STATE OF CALIFORNIA-THE RESOURCES AGENCY
CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION
CENTRAL COAST DISTRICT OFFICE
725 FRONT STREET, SUITE 300
SANTA CRUZ, CA 95060
(831) 427-4863

January 11, 2000

S. Ted Lopez
Transportation Planner
City of Santa Cruz Public Works Department
809 Center Street, Room 201
Santa Cruz, Ca 95060

PUBLIC WORKS
January 14, 2000
R E C E I V E D

Subject: Proposed Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Assessment for Broadway-Brommer Bicycle/Pedestrian Path Connection (SCH #98102080)

Dear Mr. Lopez,

Thank you for the opportunity to review the above-referenced CEQA document regarding the proposed Class I bike route between Broadway and Brommer through Arana Gulch. As we noted in our previous comments on the Notice of Preparation for this environmental document, Commission staff strongly supports the provision of such non automobile circulation and enhanced public access facilities. Such facilities are specifically encouraged by the Coastal Act. At the same time, we recognize that significant open space and habitat resources are present within the Arana Gulch greenbelt.

Although the proposed Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) addresses these two topics, our previous concern for the consideration of other viable alternative routes that are less environmentally damaging and the lack of a specific plan for Arana Gulch, remain. In particular, Commission staff is concerned that the preferred route and project would not avoid identified biological impacts as required by the Local Coastal Programs and Coastal Act.

Standard of Review - Coastal Commission Jurisdiction

The DEIR acknowledges that the proposed project would require Coastal Development Permits (CDPS) from both the City and County of Santa Cruz. The standard of review for these CDPs is the certified Local Coastal Programs (LCPs). Please note, however, that the majority of the proposed project lies within the Coastal Commission's retained coastal permit jurisdiction. Although the certified LCP's for the City and County of Santa Cruz provide guidance within the Coastal Commission's permit jurisdiction, the Coastal Act serves as the applicable standard or review here. The DEIR should be modified to reflect this fact.

Also, please note that any City or County CDP issued for the proposed project would be appealable to the Coastal Commission; both because of location adjacent to wetlands and streams, and because the proposed project qualifies as a major public works project.

We suggest that the City and County Post Certification maps be consulted and overlaid with the project boundaries in order to determine those portions of the proposed project that occur within the Commission's permit jurisdiction. We are available to consult regarding questions of CDP jurisdiction and the applicable standards of review for each CDP that would be necessary to allow for the project to go forward.

Planning for Arana Gulch

As directed by the City's LCP, the preferred planning approach would be to prepare a specific management plan for the Arana Gulch greenbelt prior to consideration of a Broadway-Brommer Bicycle Pedestrian Path project. The DEIR acknowledges that the City anticipates initiating the Arana Gulch Master Plan process in early 2000. Forestalling the proposed pathway until the specific management plan is completed that would allow for a planning process to address the combined impacts of potential development within the Arana Gulch greenbelt. In reverse (i.e., bike path first, plan second) other potential developments could affect maintenance of habitat and open space in a manner unanticipated by the bike path alone and might affect conclusions on the appropriate alignment.

Arana Gulch is a particularly important open space preserve. This area is surrounded by urbanization and provides an open space recreational area for City and County dwellers who would otherwise need to go much further out of town to find such a resource. Likewise, birds and animals otherwise displaced by encroaching urbanization all around utilize this area that is largely devoid of noise, lights, and other urban activities. Arana Gulch is also home to vast plant, wetland and stream resources that are protected by LCP and Coastal Act policies. As such, it is more appropriate that larger management planning take place for Arana Gulch as a whole prior to individual development decisions that may eventually prejudice future decisions.

ESHA

City of Santa Cruz LCP Map EQ-9 delineates sensitive species and habitats within the Arana Gulch greenbelt. Habitats identified on EQ-9 within the proposed project area include wetland, riparian, and grassland. Arana Creek and Hagemann Creek (in Hagemann Gulch on the west of the site) are present in this area. Figure 11 of the DEIR likewise delineates specific habitat types within the project area; including such sensitive and endangered species as Santa Cruz tarplant. We note too that Tidewater goby (a Federal Endangered Species) has been identified in the project area. Suitable habitat for such Federally Threatened Species as Red-legged frog and steelhead is likewise present. Both alternatives Al and D2 would appear to be located in or immediately adjacent to such sensitive areas. Please note that Coastal Act Section 30107.5 defines environmentally sensitive habitat as follows:

"Environmentally sensitive area" means any area in which plant or animal life or their habitats are either rare or especially valuable because of their special nature or role in an ecosystem and which could be easily disturbed or degraded by human activities and developments.

Where development is proposed in or adjacent to ESHA in the Commission's CDP jurisdiction, Coastal Act Section 30240 applies. Section 30240 states:

(a) Environmentally sensitive habitat areas shall be protected against any significant disruption of habitat values, and only uses dependent on those resources shall be allowed within those areas.

(b) Development in areas adjacent to environmentally sensitive habitat areas and parks and recreation areas shall be sited and designed to prevent impacts which would significantly degrade those areas, and shall be compatible with the continuance of those habitat and recreation areas.

We are particularly concerned that the proposed project may negatively impact riparian woodlands, wetlands, and populations of endangered Santa Cruz tarplant and tidewater goby. These natural communities represent important coastal resources - particularly given their location within urban Santa Cruz. Similar communities nearby have all been committed to urban uses. In fact, the Arana Gulch wetland is a particularly important environmentally sensitive habitat area that should not be disturbed by this, or any other, project. This large wetiand area has a high habitat value rare for such urban locales. This is due at least partly to the current low intensity of recreational use in the Arana Gulch open space area: We are concerned about any project, including this one, which might negatively impact this area.

As acknowledged in the DEIR, the Santa Cruz tarplant population "size is dynamic with slight shifts in location according to environmental conditions of a given year." It appears that the placement of a path at the proposed alignments would inhibit the movement of this species and would serve to separate the identified tarplant areas (i.e. A through D) from one another. In addition, while individual specimens may not be covered by the proposed path, potential habitat for this species may be covered by the proposed path. We are concerned that such habitat segmentation and displacement may negatively affect the long term viability of suitable habitat for the tarplant in Arana Gulch. This is underscored by the fact that the population at this location has been identified as genetically distinct from others. The DEIR should address any effects resulting from the separation of identified tarplant areas and any accompanying potential long term impacts to the viability of it's habitat within Arana Gulch.

We note too that Federally Endangered tidewater goby are known to inhabit the brackish water/fresh-water area where the wetland and Arana Creek meet the back Harbor. The DEIR likewise identifies the potential for Federally Threatened steelhead trout within Arana Creek and red-legged frog within and around Arana Creek and Hagemann Creek. Potential sedimentation within Arana Creek, Hagemann Creek and the larger wetland area due to the proposed project could adversely impact these sensitive species' habitats. Encroaching urbanization in and around the Arana Gulch watershed has already resulted in increased sedimentation and polluted runoff into these hydrologic systems. Further development may exacerbate difficulties for these listed species.

From the DEIR, it appears that some amount of development within ESHA may be required if the project were to move forward. Please note that pursuant to Coastal Act Section 30240, development within ESHA must be resource dependent. Any other portion of the proposed development must not significantly disrupt those habitat areas.

Similar City and County LCP policies addressing sensitive habitat areas would also apply. In fact, it is not clear to us how the alternative path alignments would not be in conflict with the city's 100 foot setback requirements. Both alignments appear to be within 100 feet of Hagemann Creek, Arana Creek, and the Arana Creek wetland. The 100 foot setback Requirement is described in City LCP Land Use Plan (LUP) Policies EQ 4.2 et seq and Zoning Ordinance Section 24.14.080. LUP Policy EQ 4.2.2.3 and Zoning Sections 24.14.080(3) and 24.14.080(4) describe the uses that are allowed within setbacks. Although Zoning Section 24.14.080 does not provide any mechanism for lesser setbacks, LUP Policy EQ 4.2.2.3 concludes:

If any exceptions to this policy are to be considered, it shall be within the context of a resource management plan which plan shall be approved by the Coastal Commission as an amendment to the Land Use Plan.

Therefore, if lesser setbacks are to be considered, the LCP requires this to be within the context of a management plan submitted and approved by the Commission as an LUP amendment. As described above, such a management plan for Arana Gulch should precede this pathway proposal.

Is the City intending to process a variance to allow for such development in these LCP-required buffers? If so, please note that Zoning Ordinance Section 24.08.140 does not allow for variances when the situation requiring the variance is so recurrent in nature that a regulation could be drafted to cover the situation. In the case of a variance from regulations requiring 100 foot setbacks, the LCP currently provides a mechanism for allowing development within setback areas: a Commission-approved management plan which provides for a lesser setback.

In response to this ongoing 100 foot buffer issue, the City of Santa Cruz has been awarded grant monies by the Coastal Commission to be used for the preparation of city-wide creeks and wetlands management plans. These plans would be adopted by the Commission and provide the site specific context and management goals and objectives for each corridor - including Hagemann and Arana Creeks. We are encouraged that the City is pursuing such plans and encourage the City Public Works Department to coordinate with the Planning Department to ensure that the proposed project takes full advantage of this funded planning opportunity.

In any case, such plans would determine the appropriate setback, the enhancement of the Arana Creek and Hagemann Creek systems, and their management pursuant to the Environmental Quality policies of the Land Use Plan. The preferred planning approach for this area would be to wait for the creation of the city-wide creeks and wetlands management plan and/or a management plan for Arana Gulch (as described above) before pursuing this project. The DEIR should accurately depict these important management planning issues within the Arana Gulch greenbelt area.

Project Alternatives

In light of the significant coastal resources at stake in Arana Gulch, we suggest that reconsideration (or new consideration) and analysis of feasible alternatives, including but not limited to the following, be pursued.

Railroad Right of Way
It is our understanding that the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission has awarded monies for the acquisition and development of a pedestrian and bicycle trail that would use the existing railroad right-of-way. Such a trail could provide a consistent west-east travel corridor between City and County locations. Use of this existing corridor would not require development on, or encroachment onto, ESHAs. It appears that such an alignment would also meet the stated project objectives. Moreover, the development of such a bicycle and pedestrian trail along this existing railroad right-of-way could serve to provide off-street bicycle connectivity for not just Broadway to Brommer, but through all of urbanized Santa Cruz City and County. Such an off-street trail system would be much more effective for commuters and recreational users together who would not be forced on and off streets to make their way through the City and County. Such a trail likewise would serve to provide off-street connectivity to the San Lorenzo River path as well as potential bike paths at the Boardwalk and on to the existing trail at West Cliff Drive. Finally, such a trail could more aptly feed into the concept of a Monterey Bay Sanctuary trail through Live Oak, Capitola, and south Santa Cruz County. In conclusion, this alternative warrants further attention and the DEIR should be broadened to include a description of the status of any such trail efforts, and how such trails along the existing rail corridor may be utilized in the future.

Stagg Lane and Mello Lane
Although we welcome the additional information in the DEIR on the Stagg/Mello Lane to Fredrick Street Park bridge alternatives, it is not clear to us how these bridge options would have greater environmental impacts than the bridges and pathways associated with alternatives Al and D2. In particular, the following observations would appear accurate to convey this alternative, and the DEIR should be revised accordingly:

(1) The Stagg/Mello Lane bridge options would in fact meet project objectives of providing connectivity between Broadway and Brommer/7th Avenue since they would provide direct connection from 7th Avenue.

(2) The Stagg/Mello Lane bridge options could connect through to Harbor Drive (as opposed to Fredrick Street) which would allow for less parking (potentially) removed from Fredrick Street to accommodate bike lanes on Fredrick. In f act, it appears that at most one block of Fredrick Street would be so affected under such a scenario. Bike lanes along Harbor Drive would not appear to be necessary as this street is lightly used and conflicts between bicyclists and vehicles would not be expected. Is the existing path from Fredrick Street Park through to Harbor Drive in public ownership or subject to an easement in favor of the public? The DEIR should include information on this potential permutation.

(3) It is not clear that the grading that might be associated with the footings for the Stagg/Mello Lane bridge options would "increase costs and cause geotechnical impacts" as stated by the DEIR. How would the grading at these locations be any more "substantial," or result in more resource impacts, than for alternatives Al and D2? Alternatives Al and D2 would appear to require more such footings and grading in and around sensitive stream channels and wetlands. The DEIR should factor in that grading at already developed urban Harbor areas would tend to have less environmental impacts than would grading within or adjacent to the environmentally sensitive resource areas associated with alternatives Al and D2.

(4) The DEIR asserts that there may be "potential" 7th Avenue traffic impacts associated with the Stagg/Mello Lane bridge options. However, it does not include any information to this effect. The DEIR should be expanded accordingly.

(5) Bridges at Stagg/Mello Lane would not need to provide any more clearance for tall sailboat masts than does the existing bridge at Murray Street. Any boats which are located in the upper Harbor area have already had to pass under the Murray Street bridge. It is not clear to us that there would need to be additional clearance over and above this Murray Street clearance for these options. The DEIR should provide additional information on such height and clearance requirements in the Harbor.

(6) It is not clear to us that the Stagg/Mello Lane bridge options would be more costly financially than alternative Al and D2 bridges. In both alternatives Al and D2, two bridges would be required as opposed to one. Would less total bridging be required for Stagg/Mello options than would be for the two bridge Al and D2 options? The DEIR should provide clear cost estimates and comparisons.

(7) It is not clear to us that the Stagg/Mello Lane bridge options would be more visually intrusive (as detailed in the DEIR) than would be alternative Al and D2 bridges. In fact,.bridges in the already urbanized Harbor area would seem to be more compatible with the surrounding built environment than would be bridges in open space Arana Gulch areas that are currently, largely undisturbed by development. Moreover, such bridges would open up a new public vista over the Harbor that would be accessible to users of Fredrick Street Park and others entering from 7th Avenue in the County. This would be a public recreational enhancement that is supported by LCP policies.

(8) Finally, the Stagg/Mello Lane options should not be excluded because the County would have to accept maintenance responsibility for one of these roads. These streets already provide links from 7th Avenue to the Harbor. In fact, there is already a public stairway from Mello Lane to the Harbor at this location. These roads are very lightly utilized and it would not appear that formal bike lanes would be necessary to allow for connection to a bridge at this location. With respect at least to the Stagg Lane option, there currently exists an offer to dedicate a public access easement over this road parcel pursuant to CDP P-77-036. This offer runs from 7th Avenue all the way through to the Harbor property. The width of this easement is the entire road. Further analysis of whether this easement could be accepted and opened by the County is warranted. Also, we have been unable to locate the "jog" in Stagg Lane or the parcel (0.36 acres) of private property that the DEIR identifies; the road appears to be straight and terminate at the harbor parcel boundary. The DEIR should include analysis of this easement as well as costs that may need to be borne by the County or other agencies should the preferred bike path alternative use Stagg or Mello Lanes.

Harbor Project

Please note that existing and proposed Harbor development closest to Arana Gulch needs additional explanation. First, all Harbor development at this location, including, but not limited to the dredge storage yard, is required to be 100 feet away from the wetland riparian area to the north. Any development that is currently within this buffer zone has not received coastal permit authorization from the Coastal Commission. In fact, pursuant to CDP 3-95-067, the Port District was required to move development out of this buffer area and to erect a fence delineating the 100 foot setback. The "existing condition" discussion for this back Harbor location should be expanded to acknowledge that the only development authorized by CDP to the north of the existing Harbor parking lot pavement is an approximate 70 foot by 150 foot dredge storage yard wholly outside of the 100 foot setback area, and a fence delineating the 100 foot setback. Recent site visits by Commission staff have determined that development in this area is not entirely consistent with these requirements. Further research and additional efforts are underway to ensure that Port District development in this area is brought into compliance with existing CDP conditions.

Second, it should be noted that the Port District's proposed dry boat storage project in this inner Harbor area has not been acted upon. The Port District has proposed expanding approximately 60 feet into the previously required wetland/riparian setback at this location. Were both the bike path (alternative D2) and the Port District project to come to fruition as proposed in the inner Harbor area, there would be little area available with which to buffer the important wetland resource directly northward, to the detriment of resource and habitat values. Such a cumulative impact at this location may be significant and unsupportable. As described above, these resources are protected by the Coastal Act. LCP policies requiring a 100 foot setback at this location also provide guidance in this area.

Specific EIR Modifications

In regards to the identified preferred alternatives (Al and D2), we note that the following impacts analyzed and/or proposed mitigation measures are not adequately addressed within the DEIR:

Conclusion

In sum, the proposed project alternatives (Al and D2) both raise Coastal Act and LCP sensitive habitat concerns within Arana Gulch. Although we fully support the provision of non-automobile lateral access through urbanized Santa Cruz, such potential negative impacts dictate that other alternatives should be considered carefully. We hope that at the least the Stagg/Mello Lane Bridge options will be given more scrutiny as will additional details about the potential for recreational trails along, or even in place of, the existing railroad.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment in the development stage of this project. As you move forward with your project analysis and environmental review, the issues identified above, as well as any other relevant coastal issues identified upon further review or due to project modifications, should be considered in light of the provisions of the Coastal Act and the certified City and County of Santa Cruz LCP's. If you should have any questions regarding this matter, please contact me or Kevin Colin of my staff at (831) 427-4863.

Sincerely,
/s/
Charles Lester
District Manager
Central Coast District Office

cc: Alvin James, Director, Santa Cruz County Planning Department
Brian Foss, Port Director, Santa Cruz Port District
Jeannine DeWald, California Department of Fish and Game
Scott Morgan, State Clearinghouse (SCH 98102080)

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