and below the escarpment, and south of the cemetery district known as Enos Ranchos Mercado. which are yet to be developed. Previously-prepared plans took advantage of the views from the escarpment. The city should not miss this opportunity.

Meanwhile, between the Santa Maria Valley Railroad and Blosser Road north of Betteravia, the city is considering approval of Betteravia Plaza, a mixture of retail, offices and residential uses. In this case, consideration is being given to providing a pedestrian/bike path along the top of the escarpment. This would provide good opportunities for people to get some exercise, enjoy the view, or actually get around without getting in a car.

City residents who care about scenic vistas and safe pedestrian paths need to let the City Council know their feelings before these last opportunities for escarpment views are lost.

We live in a beautiful valley. Let’s make the most of it, at Enos Ranchos, Enos Ranchos Mercado, Betteravia Plaza and at every opportunity.

Ken Hough is executive director of Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN). He can be reached at [email protected]. Looking Forward is a progressive look at local issues.