Crane School Hero, Joel Weiss

By Montecito Journal   |   February 1, 2018

On the morning of January 9, our family narrowly escaped a tsunami of mud waters and our family is lucky to be alive. When the mountain of mud came at us, we fled our home as fast as we could. My husband took one car and I took another. We went to the right and could not go down Sheffield Drive because it was flooded.

When we went to the left, my car was damaged by the floodwaters from the San Ysidro Creek Bridge. My husband took my daughter and me in his car, and we drove to the closest and safest place we could, which was Crane Country Day School’s parking lot. Many cars were in the lot including campers.

When daylight came, the head schoolmaster, Joel Weiss, came out to the cars to check on people. He offered food and shelter to all. One of my neighbors is in her 90s and in a wheelchair; he gave her a room with handicap access and assisted her. He let our family stay three nights in the Crane School Library. He brought us food, water, blankets, and pillows. He was our hero. Even after we left the area, Joel called and checked on us. In a time of devastation such as this, I want to take the time to thank people like Joel for their random acts of kindness and compassion. We truly are grateful to Joel Weiss and Crane School, and the first responders and everyone who has taken the time to help our wonderful community of Montecito.

Judi Mjelde

It’s Happened Before

A mudslide – referred to as “debris flow” by scientists – devastated Montecito during the early hours of January 9, when there was a 15-minute downpour of heavy rain. Some unofficial estimates have placed the mudflow at 20 mph, faster than people could run. Nearly a third of those killed were from immigrant families working in service jobs.

It was over 100 years ago – January 15 through 30, 1914 – when the first major Santa Barbara area storm was photo-documented. On Sunday, January 25, 1914, a total of 6.95 inches of rain fell within 48 hours, with the last 4 inches alone falling over a two-hour period on the final day. 

The 1914 storm saw portions of Old Spanish Town in Montecito washed away as Montecito Creek jammed up at the East Valley bridge overflowed its banks and undermined homes. The downpour caused two fatalities, Louis and Elizabeth Jones, who were drowned while attempting to cross Oak Creek in Montecito to get home to their children.

With the heavy rains in 1914 falling for nearly two weeks, Santa Barbara experienced heavy flooding. Over 16 inches of rainfall caused widespread damages to agricultural lands, roads, bridges, rail lines, and houses. The rainfall caused enormous damage in both suburban and rural areas. These storms also resulted in the destruction of 12 homes and six bridges in the Mission Creek area. Two dams were destroyed and 22 deaths reported. 

Today, a warming planet is at least partially to blame for the state’s recent weather woes. Already, 15 of the 20 largest fires in California’s history have occurred since year 2000. Although determining the exact cause of a fire can take months, four out of five wildfires can be traced back to people. Researchers say a “mega drought” could sweep across the American West by the end of the century if greenhouse gas emissions increase at their current rate. 

Burn scars can be blamed for the mudslides and debris flows, but this story has a lot more to do with many years of California weather patterns. A perusal of this link explains: 

The U.S. Geological Survey, in a study of wildfires and debris flows in Southern California, notes that post-fire debris flows are most common within two years of a fire and are usually triggered by heavy rainfall. 

Concerning current emergency services in Montecito, the topic has arisen again of another fire station; the Jackson Ranch location is apparently still under consideration. 

Nigel Gallimore

(Editor’s note: The globe may be warming, at least for the time being, but the 1914 rainfall and subsequent flooding, we don’t believe, can be laid at the hands of human-caused activity. – J.B.)

A Happy Surprise

At this terrible time for our community, it was such a nice feeling to find copies of the Montecito Journal waiting for us in the lobby of the Lemon Tree upon arrival here. Our wonderful Montecito will survive thanks to all who are working to save it. A huge thanks to all of you.

Jean von Wittenburg

(Editor’s note: You and all our readers readers should be pleased to note that copies of MJ are/were also available at El Encanto, Pepper Tree Inn, Canary Hotel, Bacara Ritz-Carlton, Santa Barbara Inn, Harbor Inn, Fess Parker’s Doubletree, Inn by the Harbor, Hyatt on Cabrillo, Hotel Californian, and other evacuee centers. Any other establishment that would like to receive MJ, either temporarily or permanently, should contact – J.B.)

Under the Oaks

Recently, while shopping my way through a forest of textures and textiles at Wendy Foster’s Montecito branch, I somehow found myself deep in a conversation about space. I recommended to my conversation mate two books: Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and Gaston Bachelard’s lovely Poetics of Space. Little did I realize how visible much of Montecito would soon become because of its sudden and apocalyptic invisibility, and how many of us would suddenly find our homes and our favorite nooks and corners within them – nests in which we had adored curling up comfortably and daydreaming and envisioning our futures – swept impossibly away.

In Poetics, Gaston recognizes that home is our first and most intimate universe. For him, the house possesses value not because of its fidelity to some tradition of architecture, but because of the life it shelters as a home. “The house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.” The nooks and corners of houses are centers of simplicity in dwelling, wherein we can experience the “primitiveness of refuge” and plunge into Being. 

I was fortunate to have worked and dwelt for many years in a large but humble center of such simplicity: a refuge where, in the very heart of the utter simplicity of silence of the oak woods, stood a chapel. Here, countless multitudes would gather together in centralized solitude, to shelter from the despair and coldness of the world. And if they trembled at all there, it was a shivering with Spirit.

Now many of us, refugees from the destruction of our abodes, if we awaken at all, wake up in different dwellings than the ones we had long inhabited: dwellings in which we may no longer feel the primitiveness of refuge, the simple comfort of envisioning our futures. Many of us no more enjoy a safe and stable nest. We find ourselves waxing nostalgic for our haunts of yesterday. 

Where are we to find them once again? Gaston asks, “Are the towers of our souls razed forever?” How are we to re-envision and rebuild them?

Gaston offers us hope in this endeavor, writing that those nooks and crannies of the past, wherein we have envisioned and daydreamed, re-form themselves into new daydreams and thus remain within us forever. By having abided in these centers of solitude, we have learned the most fundamental of blessings: how to abide within ourselves. And the dimensions and qualities of our new dwellings will manifest themselves as expressions of our deepest sense of abiding.

Thus, like oaks, we remain rooted in abiding. In abiding, the deep-rooted “oaks” of our memories reveal that which abides within us. What frequenter of oak groves at dusk has not felt the abysmal power of their stillness and borne it secretly away into the night? Oaks, and memories, abide, and are prayers — their dark hearts leafing outward into the light as surely as human hearts flower inward, following the grain of an even fuller illumination.

James N. Powell

Finding Solace

Thank you for your cover story on the Parra Grande neighborhood (“The Sounds Of Silence,” MJ #24/4). It is a pleasure to find a positive, heartwarming story in the newspapers today. Thank you to Cassie Neumann. What a joy to know that such a neighborhood for children growing up exists today.

My day was brightened by the article.

Harriet Sharp
Santa Barbara

(Editor’s note: Ms Neumann’s story, and the way she tells it, did mitigate some of the sadness and pain, though none of the horror, connected with this terrible event. Her pain and her sadness, however, were evident throughout. – J.B.)

Etched in Stone

Now that there have been two deadly incidents, I suggest we have two commemorative sites in the upper village park, one for the fire and one for the flood. Perhaps the sites could be in the northwest and northeast corners. In my thinking, one committee with two subcommittees would work well.

The committee could be formed by the Montecito Foundation or the Montecito Association. The Foundation should be approached and be asked if it would create a special fund account, and any contributions may be tax deductible. The tax issue would have to be checked. The subcommittees then would contact a stone artisan, select two boulders (in plentiful supply), retain a local person to make the (bronze?) plaques, determine what, if any, county approval may be required, and determine cost. The authorities at the cemetery could be of some assistance in finding someone to work stone and make the plaques.

I believe the flood plaque should contain the organizations that assisted us; in addition, the plaque on one side of the stone should list those who lost their Iives, subject to wishes of the survivors. A target date should be set: January 9, 2019, would be appropriate.

Davis Von Wittenburg


In July 2001, an Edison generator stopped functioning and an intersection’s traffic lights went dark in downtown Santa Barbara. I took Edison to Small Claims Court due to [damage] to my vehicle. I was informed that in many cases, government-Edison contracts include a Buddy-Buddy contract protecting the utility from being sued whatever the circumstances.

We’ll find out soon enough if a utility can be financially responsible for the Thomas Fire and Thomas Flood.

Matt McLaughlin
Santa Barbara

Purple Hearts for First Responders

Your recent headline “A Sad, Sad Time” regarding the unfathomable tragedy that struck Montecito in the middle of the night was perfect. To see all those lives of friends and neighbors, especially the young ones, snuffed out was the saddest thing that’s happened in this community since I came here in 1959.

I just hope those that died didn’t suffer. It makes the 1969 platform A oil spill appear insignificant in comparison. It seems as though there should be a civilian equivalent to the Purple Heart given to the first responders for working such long hours in such nightmarish conditions.

Larry Bond
Santa Barbara

We Will Rebuild

Our town is small and yet is known from coast to coast, and in Europe too. I saw a T-shirt with its name as I walked around Stonehenge’s rocks of blue, and then on a ball cap as I stood looking up at the Eiffel Tower, proclaiming itself worthy of attention in front of this icon of France’s power. 

Though fire, wind, rain, and mud has tried its best to scour us from this Eden hillside, with all nature’s powers, be sure of this: We will make nature bend to our will again and rebuild it better than before.

Gene Tyburn

Money for Mooy?

You should be ashamed for plugging a gofundme account for someone like John Mooy just because people know him, but not the unknown people who probably won’t ever receive as much money or help simply because they are unknown.

Very sad.

We (me, you, and everyone else) may and often will not ever know the identities of those who have done more for the community than John and need just as much, if not more help than him. Even more so, what makes John Mooy so much more special than all the others who lost just as much, if not more (such as their family members)?

So very sad. So very shameful. You should apologize to all those in need.

By the way, there is general gofundme page that is meant to help everyone. Why in a million years wouldn’t you publish something like that? 

Carissa N. Horowitz
Santa Barbara

(Editor’s note: No apology warranted or required: Steven Libowitz mentioned the gofundme site for John Mooy in his column (“On Entertainment,” MJ # 24/4), wondered too whether Mr. Mooy deserved “help more than other victims,” and suggested Mooy’s fans should decide. In the meantime, one can help the Benitez family and others at gofundme/Montecito Benitez family mudslide. – J.B.)

Sign of the Times

Monica Eller, David Bates, and Dede Singhass help launch the “Rebuilding Montecito” process by leveling and stabilizing the Sinaloa/Avila signpost

This is inspirational “Rebuilding Montecito”, one sign at a time. My neighbors (David Bates, Monica Eller, and Dede Singhass) began by uprighting the Sinaloa Drive-Avila Way signpost as their way of starting the “rebuilding process.”

We are one community and we stand strong.

Darlene Bierig

Three Men, Two Hours

Thursday mornings, I play tennis beginning at 8:30. At that precise time, a truck with three men pulled into the Oak Park parking lot. As we were warming up on the adjacent tennis court, we watched the unloading of two vacuum cleaners followed up by the bossman firing up a generator. This parking lot is approximately 6,000 sq ft. Prior to the Thomas Fire, a team of two men would use leaf blowers (hate them) for clearing the lot. Apparently, a new method was needed.

1) The cleaning of the lot required two workers armed with vacuums and a supervisor to manage these men, start the generator, and drive the truck. This task took approximately two hours.

2) My estimate is that a street cleaner would probably take 10 minutes using a single operator.

3) This task was given to a contractor: Enviroscapes.

Does the City not have employees cleared on the operational procedures of vacuums? This is a very small example of what may be happening with our money in our beloved town. I would love to see the invoice on this job. 

Dana Newquist 

Talk about Water

The following is an open letter to Steven Blum (On Law, MJ #24/4) concerning damage accruing to governmental failure and the potential case of non-action.

One of the issues that typically fails to be discussed following this type of disaster is an unrecognized accumulation of latent public health impacts to drinking water systems. In the case of Montecito, there was, as we know, the destruction of water mains slung along road bridges crossing creeks. This opened the system to serious contamination, resulting in a boil-water and later a super-chlorine announcement.

What is generally not recognized is that biofilms immediately begin to be established within the piping following such contamination. Biofilms shelter pathogens by gluing themselves to the luminal surfaces of the water pipes. This sheltering is able to defy chlorine treatment and the biofilm-enclosed pathogens, well sheltered under their goo-like coating, multiply, pick up and transfer genetic information, and spread along the protected internal surfaces of the piping. These shedding biofilms move down the piping and dramatically and adversely impact agricultural profits, hence, there is widespread interest within the agricultural sector.

Notwithstanding the abundant discussion in other sectors, I have found that those in the drinking water sector seem reluctant to have a transparent discussion of this process. This reluctance to acknowledge public health impacts also accrues to the clientele captured regulatory community at several governmental levels. Thus, the public may be ineffectively served and at risk. The disaster in Flint, Michigan, is symptomatic. Luckily, we have a highly responsible board and staff now dealing with this event, but this topic needs to be understood by the community.

The point of use (POU) water quality control systems found in many homes can and do become impacted and that contamination then offers a reservoir for prolonged release of pathogens, some of which are likely to be multi-drug resistant. Again, this is well-studied but often little discussed in the drinking water industry.

Because there could be some discussion of potential disaster-related funding, the community leaders should inquire if this type of testing might be covered. That may take cooperation by some community members with high-level contact within political systems.

Thus, the question for Mr. Blum: Would the failing to do adequate POU testing (not just the typical single indicator coliform lab test) constitute a taking, if it is later found that one’s entire plumbing were contaminated and hence, for health reasons, necessitate replacement? 

Dr Edo McGowan


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