In Praise of Brian and Jay

By Montecito Journal   |   February 8, 2018

I chose to write this letter even at the hesitation of the people I am writing it for…

I am a past resident of Montecito, where I grew up. I attended Mt. Carmel School as well as Bishop Diego. I moved away after college, yet continue to visit my parents and sister who are still there and remain lifelong friends with many who reside there. 

In the early morning of January 9, I received a call from my 15-year-old nephew, who very calmly stated that my parents, Theresa and Roy Rohter, were in their home in Montecito when they were struck by a mudslide. He informed me that my mother had been swept away by the mudslide, yet had survived and was at a neighbor’s house. My father was currently unaccounted for. 

I was then called by my brother-in-law, Jay Krautmann, who resides in Montecito and is a real estate agent with Village Properties. He informed me that he and Brian Brunello, a dear friend of mine and co-owner of the Liquor and Wine Grotto on Coast Village Road, had hiked to the property and were trying to reach my mother and search for my father. 

Brian, who I have known since fifth grade, and whom I considered my little brother, was also calling me to keep me informed of what was going on. He was with my mother even before the first responders could reach the scene. He and Jay were actually clearing boulders for the ambulance to be able to drive to the home. I credit them with rescuing my mother from the cold, wet, muddy landscape that had enveloped the area.

I cannot fully express my gratitude for Brian and Jay. Their actions in the pitch black of that early morning will forever be remembered. It was Brian who then informed me that my father had been found and did not survive; those words were ones no one wants to hear, yet they could not have come from a more comforting source. 

Arriving in Santa Barbara the next day, Brian offered up his car and his home… a home I had been to so many times growing up. Yet this time it meant more. It was a second home to me and it was comforting. His brother Mark came down from northern California to stay with me as well and to help with anything I needed. His mother – my second mom – leant me her shoulder to cry on.

I write these words to show the spirit and loyalty of family. The undying friendship and bond that can come with many years. I am also writing this to help others understand the sense of community that surrounds Montecito. Without these things, I do not know what I would have done. Brian and Jay are a testament to these bonds: unselfishly giving their time and energy while losing business of their own.

I humbly ask that this letter be published to acknowledge Brian and Jay, to help them with their business, which closed for a period of time due to the mudslides.

They, as well as all of the first responders and others who helped the victims so unselfishly, need the support of this community as well as the recognition for supporting us during our time of need.

Reev Rohter
Formerly of Montecito

Shop Here. Now.

I visited Coast Village Road for the first time recently, to collect some work at Letter Perfect, and wrote the following message to friends.

“Dearest friends,

“I drove over to CVR from Santa Barbara and to collect some work from Leslie at Letter Perfect. The shop looked lovely as always, though with perhaps more boxes than usual, and Leslie looked happy to see me. But there were also some locals there, talking about the most recent business eviction notice from a CVR landlord.

“There’s real suffering, visible shock in people, no FEMA assistance for business losses and only 1-2 days “loss of business” funds available due to the confusion in “mandatory” vs. “voluntary” evacuation assignments. I learned that CVR being considered “open” since its utilities are from Santa Barbara (meaning it was considered a “voluntary” evacuation zone), while at the rear of each shop on either side of CVR the utilities are Montecito’s responsibilities, and therefore those zones were assigned “mandatory” evacuation zones at the same times the shops themselves on CVR were in ‘voluntary’ evacuation zones. This situation drastically reduces the financial reparation options for CVR shop owners, very unfairly it seems.

“Thus, while these shops could not in any way conduct business, resulting in terrible financial losses, their location in a ‘voluntary’ evacuation zone means they also cannot apply for any significant compensation.’

“People were clustering and sharing stories as they do after catastrophes, some shaking, many with tears in their eyes. CVR is jammed much of the day with heavy traffic consisting of trucks and drivers trying to evade clogged 101 traffic. This severely inhibits the return of customers to shops as well. Surely, the Highway Patrol could work with local police to ensure “101” rush-hour traffic is kept off CVR for the foreseeable future?

“While clearing the mud and boulders is still a news focus, the financial disaster in the lower and upper villages is largely in shadow and not well appreciated by everyone further west in SB, harder to present on TV, and with no Montecito mayor, a leaderless ongoing disaster. Imagine two ugly strip malls of chain stores replacing the local shops.

“Without a mayor, Montecito remains “leaderless.” The current catastrophic situation demands the singularity of personal leadership (not a committee) with a strong vision for the coming recovery. Perhaps Oprah could help organize and fund a long-term recovery plan. Ellen has been a strong presence most days in her community. Perhaps she could collaborate with Oprah and others in a position to offer a plan for the future that will avoid CVR and the upper village becoming ugly strip malls of national chain stores, persuading local landlords to work alongside them in managing rents until business can significantly return to the area.

“KEYT has done a formidable job throughout this disastrous season and continues to follow stories. However, muddy broken buildings are more graphic than trying to explain the slow moving financial disaster facing CVR shops and enterprises. Just because CVR is “open for business,” as John Palminteri let us know, doesn’t mean anyone is able to shop there while landlords are readying yet more eviction notices. It would be great if KEYT could follow this terrible ripple effect as it continues to unfold.

“Tell everyone to go to CVR and to eat and to spend in the establishments owned by people just like you and me.”

If you feel it is worth publishing, please use only my initials (below) as signature.


(Editor’s note: We have not heard of anyone receiving “eviction notices” along Coast Village Road or in the upper village. In fact, what we hear is that landlords from both areas have offered various rental plans to merchants to ease the financial burden this series of calamities has places on nearly all Montecito businesses, including ours. However, as the following letter indicates, there are apparently exceptions. We, along with SJV, wholeheartedly encourage our readers to spend as much disposable income as they can afford locally, especially over the coming months. – J.B.)

Letter from Paul

First shock, then outrage, is how I reacted to the letter tenants of Coast Village Plaza received from landlords, regarding a 5% interest on deferred rent payments for January and February. It is disheartening to think that anyone would seek to profit from the devastating financial as well as personal blow that recent disasters have brought to our Montecito business community.

Having the various enterprises we have in the upper and lower villages is such a vital element in the heart and soul of Montecito; a loss to any of them is a loss to all.

We need to look for ways we can support our small businesses. Without them, our jewel of a little piece of paradise would lose a significant portion of its unique sparkle. Even one empty storefront in a small community like ours is like a dripping faucet: persistently unnerving. (Think Xanadu Bakery). Losing a front tooth has a disastrous impact on a beautiful smile. If our neighborhood villages start losing tenants as a result of lack of income during evacuations due to fire and mud, we will all feel the impact. 

If compassion for the individual business owners and employees trying to make their living isn’t enough to motivate us to support them in the many ways we can, then selfish concern for our property values might.

In addition to a making a commitment to shop, eat, and do business locally, it’s worth considering a “pay it forward” plan. Upfront payment for a year’s worth of haircuts, manicures, dry cleaning, and various services could enable some businesses to make it through the current challenging times. Montecito is full of creative, problem-solving, empathetic people. Let’s put our best ideas to work to enable our village community to thrive.

Paul Orfalea

It Can Happen Again

The Thomas Fire became the largest fire in California history, and the job done by the men and women on the ground was miraculous, and we all owe a huge debt of gratitude. For the past couple of decades, politicians have been warned that the lack of proper land management posed a major threat to life and property. The Thomas Fire denuded the mountainside, causing the mudslides that resulted in the partial demolition of my property in the Olive Mill area of Montecito, as well as the loss of three cherished friends. I can rebuild the house. I’ll never enjoy the partnership I had with my friends.

Am I sad? Absolutely.

Am I mad? Absolutely.

It is my firm belief that this incident could have been prevented.

As someone who has made a great personal investment in civic duty for decades, I’ve always been interested in protecting our community from danger and especially in the great work of fire protection. In 2000, I sought directorship with the Montecito Fire Protection District, remaining on the board for nine years. The experience was valuable in helping to understand preventive actions required by fire districts. Perhaps most important are those efforts that govern public lands.

My work with the Montecito Fire Protection District came with the introduction of Fire chief Herb McElwee. Herb had a long career in Fire and became an adviser to then Governor Wilson. One of his ideas was to develop a citizen volunteer group to assist Fire personnel in any conflagration. As a result, the Montecito Emergency Response & Recovery Action Group (MERRAG) was born. The tasks MERRAG volunteers performed were peripheral support efforts that freed up our firefighters. Another effective program used inmates for clearing brush and controlled burns managed by firefighters. To save the district money, Herb submitted these programs to insurance companies and was often successful at obtaining grants for these projects.

Those were different days. 

As recently as July of 2017, at a City of Solvang City Council meeting, wildfire risks were discussed and citizens were encouraged to contact our Congressman Salud Carbajal about the excessive amounts of fuel for wildfires in the form of vegetation in the Los Padres National Forest. Some local leaders understand that we must provide for a safe buffer between wildlands and civilization. Others appear to be in lockstep with special interest groups that oppose responsible land management. 

It is unsettling to me, as it should be to all communities, that Congressman Carbajal introduced H.R. 4072. This legislation would file large swaths of land under tight restriction from proper land management, making prescribed burning (controlled burns) and vegetation thinning harder for the forestry service. Adding insult to injury, our Congressman voted against the Resilient Federal Forest Act of 2017, and against the Electricity Reliability and Forest Protection Act that will make way for more proper land management of public lands, reducing the threat to private property and mitigating the potential for loss of life. 

Wildfires have become, over the past two decades, an annual and often semi-annual occurrence, and they become more widespread and destructive. There are simple and effective ways to prevent wildfires, which often cause mudslides. The Resilient Federal Forest Act Of 2017 was just such a bill that Congressman Carbajal voted against.


Read for yourself; here’s part of the language of the summary of the Resilient Federal Forest Act of 2017: “…improve forest management activities on National Forest System lands, on public lands under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management, and on Tribal lands to return resilience to overgrown, fire-prone forested lands, and for other purposes.”

Further, here’s part of the summary of H.R. 1873: “enhance the reliability of the electricity grid and reduce the threat of wildfires to and from electric transmission and distribution facilities on Federal lands by facilitating vegetation management on such lands.” 

For as long as memory serves, and until recently, the Chumash practiced controlled burns. Our ancestors, who worked the lands and built our communities, understood the importance of buffer zones that separated wilderness from society. Unquestionably, we should continue to take care of our environment, but we should exercise common sense. Recycling, conservation, and protecting our environment have been at the forefront of thinking for decades. Many groups take their ideas to dangerous extremes. We never again want to trade lives, dreams, and property for ideas or legislation that put us in harm’s way. History teaches us hard lessons; the Thomas Fire and resulting Montecito mudslides could happen again unless we are listening.

Dana Newquist

Reflections on a Fire

I’m writing to thank you for publishing the articles from three of the families that live in Montecito who shared their experience of the mudslides and how it affected their lives.

As a victim of the Thomas Fire in Ventura, I found their personal reflections invaluable in my recovery process and feel sure many others would also. To that end, I’m inquiring if you have distributed issues of that copy in Ventura and whether or not you have considered compiling those and other personal reflections in some format that could be saved for future generations who care to look back on these challenging times and read first-hand of our experience.

Having had few minutes to evacuate ourselves that fateful night in December with my daughter and 10-year-old grandson, along with the bearded dragon who luckily wasn’t overlooked in our rush to safety, it is with continued awe I acknowledge my home still stands while the 13 other homes on my street burned to the ground.

Like others in my circumstances, my good fortune has been tempered by the massive losses my community has sustained. Yes, as the guardian of precious heirlooms handed down for generations, as well as my mother’s invaluable and accomplished oil paintings, I am grateful to still have them; however, our home, which she built in 1960 and has housed four generations of our family, now stands oddly alone among the ruins of my neighbors’ dwellings who, like me, have lived on that street for decades.

I can’t begin to imagine the pain they have suffered and how this has affected them both in the short term and in the long term, as they slowly move on to either rebuild or in some cases make peace and turn bravely toward a future never imagined.

Make no mistake, my life and that of my family, friends, and neighbors will never be the same, home or no home. This fire, this flood, was bigger than me, bigger than you, bigger than all of us put together, and I believe that it is only in coming together will we sort this out, sifting through more than the ashes to find a greater understanding and compassion for not only ourselves but all those whose lives this event touched; incredibly, there are far more than most people realize. United in one, may love lead the way.

Barbara Laytham

Thanking the Law

Just recently, I returned to my house in Montecito and found myself so grateful that our family and home were spared from the horrific debris and mudflows. Among the many things going through my heart and head, and that I keep revisiting, is how thankful I am for the huge presence of the various law enforcement groups that have been here to protect all of our homes.

While I’m so happy to see signs posted thanking the firefighters, I can’t help but feel sad for the law enforcement groups that don’t see any signs thanking them. I also had a thought that maybe – if you have not already done so – your paper could write an article about all of them and all that they have done, and spotlight some of these fine men and women.

For example, while walking up Picacho Lane, one of the CHP women I met was providing fresh bread and bagels to those in the community, and she was going to pick up some sandwiches later on to dole them out to people she found that were digging in their yards and such. Apparently, the wine and cheese store near Via Vai was providing the sandwiches to her for free – I think that’s what she said.

Her name is Charmaine Fajardo and she was from the San Luis Obispo crew. (Her cell number is 916-747-2099/Email: Then, later on my walk, near the entrance of the San Ysidro Ranch, I came across another CHP officer from SLO named Mark Johnson (he didn’t have a card), and he had his stories about helping others. He mentioned that none of the law enforcement, from out of town, are here on a mandate – they all volunteer (they are paid, of course) to be here. He made the point of their conflicting role; they write traffic tickets and some give a bad name to the profession, but most of them relish the role “to protect and to serve.” And both of those CHP officers that I met on my walk this morning were really enjoying the work they were doing. I could sense their relief of being in the “serve and protect” mode and not the more difficult jobs they do. It was really heartwarming,

I know you have loads to write about but wanted to throw that one in there for your consideration. I have a couple weeks’ worth of MJ editions to catch up on, and I look forward to doing just that. 

Anne Wilder

A Special Guy

It’s satisfying to see Buffalo Joe Schomer as one of the “cowboys” honored recently (Trail Talk, MJ #24/1). This late gentleman definitely fits in among world-class names like Glen Campbell and Michael Towbes.

Joe was a very special guy. Thank you.

Carol Gordon
Santa Barbara 

Stearns Wharf Reverie

Needless to say, Montecito remains very much on my mind and I am hopeful all the recovery efforts are going well. I wanted to share a story if I may:

A couple years ago, I was having lunch at one of the restaurants on Stearns Wharf with a very good friend, Anaya Cullen. As you might recall, Anaya is an accomplished costume and wardrobe designer and had done such terrific work on An American Tango. We were at the end of the wharf and looking back at the amazing sights of Montecito and Santa Barbara, and we both shared how deeply meaningful the communities are, especially as it relates to the support of the arts.

Frankly, I’ve never seen anything like it, and I smile each time I think about all the words of encouragement from everyone regarding An American Tango, from those who’d come to the rehearsals and the performances, those who’d approach us each time there’d be a State Street Ballet gala soirée or event or what have you, all with something so kind and enthusiastic to say about the show. You may not appreciate how that kind of warmth feels, as a career in the arts isn’t exactly the most stable sometimes; such feedback goes right to the heart.

I mentioned to Anaya how special Stearns Wharf is for me. I remember when my children were growing up, from their playing in the sand, to the peanut barrel and the kids’ toy chest at Longboard’s, to boat rides from the wharf and around the harbor, the touch tanks at the Museum Sea Center, inevitable stops for candy… and so much more.

Stearns Wharf is, well, timeless. One can just imagine the history it’s all seen, an area that looks back on one of the most beautiful communities in the world. So, I was inspired to try to create something, a sort of “thank you” to Montecito and Santa Barbara, if you will. I’d only recently returned to writing music, inspired, in part, by Tango, and now with a focus toward dance and storytelling. It was Leila Drake, so very kind in listening to the first passes of “Stearns Wharf”, who suggested it might make for an underscore to a short ballet-dance film. And later, Bill Soleau listened to it and expressed interest in its possible choreography.

It tells the story of a Young Girl, playing at water’s edge, who creates in the sand a fantasy character, that of a mysterious and beautiful Young Woman. As the story moves toward a fantasy from decades ago, the Little Girl fades away and the Young Woman finds herself alone on Stearns Wharf, waiting for her lover, the Young Fisherman, to return. When he does, we see that their love is eternal, and characterized in a pas de deux. As the story further unfolds, we will come to learn at the very end that, as the fantasy returns to present day, the Little Girl is telling the story of her grandparents.

I guess for me it’s all about blessings, appreciation, and “time.” We’ve been really pleased with the reactions we’ve been getting. Though the eventual film will be relatively short at 10 minutes, it’s still ambitious and colorful, so we’re working at putting some rather complex pieces together. We hope we might be able to shoot before summer and will let you know.

Michael Roush
Los Angeles

(Editor’s note: Mr. Roush produced An American Tango, an original ballet-musical written by Guy Veloz and choreographed by Bill Soleau for State Street Ballet.)

The “Silver Lining”

We originally evacuated to Coast Village Inn and hunkered down there for three days after the disaster, hoping we could get back to our home on upper Hot Springs. When it became clear as Montecito was on lockdown and all we saw were emergency responders and trucks and more trucks, we knew we needed to leave. I grabbed the first Airbnb I found.

Fifteen days evacuated and normally hoteling it in a swanky Airbnb in Mission Canyon would be like a novel staycation. But this isn’t a vacation. It has been a refuge.

We were locked into our Airbnb until Feb 1, and truth be told I’m glad we could still come to it and shower and do laundry freely. I’m a real Annie Dilliard (author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek) when I want to be, but clean free-flowing water is now a luxury I don’t take for granted any longer. 

The weird mix of euphoria and grief once being home left me feeling strange and lost. I think this is where the word “bittersweet” comes in. I’ve been to my house every day since, unpacking, clearing out the spoiled food in our fridge, and sweeping up the dirtied ash from the winds. 

Remarkably, even after that rain of biblical proportions, it still smells like an ashtray.

It’s… just… so… bittersweet, and I know many have used this word, but it’s the perfect sentiment.

So happy and grateful to be alive and to be one of the lucky ones able to return to our home, but also incredibly sad at the loss of life and those friends we have known. Grieving not just for those we lost but also for the place that has been altered so violently and yes, a little bit of the place is lost. I’m not trying to be negative. I’m being honest and it’s what everyone I talk to thinks.

I read a blog from a woman who is in her 60s who grew up here, now lives in Vermont, and witnessed first the Thomas Fire and then the floods from afar, and she talked about grieving a place. The place: Montecito. 

I came here 37 years ago, a 19-year-old Chicago girl smitten by the natural beauty of plentiful sunshine, gorgeous coastline, and perfect weather. I wholeheartedly adopted California and this particular place, Montecito, as my own. I grew into an adult woman here. I had babies here. I raised my family here. My dad died here. My marriage ended here.

This is my home – hook, line, and sinker.

I have lived through many a drought, a few fires, and a whole lot more traffic, so I know that Montecito will come back strong and vibrantly. I don’t doubt it for one minute, especially with the love and energy our community is already pouring into it, but the sobering truth is some things are never the same, and this realization only adds to the quiet grief that will linger for some time for those of us who have resided here for decades. 

Certainly, that fact will be a painful reminder as we continue to hear the sounds of construction and trucks rambling up the road for some time to come. Where I live, it is relatively peaceful on upper Hot Springs, but Friday it was a long procession of big trucks on their way up to Mountain Drive.

Some will leave this place forever, and I know some who already have, many will stay because they have no choice, and many will choose to stay because simply this is their home. Some sadly will not be able to rebuild their homes in the same location. The debris flow has changed the course of the creeks in a spectacular way.

Mother Nature has a mind of her own, and we clearly had a front-row seat to her power and fury. I’m not sure what I will eventually do. My kids are scattered from west to east to northwest to northeast. It may be time to go.

I don’t really know.

Our community, and those who are lifers, no doubt will rebuild and will build better. We have become more aware and more educated about the natural place where we live, and if anything this disaster has been one big geology lesson that was long overdue.

We also now share a unique bond. Sharing a monumental disaster really brings people together. Hopefully, we are tougher for the wear of the experience of loss, pain, and trauma shared collectively. My Midwest grandmother always talked about a silver lining when things didn’t go as expected, and I used to think it was just a superficial coping mechanism said to get though the hardship. The hopeful positive in the midst of discomfort. It is that for sure and, well, thank you, Grandma, because I finally know what that expression means in its full and raw sense. There is a silver lining when it comes to humanity suffering. Love blooms out of tragedy and it’s a strangely beautiful thing. 

I know one thing for sure too: we all fell haplessly in love with our firefighters, our first responders, and our police, and the newfound honor and respect they are enjoying is incredible.

I am on just about every Facebook thread regarding the Thomas Fire and the debris flow, and I am inspired and moved beyond measure at the outpouring of love and support of perfect strangers and also of many friends. So many good-hearted souls reaching out to give. The smallest gestures to the grandest. And all rooted in the same motivation: love and heartfelt concern.

This is my big takeaway, and I plan to hang onto it.

As I return home officially for good, cat in tow, wearing my muddy shoes, I will be forever changed by the events of the past two months and so will our little Montecito. 

Tracie Snyder

Axxess to Montecito

Our community has been hit hard the past few months. Many locally owned restaurants, stores, and services are struggling. The businesses in Montecito and Summerland have obviously been hit the hardest. I’ve spent some time over the past weeks visiting with friends and clients on Coast Village Road and listening to their stories. Often with tears in their eyes, they worry how they’re going to keep their doors open. As an owner of a small business myself, I knew I had to do something to help.

Beginning immediately, Axxess is selling gift certificates for businesses in Montecito and Summerland. Your purchase of a gift certificate provides immediate cash flow for the businesses today, when those businesses need our support most. These certificates are available to everyone (not just Axxess members), so please tell your friends.

As a “thank you” from the business, most of the certificates include an extra 10 percent or more in value. We live in one of the best places on Earth, and one pillar of our strength is the resilience of our local business owners. Thank you for helping our neighbors by supporting our “Axxess to Montecito” campaign.

Karim Kaderali
Founder & CEO
SB Axxess


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