Highway 101 on Track for Monday Re-opening

(photo by Kelly Mahan)

by Bob Hazard

The 101 is expected to re-open Monday for public use. Up to 8 feet of debris has been removed and new guardrails have been installed. State route 192 Easy Valley Road remains closed indefinitely, pending probable replacement of damaged creek bridges. All evacuation orders remain in place.

Re-opening of Coast Village Road Business/Shopping areas

The City of Santa Barbara is responsible for CVR re-population. Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo has vowed to help shop owners and restaurants reopen ASAP. CVR is likely to be the first re-population zone in Montecito.

Take A Look at the Interactive Map of Montecito

If you haven’t done so already, and you have access to a computer, go to the countyofsb.org website. Click on the large blue horizontal bar labeled “Incomplete Preliminary Damage Inspections (95% Complete)” map to view the condition of individual Montecito properties. Enter your street address and the map will zoom in to show the condition of your home and your immediate neighborhood.

It is easy to see that significant destruction followed the channel basins of Montecito’s major creeks—Montecito, San Ysidro, Buena Vista, Romero and Toro Canyon. The interactive maps represent an awesome display of Santa Barbara County technical competence.

How Can Montecito Residents Recover UPS Packages?

If you are expecting a UPS delivery, head out to 505 Pine Avenue in Goleta, exiting the 101 at 217 (the Santa Barbara Airport exit), right on Hollister Ave and left a few blocks later onto Pine. That center handles 17,000 UPS packages every day, rising to 28,000 packages a day through the Christmas season.

The UPS customer service center can generally locate and retrieve your package in an average of three minutes. The lines are short and move quickly

Another Montecito Miracle Story

While standing in line at the UPS Center, the woman behind me was Karen Johnson, who was asleep in her home of 18 years at 204 Olive Mill Road, along with her husband Augie and two of her children. 3:30 AM at 204 Olive Mill Road.

Awakened by the rain and the roar of the gas explosion at 3:30 AM, the whole family with their dog climbed to their roof in the darkness, watching a deluge of water, mud, boulders, debris and ooze coming toward them, while frantically calling to nearby neighbors, who were also clinging to their rooftops. The Johnsons watched, helplessly, as two of their three cars catapulted past them in the mudflow.

When emergency responders arrived some time later, Karen’s husband Augie climbed off the roof into the deep muck to join them and heard the sounds of what they thought was an infant crying. The sound was coming from the mud underneath their single remaining car and, miraculously, they found the Benitez baby, who had apparently washed down Montecito Creek from East Valley Road near Parra Grande Lane. Sadly, the baby’s mother, Faviola Benitez Calderon, is now missing and presumed dead; two older siblings are confirmed dead, but the father and the baby survived—an incredible Montecito miracle.

The Johnson family was evacuated out of the deep mud at 7:00 am. In relaying her story to me in line at the UPS facility, Karen made the astute observation that every family in her immediate neighborhood had the same discussion prior to the storm’s arrival. The women wanted to leave; the men all thought it would be safe to stay in their homes. Sadly, the women were right.

Family Assistance Center

Yesterday, January 17, Santa Barbara County opened a new Local Recovery and Family Assistance Center for evacuees at the Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara at 1 North Calle Cesar Chavez, Santa Barbara, 93103, open from 11:00 am to 6:30 pm weekdays and 10:00am to 2:30pm Saturday. The Center is intended to create a centralized, single-point service center for those seeking to recover and rebuild. Reps from FEMA and all local, state and federal agencies are represented to provide answers and directions for hotel accommodations, housing assistance, permitting, cleanup, business insurance, flood/fire insurance and other topics.

Here Come The Lawsuits

The most interesting of these is the lawsuit filed by a four-firm law team representing four individuals and two business owners. The suit alleges that exploding transformers owned by Southern California Edison were responsible for the Thomas Fire on December 4, 2017, which de-nuded the hillsides between Ventura and Santa Barbara, making us vulnerable to the flooding that came early on the morning of January 9, 2018.

Last Friday the lawsuit was amended to include the Montecito Water District, alleging that a failure of the water district’s reservoir shutoff system caused the accidental release of some 8 to 9 million gallons of stored water down into the creek basins of Montecito.

Sadly, these issues will be topics of discussion for months and years to come. Let’s hope they do not distract us from the work of restoring this community to its previous vibrancy.

Status Report from the Montecito Sanitary District


The following is a press release that I issued to the County EOC today:

 The Montecito Sanitary District wastewater treatment plant was unharmed in the mudslide event. Due to the evacuations in the service area, wastewater flowing to the treatment plant is currently minimal –but proper treatment has been and continues to take place. All four of the District’s wastewater lift stations are intact and functioning. 

When SCE power went down during the flood event, all District facilities auto-transferred to back up diesel generator power and continued to function properly. To date, District crews in conjunction with our mutual aid partners, the City of Santa Barbara Public Works Dept., Goleta Sanitary District and Carpinteria Sanitary District have visually inspected 1300 of our 2000 manholes. 1100 manholes are reported to be in good condition. Many manholes were identified as having mud and debris. We are removing that material with vacuum trucks and delivering it to the wastewater treatment plant. 

 As mud and debris is removed from roadways and areas that are currently inaccessible, the inspections and mud removal work will continue. There are many locations within the District where wastewater service is currently available and reliable. Other areas still need to be inspected and cleaned. We will continue to work diligently to restore reliable wastewater service to the entire community by the time potable water service is available.

  Last night we mobilized three crews from National Plant (a contractor) working to vacuum mud, rocks and debris from our pipelines in North Jameson and Olive Mill / Hots Springs. Currently we are only approved to work at night in these locations. We will continue to work at night until we are given approval to work in the daytime and then we will work around the clock until the work is done.

  If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Best regards,

Diane Gabriel, P.E.

General Manager / District Engineer

Montecito Sanitary District