In an effort to reduce fire hazards along the Highway 101 corridor in Goleta, Caltrans crews began work at the end of July to clear brush and dead vegetation from Fairview Avenue to Los Carneros Road between the highway and the train tracks. The work also included tree trimming and pruning the remaining tree canopies. The project is expected to conclude by Friday, August 7, 2020, and may involve periodic shoulder or lane closures for the protection of workers. The City of Goleta provided 40-cubic yard roll-off Marborg containers in support of this effort.
City of Goleta Director of Neighborhood Services and Public Safety, Vyto Adomaitis said, “The vegetation removal will greatly reduce the fire load in the area and likelihood of a fire starting in the first place, and the new visibility through the corridor is expected to reduce the number of new homeless encampments being established.”
In July there were several fires along Highway 101 in Goleta that were associated with homeless encampments. The build-up of dense vegetation, trash and debris through the corridor has added to the heightened level of concern as the City has seen a proliferation of encampments since the onset of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The danger is not only to encampment residents, but the larger Goleta community given the proximity to businesses and residences.
Due to the current pandemic, crews did not clear or remove any homeless encampments. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance that homeless encampments not be cleared to prevent potentially infected or ill individuals from being dispersed into the community. Encampment residents were given advanced notice of the work being done.
Adomaitis said, “The pandemic has complicated how these encampments can be addressed. Accordingly, we have modified our approaches, but we are continuing close coordination efforts with Caltrans, California Highway Patrol, the Sheriff’s office, Santa Barbara County Fire and other allied agencies to do everything we can to ensure the safety of the entire community.”
In a separate effort to reduce fuel load through the area, Caltrans is providing trash bags for distribution to people living in the encampments for their use to collect their trash and debris, with the request to then place their full trash bags along the freeway (safely off the paved shoulder area). Caltrans will then pick up these bags on a weekly basis. The goal is to reduce the amount of trash build-up in these areas, thereby reducing the fuel load.