Farmers concerned about levee trail expansion

On May 17, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors is set to hear about the feasibility of a proposed Santa Maria River Levee Trail expansion to Guadalupe, a project that worries farmers who work the land along the river. 

click to enlarge Farmers concerned about levee trail expansion
EXPANSION : The proposed segment would extend west into the city of Guadalupe, completing a transportation gap by providing a safe alternative to walking or biking, but may cause issues for farmers.

In 2019, the county Public Works Department proposed expanding the 2.7-mile walking path along the river by 6.7 miles as a safe walking or biking alternative to Highway 166, according to county documents. Lacy Litten, the founder and president for the nonprofit Facts from Farmers, said that farmworkers already have issues with the unexpanded trail. 

“A lot of the times, it’s regular people who don’t see the harm in breaking little laws like going over the closed portion of the trail, they don’t think they are doing any harm,” Litten said. “The farmers that currently farm next to the trailhead on Blosser [Road] have a lot of issues with homeless people and theft. The levee trail is kind of a theft highway, I would say.”

Litten explained that farmers are bound by contracts with grocery store and restaurant chains that put regulations in place to ensure product safety. Any damage to crops—like people or their pets walking through fields, or having goods stolen—could put the farmers’ jobs at risks.

“If we had a choice, we would love to support the trail, but it gets tricky when it causes problems for the crops. In the grand scheme of things, it’s to the benefit of the public; all of these people buy product from us, and to ensure they are getting the safest product, regulations and buffers must be in place,” she said. 

County Public Transportation Deputy Director Chris Sneddon said these concerns are important and need to be addressed as the project continues. 

“The [feasibility study] has some different options for addressing it, and as it moves forward more options may come up that may be helpful,” Sneddon said. 

County staff met with Facts from Farmers along with several other organizations at the site—located at North Blosser Road—in September 2021 where they discussed some of the concerns, according to the county’s feasibility study. 

“At the site visit, staff witnessed people bypassing the denial fencing at the terminus of the Tom Urbanske multi-purpose trail at North Blosser Road. ... Staff also noticed people letting their dogs off-leash, despite posted notices saying leashes are required at all times,” the study reported. 

Farmers said they put up small fences around their fields to keep animals out, but they regularly got trampled. At the site meeting, farmers also discussed their issues with homelessness and vandalism. To better regulate this, the feasibility study proposes adding fencing, implementing security systems, and adding lighting to the trail in order to keep users on the path. 

The Facts from Farmers team approached each of the county Board of Supervisors in individual meetings to share their concerns, Litten said, and asked to be more involved in these discussions. 

“They did take a lot of our concerns into consideration and put it in the study, and that means a lot. They heard us out, but we want to be part of the process, not told what to do after the fact,” Litten said.

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