Montecito Update

by Kelly Mahan

Roundabout Meeting Next Week

Next Wednesday, August 29, Montecito residents are encouraged to attend a community meeting and open house to learn more about two roundabouts that are slated to be built in Montecito.

The more widely discussed roundabout project is slated for the corner of Olive Mill Road and Coast Village Road, and will include a northbound exit and southbound entrance to Highway 101. The lesser-known project, which many Hedgerow neighbors have voiced concern about, places a roundabout at the corner of San Ysidro Road and North Jameson Lane, and includes a northbound entrance and southbound exit from Highway 101. The two projects are being considered “parallel projects” to the Highway 101 widening.

Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) has been working closely with staff from both the City of Santa Barbara and County of Santa Barbara to continue progress on these projects, and while the Olive Mill roundabout has been in the works since that time, the new roundabout at San Ysidro Road was only deemed necessary after it was determined the intersection at San Ysidro and North Jameson fell short on meeting the level of service required by the County. A number of alternatives were considered for both sides of the San Ysidro Road bridge, including roundabouts at both intersections on San Ysidro (one near the Miramar and one at North Jameson), as well as alternatives showing various combinations of all-way stops, traffic lights, and roundabouts.

The recommendation of evaluators was a combination of a roundabout at the north intersections and all-way-stop-control at the south intersections. According to County reps, this configuration meets County and Montecito Community Plan level of service requirements, addresses potential backups on the freeway off-ramps, provides continuity to the regional frontage road system with Olive Mill and Coast Village Road, minimizes footprint and impacts, and improves pedestrian and bicycle access through the interchange.

Both roundabouts are in the preliminary design phase with no firm dates on design completion or construction.

The Community Meeting and Open House is scheduled for Wednesday, August 29, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, at Chase Palm Park Center, 236 E. Cabrillo Blvd. For more information about the meeting, contact Walter Rubalcava, County Project manager, at Wrebalc@cosbpw.net.

Candidates Announced for November Election

Earlier this week, five local residents announced their candidacy for November’s upcoming election in which Montecito residents will be asked to fill three seats on the Montecito Water District (MWD) Board of Directors and two seats on the Montecito Sanitary District (MSD) Board of Directors. Calling themselves “the Montecito and Summerland Water Security Team,” the slate of candidates includes Woody Barrettand Dana Newquist(both running for MSD), and Cori Hayman, Ken Coates, and Brian Goebel(all three running for MWD).

The slate of candidates has built a platform on several key points, including major improvements in water infrastructure and wastewater management strategies, collaboration between local water districts including the Montecito Sanitary District and the Summerland Sanitary District and between the Montecito Water District and Montecito Sanitary District, conservation, recycled water, and groundwater management.

According to the candidates, the current drought crisis warrants support of major improvements in water infrastructure and wastewater management strategies. “Water security focuses on diversification or our water portfolio, and that means smartly harvesting and managing every drop of water on this side of the mountain,” said Coates, the head of the Water Security Team. “Water diversification includes pursuing an agreement with the City of Santa Barbara for desalinated water, a process that has progressed slowly because of missteps in the past. Cooperation here can be beneficial both to the City with lower costs and provide water security for the Montecito and Summerland communities. The current plan relies too much on imported state water, leaving the community at risk, especially during a record-breaking drought,” he said.

The Montecito Water District also serves Summerland, and Goebel, a candidate for the MWD, has close ties to both communities and noted the Summerland Sanitary District is exploring the idea of using recycled water to recharge groundwater. “Regional cooperation between agencies is key to ensuring water security,” he said.

The group also sees a major opportunity in recycled water. “Recycled water offers huge potential for not just landscaping needs, but can also be treated sufficiently to a level where it could be used to recharge groundwater supplies, which means a guaranteed built-in local supply,” said Barrett, a professional geologist and small business owner who raised his children in Montecito. He questions the current Board of the Sanitary District’s plan to build a new $3,500,000 building for four employees of the district. “I believe the money would be better spent on state-of-the-art equipment to clean the wastewater to a higher level, making it available to indirect potable use as recycled water for landscaping and/or groundwater recharge.”

“No one should confuse the pilot project currently planned by the Montecito Sanitary District as actual support for recycled water. It’s a small-scope, stand-alone project that will only water the district’s own lawn,” said Newquist, a former Montecito Fire Protection District director, running for the Sanitary District. “We waste up to 500,000 gallons of water a day by dumping partially treated sewage water just offshore at Butterfly Beach. During a prolonged, severe drought, this is hardly environmentally friendly. We can recycle that water, preserve our beautiful environmental resources, and bolster our water supply.”

The group says groundwater management is key to ensuring a stable water supply. “Groundwater is a key component of our water portfolio supply, and it’s the only reliable local supply. We must protect our groundwater basin. We now have a great opportunity to recharge it with ‘gold standard’ recycled water that has been subjected to the highest level of cleaning. This would help make well-owners less vulnerable to groundwater depletion,” said Hayman, who is running for MWD’s Board. Hayman has a background in regulatory law and has been an active community advocate as a board member on the Montecito Association.

The slate of candidates sees the future of water security for the area in diversifying the current water supply portfolio by accelerating the desalination agreement timeline with the City of Santa Barbara, pursuing groundwater management and recharge by implementing recycled water on a significant scale, conservation, and partnering with neighboring agencies.

“We are in a new era where very drop of water counts,” said Coates. “Continued severe drought and the vulnerability we experienced after the debris flow demand that we pursue a resilient, secure water future for Montecito and Summerland. The time for us to build the water and sanitary districts of the future is now.”

The candidates will vie for two seats on the Montecito Sanitary District Board currently held by incumbents Judy Ishkanianand Bob Williams. Three seats are up for grabs at Montecito Water District; incumbent Dick Shaikewitz is running for re-election. Directors Doug Morganand Sam Fryeare stepping down from the board as their terms are coming to a close.

We’ll have much more on the elections as they approach.

Sheriff’s Blotter

Friday, 17 August, 2 pm– Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the area of Hot Springs Trailhead on a report of a suspicious vehicle that was parked near the trailhead since August 13. The solo male occupant was last seen walking up the trailhead. The vehicle was registered to Wayne Habell, of Newhall, who was listed as an at-risk missing person out of Los Angeles County.

Sheriff’s deputies, the Santa Barbara County Air Support Unit and Santa Barbara Search and Rescue team members responded and began an extensive search of the area. The search teams were unable to locate Mr. Habell due to darkness, and the search was called off until the morning.

At 6 pm on August 18, a male decedent was located in the canyon. The body was taken to the Santa Barbara County Coroner’s Office for further investigation. The identity of the decedent was later determined to be 43-year-old Wayne Stuart Habell. The cause and manner of death was a suicide by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Habell was a 13-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Fire Department and had gone missing earlier in the week.

 

Let’s Block the Rocks… Now

Choke Points like this one caused major downstream damage (photo by Mike Eliason SBC Fire)

The Montecito community faces a difficult 2018-2019 winter season.If we get too little rain,we will return to drought worries; too much rainand Montecito residents face evacuation and the possibility of additional mud and rock flows. Of the two perils – severe drought versus debris flow – the more pressing danger is the fear of a repeat performance of the January 9 debris flow that destroyed or damaged 14% of the residential housing in Montecito.

Present Condition of the Terrain above Montecito

Anyone now hiking Montecito’s trails will confirm that the supply of boulders hanging above our heads today is at least equivalent to, if not greater than, the quantity of boulders and debris that descended upon our sleeping community on January 9. Regeneration ofstabilizing vegetation on the mountain in 2018 has been disappointing, due to insufficient water and fire-scorched earth. Hydro-mulching to encourage growth was deemed inadvisable because of the steepness of the slopes. The danger of repeat floods and debris flows remains a community threat for at least the next two to four years.

The National Weather Service has forecast a 65% chance of an El Niño weather pattern this fall and a 70% chance in the winter. Generally, but not always, El Niño weather patterns result in warmer temperatures and higher than average rainfall.

The Partnership for Resilient Communities

The Partnership for Resilient Communities (PFRC) is a Montecito-based, non-profit 501(c)(3) formed to collaborate with the County of Santa Barbara in a public/private partnership to do whatever it takes to avoid a repeat of the January 9 destruction.

PFRC provides a seat at the table for Montecito community leaders to cooperatively offer local and expert opinion as input to the County Recovery Plan. PFRC’s partnership with cash-strapped Santa Barbara County helps to moderate the danger from future natural disasters by expanding the bandwidth of talent and money available to the County.

The all-volunteer team of local residents and founders of the Partnership for Resilient Communities includes Gwyn Lurie, Brett Matthews, Les Firestein, Alixe Mattingly, Pat McElroy, Ron Pulice, Mary Rose,and Joe Cole.

Accomplishments to Date

Previous efforts of the PFRC include examining other similarly distressed communities in Switzerland and Japan; meeting with geologists and technology experts; funding of David Fukutomi, former deputy director of the California Office of Emergency Services (OEM), as a bridge between Montecito and County CEO, Mona Miyasato; identifying “best practices” by direct engagement withJames Lee Witt, former head of FEMA; Coast Guard admiral Thad Allen, incident commander for Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf Coast Oil Spill; and consultation withTom Dunne, Geomorphology, Hydrology Ph.D., Geography at the UCSB Bren School to understand local debris flow hazard areas and risk assessment.

Research in Switzerland led the PFRC team to Dr. William F. Kane, Ph.D., and president of Kane GeoTech, Inc. based in Stockton, California. The firm specializes in difficult geotechnical solutions to slope stability, debris flow, rock slides, avalanches, and instrumentation technology and manufacturing of slope monitoring systems. GeoTech has partnered with European barrier manufacturer GeoBrugg, to build high-tensile steel nets that snare dangerous debris before it damages homes, businesses, and neighborhoods. Successful GeoBrugg nets have been installed in Switzerland, Washington state, New Mexico, Camarillo, California, and other locations throughout the world.

Canyon Ring Nets

The current “hot project” for the PFRC team is the installation on private property of one or more testbed steel netting systems by December 2018 before the onset of winter storms. The December installation time-frame gives the partnership fewer than five months to negotiate contracts with local landowners, including liability protections; navigate through the laborious Santa Barbara County permitting process; and most importantly solicit private funding from Montecito donors to meet the December 2018 installation timetable. Use of a “disaster emergency declaration” may limit the need for CEQA environmental reviews, which could addyears,not months, to project approval status.

Debris nets are installed in potential debris flow areas in Camarillo Springs (photo courtesy of KANE GeoTech, Inc.)

Funding Requirements

An initial $3.5 million private funding effort is needed to offset the cost to install 18 ring nets in five Montecito canyons by December: Buena Vista Creek; San Ysidro Creek Debris Basin (present capacity 11,000 cubic yards); Cold Springs Creek Debris Basin (present capacity 13,000 cubic yards); Montecito Creek Basin (present capacity 7,000 cubic yards); and Romero Creek Debris Basin (present capacity 15,570 cubic yards).

The new Ring Nets are intended to double the catching capacity of each debris basin by capturing loose boulders, downed trees, and other debris that can clog downstream culverts and bridges creating prodigious overflows. Additional costs would include $700,000 for advanced monitoring systems for all five canyons; $700,000; for engineering plans and permits; and $500,000 for consulting expertise, for a total of $5.4 million, which needs to be raised for this 2018 project.

An additional 27 new Ring Nets would be installed in 2019, adding another 275,000 cubic yards of capacity for boulder and debris retention. Added nets would be installed in the Toro Canyon Upper West Debris Basin (present capacity 8,750 cubic yards); the Toro Canyon Lower West Debris Basin (present capacity 19,545 cubic yards); and the Arroyo Paredon Debris Basin (present capacity 8,360 cubic yards). Hydro-mulching to stimulate hillside vegetation growth would be an additional added expense.

It is hoped that some of the $5.4 million raised in private contributions can be recovered following Ring Net installation through FEMA and other federal and state grant programs, thus providing potential seed capital for additional mitigation measures in later years.

It is anticipated that no money will be contributed by the County of Santa Barbara from capital funds or operating funds in the 2018-19 fiscal year budgets, despite the fact that Montecito homeowners dispatch $104 million to County coffers each year and get back only a small percentage of that amount in services. Unfunded pension and healthcare liabilities for retired County employees effectively bankrupt the County, choking off funding for emergency capital funding expenditures.

Debris Basins and Creek Channel Maintenance

Historically, mountain mitigation has focused more on larger and more sophisticated debris basins as the primary defense against destructive debris flows. Unfortunately, enlargement of Montecito’s six debris basins may be restrained by local topography, cost and time constraints, which makes the easily installed, economically priced Swiss Ring Nets a more viable option for installation this year.

A second restraint on improved debris basins, or even the same ones we have now, is that the County Flood Control has no budget for routine annual maintenance of Montecito’s six inadequate, undersized debris basins, and no capital improvement budget to build larger and more efficient debris basins.

The irony is that the Santa Barbara County Final Updated Debris Basin Maintenance and Removal Plan, published in June 2017 – six months before the January 9 tragedy –stipulated the eliminationof two of our inadequate debris basins; “environmentalists” deemed the undersized basins to be a threat to an endangered non-existent fish swimming up a non-existent creek that is perpetuallydry during mating season.Thankfully, after the January 9 disaster, County plans to shut down the San Ysidro Debris Basin and the Cold Spring Basin were quietly shelved over the objections of the federal National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) and their environmental friends.

For real protection, what we need are sophisticated debris basins, similar in size to the giant Santa Monica Debris Basin (208,000 cubic yards of flood debris capacity) that saved Carpinteria from a Montecito-like disaster. The Santa Monica debris basin was built in 1977 as a result of major mud and rock flow in Carpinteria in 1969. Construction of the Santa Monica Debris Basin was sponsored by the Carpinteria Valley Watershed Project, with funding grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service, a forerunner to today’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

It took Carpinteria eight years after its disastrous debris flows of 1969 to plan, fund, and build its enlarged debris basin. How long will it take Montecito to do the same, and at what cost?

Time to Do Your (Our) Part

Interested contributors to the Partnership for Resilient Communities are encouraged to write checks payable to the Santa Barbara Foundation, earmarked for the Partnership for Resilient Communities, mailed to PFRC, P.O. Box 5476, Montecito, CA 93150. Generous donors in Montecito have pledged to match individual contributions up to a maximum of $500,000 to kick-start the campaign.