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


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.