Ellwood Mesa Update - August 15

City News

As the community continues to process the distressing news of the health of the trees on the Ellwood Mesa and the effects on the Monarch butterfly habitat, there have been many questions regarding the removal of the dead and dying  trees and the future of the Monarchs at Ellwood. New information is received almost daily and the City wanted to provide you with an update.

The City Council will discuss this item at two upcoming meetings -- Tuesday, September 5th at 6 p.m. and Thursday September 7th at 5:30 p.m.  Read more below.

First, the City is taking a multi-disciplinary approach in addressing this complex issue. A project team with representation from Planning and Environmental Review, Public Works, Neighborhood Services, Legal and Risk Management, Community Relations and the City Manager has been working together. Given the magnitude of the situation, the project has been broken into two specific components: 1) The hazardous tree removal aspect and the emergency tree action plan; and, 2) Restoration efforts and the habitat management plan. The tree removal work will be overseen by Public Works with involvement from Planning and Environmental Review.  The restoration efforts and habitat management plan will be overseen by Planning and Environmental Review as a continuation of their work on the Butterfly Habitat Management Plan.  Both projects will include input from our multidisciplinary team.


On July 6, the scientific team presented their initial information to staff about the dire situation on the Ellwood Mesa.  Staff quickly mobilized a multidisciplinary team to address the variety of issues including tree health, the cutting of trees, the long-term restoration and management plan, public outreach, liability and risk concerns, permitting and recreation.  Staff brought the issue to Council on July 18 with the information that was available at the time. A public workshop was held on July 26.  Affected trails were closed following that meeting and temporary signage was installed. The signage, prepared in English and Spanish, was deployed and more permanent, bilingual signage has been ordered. The website pages are here: http://www.cityofgoleta.org/projects-programs/ellwood-mesa-habitat-project and http://www.cityofgoleta.org/projects-programs/parks-open-space/ellwood-mesa-habitat-project-spanish-2487


Dr. Dan Meade and the staff at Althouse and Meade have been, and continue to be part of our scientific team.  Dr. Meade has finalized the tree assessment, provided staff with a draft action plan, and will continue to work on the butterfly habitat management plan and restoration efforts.  Staff will be bringing back a contract amendment for City Council approval to reflect the additional work this team has done on the action plan.


Several weeks ago, staff met with the Coastal Commission Executive Director Jack Ainsworth and the District Director Steve Hudson to brief them on the health of the eucalyptus trees on Ellwood and give them a tour of the site. The discussion included the process of obtaining an emergency permit with Coastal Commission.  They understood the hazards and the need to remove trees. They said they would process the emergency permit quickly once they received the request and provided guidance on the information they would need from the City to process the permit. Staff had a follow up call with Coastal Commission staff today (August 15) to update them on the status of the City’s efforts, and they continue to be supportive and helpful.


The tree action plan includes precise, targeted removal of trees that are dead or dying.  There will be no clear cutting.

The City has reached out to several tree removal firms, including many in the local area, to make them aware of a future bid opportunity.  The scope of work has not yet been developed because staff was waiting for the action plan. Once Council provides input on the tree removal work, staff will proceed with the bidding process and the award of a contract.

When staff met with the Santa Barbara County Fire Marshall, he recommended we contact a firm in San Bernardino County because they had prior experience removing dead trees without harming the surrounding ESHA, and would know what the least disruptive methods and equipment would be. Staff followed up with his recommendation so that the scope of work could be more specific and tailored to the needs of the habitat in which the City will be working. When the public has had the opportunity to provide input and the scope has been approved by Council, then the tree removal work will be put out to bid.


Staff continues to review the action plan prepared by Althouse and Meade, and to refine the recommendations for the scope of the tree removal work.  The City Council will consider the next steps at the regularly scheduled City Council meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, September 5th.  The item will include a discussion of the action plan created by Althouse and Meade, the options for removal of hazardous trees (how many, in what specific areas, and over what time frames), the options for opening trails that are closed now, recommended tree removal methods to be used, recommended methods of removing the wood from the dead trees from the grove, the process and time frame for soliciting bids for the tree removal work, and the costs of the tree removal options. As staff continue to review the draft action plan, it is likely that other topics will be added to the meeting discussion.

A special City Council meeting will be held on Thursday, September 7th and will begin at 5:30 p.m.  This will allow time for the City Council to think about the input received on September 5th and then move forward with a decision at the September 7th meeting.  Please note that both meetings will be televised on Channel 19 and streamed through our website at www.CityofGoleta.org.

Thank you for your concern and your patience as staff works to address this important issue.