The most egregious example of local bureaucratic cock-ups came to a head on November 15, 2013, with the ceremonial groundbreaking for the deservedly delayed and much opposed $6 million Broadway-Brommer Bike Road.
Long opposed by real environmentalists, the Broadway-Brommer project has suffered a spotty history over the last twenty years. Originally conceived as a street for cars connecting Broadway in the City to Brommer Street in Live Oak, the project was axed by Santa Cruz City officials in response to environmental opposition. Later, as a paved bike road, the project was again laid to rest by a subsequent City Council.
Nevertheless, City Public Works staff, reluctant to lose out on one-and-a-half million dollars of "free" federal money, revived the moribund project. Over the years, the B-B morphed from a car road, to a Class One Bicycle Commuter route with an enormous bridge spanning Arana Creek, to a curving, up and down bike road with bridges over Hagemann Creek and Arana Creek. Finally, donning funny nose and glasses, B-B was disguised as a "multi-use interpretive trail," as the overwhelmingly dominant component of the yet to be implemented Arana Gulch Master Plan.
The B-B project follows the historical government tradition of "destroying the village to save it." Since all of Arana Gulch is declared Critical Habitat for the endangered Santa Cruz tarplant, Public Works staff struggled to find some way to justify building a paved road through the fragile species' only home. City officials had to find some way to make the project "resource dependent" to satisfy California Coastal Commission regulations for development in Sensitive Habitat Areas, such as Arana Gulch.
Thus was born the "interpretive trail." No, it's not a different route. Yes, it still paves over critical habitat of an endangered species. But now the project has interpretive signs that will describe what was lost when this Natural Area was drawn and quartered, north to south and east to west, by an 8 foot wide asphalt paved road with two feet of graded shoulder on either side, where nothing will grow.
The Boondoggle took it's first wee steps this week, kicked into a mockery of life with the traditional celebratory groundbreaking. Scores of brightly bedecked bicyclists joined toothy City Fathers... and one Mother, in the bright noon sun. A massive diesel backhoe supplied the necessary technology, mysteriously idling for no apparent reason, adding it's diesel fumes to the rapidly accumulating hot air.
To "Balance" this display of bureaucratic excess, Friends of Arana Gulch, a stalwart group of caring environmentalists who have consistently opposed the Broadway-Brommer project lo these many years, arrived in funereal black to mourn the demise of the Arana Gulch Greenbelt. Bearing signs saying, "Good-bye to the Greenbelt," "Shame," "Less trees, less grass, less wildflowers, less wildlife," "Is Broadway-Brommer really needed?" and "Save it, don't pave it," the Friends stood in silent vigil for the animals, plants and insects who have no say in the future of their home in Arana Gulch.
The assembled officials donned unfamiliar hardhats, grabbed golden-painted shovels, and, after instructions on which end to point at the ground, posed for the obligatory photographs. They scraped meager scratches into the hard packed earth, gratefully returned the shovels to those who know how to use them, and decanted into the crowd for obsequious self-congratulations.
Thus the fate of the Arana Gulch Greenbelt was signed, sealed and delivered. No longer a Natural Area, now an incipient Park for human recreation, and a paved shortcut for bicyclists in a hurry, Arana Gulch passes into history along with its sensitive species, unique habitat, its quiet, its open space, its true value.
Arana Gulch is now just another anonymous feature in the urban development that has inundated the landscape from Moore Creek to Valencia Creek, from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.
So long Arana Gulch! It was good to have known you.
Michael A. Lewis
Dear Friends ~
We have always had Margaret Mead's simple message for activists on our web site. It seems that it is always less than 10% of the population who care, with the other 90% divided into those who don't care whatsoever, those who care but only if they get something from it, and those who care but assume humans must progress so oh well.
On November 15, Friends of Arana Gulch came to mourn the death of a greenbelt and not let the destructors have their day unmarred in celebration. We were successful in this at least. We threw mournful water on their party. We were a tolerated, as the politicos made their speeches and shoveled their dirt. Our message was clear to the gathered crowd, 10 times greater than our numbers. Of course.
We will continue to monitor and photo-document the destruction of the Arana Gulch Greenbelt. And we will always speak clearly and strongly whenever the topic of Broadway Brommer arises, just as we would defend any innocent who was murdered -- we'll not let the place lose friends.
Someday, perhaps a hundred or more years from now, the gophers will have encroached upon the pavement, spilling upended soil over the scar. The seed of many grasses will have found root in cracks and will begin the slow process of breaking apart the life-snuffing pavement. Raptors will look down and see a slow return as Arana Gulch arises, phoenix-like, to be home once again to life.