Moving Forward

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   February 1, 2018
Rick Lemmo, Jeannine’s Bakery owner Alison Hardey, and Red Cross representatives at the Coast Village Association Recovery Assistance Center

Last week, thousands of displaced Montecito residents were allowed to go back to their homes, after being mandatorily evacuated for more than two weeks following the mudflow event on January 9. The majority of Montecito residents and business owners are slowly getting back to their day-to-day routine, as others have spent the last week removing mud and debris from their properties with the help of both government agencies and dozens of civilian volunteers. 

On Friday, nearly 100 stakeholders gathered at the Faulkner Gallery in Santa Barbara to hear the County’s plans in moving forward and rebuilding from the disaster, which effectively permanently changed the topography of at least three key areas in Montecito. Led by First District supervisor Das Williams, County assistant CEO Matt Pontes, First Five executive director Ben Romo, and Office of Emergency Management director Rob Lewin, the meeting was a starting place to hear from residents and stakeholders on how they want to move forward. 

Lewin touched on the current priorities of his office, which include revising evacuation maps and protocols, with the help of scientists from the Forest Service and CalFire. “We know that if we are going to end up in the same situation again, that we need to prepare,” he said, adding that the evacuation orders that were sent out the weekend before the storm were unprecedented. “We implemented something we had never done before, an evacuation before a storm. From the top leadership down, we knew we had to do it. We stood behind the information. We felt strong enough and confident to do it,” he said. New evacuation maps designed specifically for a mudflow event are being drawn up and will be utilized over the next several winters until our denuded hillsides have time to regrow following the Thomas Fire. Verbiage associated with evacuations – specifically the words “mandatory” and “voluntary” – are also being reviewed, according to officials. 

Lewin said that in the disaster zone, work continues on clearing debris basins, fixing damaged bridges along Highway 192, restoring utilities, and helping residents clear their properties. As of press time, only one major debris basin is clear (San Ysidro), with completion of Cold Spring expected soon. Two other debris basins, Romero and Santa Monica in Carpinteria, will take at least another month of time, Lewin said. “We may have storms before they are clear, and we need to prepare for that,” he said. 

Pontes, who is overseeing the rebuilding of Montecito, explained that topography changes in Montecito will determine the rebuilding, and that many homeowners with property in the Long Term Exclusion Zones will not be permitted to rebuild. “The creek channels have moved, and Mother Nature has told us where they are,” he said, adding that crews are in the slow process of removing 2 million cubic yards of material due to the debris flow. “To put that in perspective, one truckload can carry about ten cubic yards,” he said. It’s unclear at this point what will happen to those properties, and if the County will declare them eminent domain. A memorial park to honor the at least 21 people who lost their lives is also being discussed. 

For homeowners whose homes were damaged or destroyed and rebuilding is possible, the County is building the infrastructure in which to speed the process along, including designating dedicated case management teams and expediting the permitting process. The first step is removing the mud from homes and property, which Pontes said is the responsibility of the homeowner, but there is help available (see info about the volunteer Bucket Brigade below). In order not to compete with trucks removing mud from the public right-of-way, homeowners are being asked to remove mud from their homes but leave it on their property for the time being. For more information about mud removal options, visit 

Impacted residents are encouraged to visit the Local Assistance Center at Calvary Chapel, which will be open until Saturday, February 3. There, residents can find information about insurance claims, FEMA, short-term housing, support groups, counseling, and more. There is also a similar center on Coast Village Road at Olive Mill Plaza, which is sponsored by the Coast Village Association. The Recovery Assistance Center is a place for residents to find information related to rebuilding, a place to gather for meetings, and a place for people to go to offer assistance to those impacted. 

“The center is available for meetings or groups up to sixty people, to any person or group offering assistance to those businesses and residents impacted physically, emotionally, and financially by the recent storm and aftermath,” said CVA Board president Bob Ludwick, who has been staffing the center along with executive director Sharon Byrne. “This is not intended for those seeking to sell something, but for folks who truly have comfort, information, and encouragement to offer,” he said. 

The Red Cross will be providing casework, recovery services, emotional support, tetanus shots, and various other services at the Coast Village Recovery Assistance Center, thanks to Ludwick and CVA board member and Caruso representative Rick Lemmo, who helped facilitate the relationship. Miramar owner Rick Caruso gave a sizeable donation to the Red Cross, in order to help facilitate relief for Montecito residents and business owners. Luke Beckman, Relief Operation director for the Montecito mudslides, said: “Our mission is to lessen human suffering. If it’s something we don’t do, we will find a way to get to ‘yes.’” The Center is open daily from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm, and noon to 4:30 on the weekends. 

Moving forward, the County is seeking residents who would like to be involved in the decision-making process regarding rebuilding. A survey is available online at Supervisor Williams encourages everyone who lives, works, or owns a business in Montecito to take the online survey and provide their thoughts and ideas about what they would like to see as the process of rebuilding begins. The survey, which is available through Monday, February 12, also allows participants to indicate their desired level of participation in the ongoing planning process. After the survey is completed, those who indicate a willingness to actively participate in developing a vision and plan will begin by reviewing and discussing all of the collected comments and suggestions. “It is a whole community approach,” explained Romo. “We are working towards a common goal.” 

For more information about anything related to the mudflow event and rebuilding, visit 


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