Montecito Recovery and Re-Population Plan

by Bob Hazard

(photo by Kelly Mahan)

We must work together to restore Montecito’s vibrancy. Together, we will restore our beautiful homes and gardens, our unique local shops and businesses, and our inviting country roads.

According to Kent Taylor, Incident Operations Chief from Montecito Fire, and Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown, we have moved from a “Search and Rescue” mode to “Recovery and Re-population of Montecito”.

Last evening, Montecitans gathered together as a community at La Cumbre Jr. High to honor those who have lost their lives or been seriously injured; those who lost homes and property; and those who have been evacuated and are yearning to return home.

When can we expect to get back in our homes?

The mandatory evacuation order will be lifted as soon as roads have been cleared, utility services have been restored and it is safe to return. The recovery process will go on for some time. The first priority is to re-open the 101. The second priority is to clean up local roads, restore the creek beds and remove mud and debris from storm drains in anticipation of potential future storms. The third priority is to restore utilities—water, electrical power, natural gas, sewer service and communication services.

It is probable that the lifting of the mandatory evacuation order will be done in incremental stages, as specific neighborhoods become safe, livable and accessible.

When will the 101 re-open? 

According to Tim Gubbins of Caltrans’ District 5, re-opening of the 101 is the #1 priority for Caltrans and the State of California. The 101 is the second most important North-South highway in the state. Nearly 100,000 cars, trucks, vans and campers per day, travel the 101 through the Montecito corridor. Workers living in Ventura and Oxnard cannot get to their jobs, businesses are experiencing long delays in the receipt of goods and services, and the tourism industry is currently compromised.

If Caltrans can continue to haul away 9,000 yards of muck and mud per day, current estimates are that it will take another six 24-hour workdays to complete this work. Although water is still seeping onto the 101 from broken water mains, drains are being cleared of mud and debris, following which any necessary structural repairs can be made.

Flood Control, Creek Dredging and Debris Removal

Tom Fayram of Santa Barbara County Public Works, reports that Montecito’s creek beds are its life savers. They must be cleared of giant boulders, downed trees and snapped off utility poles to get us ready for the next storm. Heavy duty dredging equipment has been inserted by the Army Corp of Engineers to break up giant boulders, remove debris including destroyed cars, downed utility lines, muck and mud, broken homes washed away from their foundations, bridges and culverts. Basic cleanup will take one week or more, depending on the intensity of any future rains.

Montecito Water District

Nick Turner, MWD General Manager, reports that the main water conduit carrying Lake Cachuma water, state water, stored water and purchased water for Montecito is up and running. Along with limited groundwater, supplies are adequate. Water is routed across Montecito via the highline pipe before being gravity fed to lower elevations within the community. There were six breaks in the highline conduit, which are all being repaired by Montecito Water District personnel, ably assisted by an incredible response team from the City of Santa Barbara Public Works. Hydrants were sheared off and are being replaced. Water service in Montecito should be restored within a matter of weeks.

Montecito Sanitary District

Led by General Manager Diane Gabriel, MSD is in charge of wastewater and sewer lines. Ms. Gabriel, whose own home was destroyed by a mudslide in the Tiberon area off North Jameson, was evacuated and is now living on a boat. While the sanitary plant suffered minimal damage, the massive pipe system under deep mud is still being assessed. Montecito Sanitary and its contractors have already inspected 1,300 of its 2,000 manholes and found 1,100 in good condition. Efforts are ongoing to suck mud and debris out of the sewer system. Montecito Sanitary hopes to re-open concurrently with the Montecito Water District services.

Montecito Utilities

Southern California Gas intends to be back on-line concurrent with Montecito Water. It must send a representative to each home when the evacuation is being lifted to turn on the gas and inspect the functioning of all gas appliances onsite.

California Edison has an army of people to restore electrical power once mud is removed and debris cleared. There are roughly 1,400 customers currently without power.

Cox Communication has mostly underground fiber optic cable and is reporting minimal damage.

Montecito’s Public Elementary Schools

Susan Salcido, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools, proudly reported that January 16, 2018 was the first day in six weeks that all 20 of our Santa Barbara County school districts are back in session. Both Cold Spring Elementary and Montecito Union School have been closed since December 6, 2017.

Cold Spring re-opened yesterday on its own undamaged campus. Montecito Union School, with its campus located in a mandatory evacuation zone, also re-opened yesterday with half its students gathering at Moxi, the Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation, and the other half of the students going to the Santa Barbara Zoo. Today, the two student groups will switch locations.

Re-uniting students with their teachers and peers, and returning kids to partial normality has a therapeutic advantage for kids, parents and teachers. Starting Thursday, MUS students will be placed in a longer-term, temporary home in classrooms generously provided by Santa Barbara City College and McKinley School, with wee-sized chairs and tables loaned by other school districts.

U.S. Mail Pickup

Montecito mail can be picked up at the Santa Barbara Post Office at 107 Nopalitos Way, near Milpas Street, south of the 101. Expect delays because postal service is compromised right now by postal workers’ inability to get to their jobs.

In Conclusion

Although Montecito has endured two back-to-back major calamities, we are strong. We will support each other, deal with our current challenges and build a better community than we had before.