Montecito Association Meets
At this month’s Montecito Association meeting on February 13, the board began by holding the 70th annual assembly to install new board members a month later than originally planned. Members of the board, as well as a standing-room-only audience, held a moment of silence for the members of our community who perished in the January 9 mudflow event.
The annual meeting marked the departure of board members Monica Babich, Aaron Budgor, and Laura Bridley, and welcomed two new board members: Linnea Pattillo and Larry Waldinger.
The executive committee was voted on unanimously, naming Charlene Nagel as president, Harry Kolb as first vice president, Peter van Duinwyk as second vice president, Dr. Barbara Mathews as secretary, and Michele Saltoun as treasurer.
The annual meeting was adjourned and the monthly gathering began; reps from the County including Office of Emergency Management director Rob Lewin, First District supervisor Das Williams, and director of recovery Matt Pontes spoke on the recovery efforts. “We are going to see our way through this, together,” Lewin said. “It is the County’s first priority, to help your community.”
Lewin outlined the recovery process priorities and said highest on the list is clearing the debris basins and creek channels; 9 out of 11 debris basins are already cleaned out, with 16 percent of the creek channels cleared out. The County has also been working on upgrading “yellow tagged” properties to “green tagged,” and at the MA meeting, Lewin announced 53 properties had been upgraded, with an additional 100 still in need. “We are trying to get these homes from uninhabitable to habitable, and the objective is to get people back home,” he said, adding that the target date to do so is Thursday, March 1.
Also in the works: County reps are searching for places for homeowners to dump mud less expensively and are working on a “transfer station” where people can dump mud, and those who need it – farmers, contractors, et cetera – can pick it up. “We realize that cleanup is becoming difficult for those whose properties are too small to be able to store debris,” Lewin said. The County is also exploring the idea of a “summit for rebuilding,” in addition to making sure Montecito residents are prepared for future storms.
Pontes and Supervisor Williams discussed the financial burden of the cleanup on County resources, with Williams saying the cost to remove debris in public right-of-way has cost upward of $80 million. Keeping up the numerous personnel required to patrol the area and help with future evacuations is also pricey: $1.6 million per year. “I just don’t know how that is going to be accomplished in our budget,” Williams said. Pontes added, “Yes, the County has strained resources, but there has been no holding back at any time to get what this community needs.”
County reps estimate it will be another 45 to 60 days before surveyors, planners, land specialists, and others determine if and where “red tagged” properties can be rebuilt. Some recommendations will include increasing setbacks from newly determined stream channels and turning some property into public space. “If we had some public land along the creeks, we could increase resiliency,” Lewin said.
During the community reports portion of the meeting, Montecito Fire chief Chip Hickman said he is proud of the heroic efforts of the MFPD team. “I’m a proud papa of my fire department and I’m proud of my community,” he said, adding that future mudflow risk continues. “Until we get vegetation on the hillside, we are not out of risk,” he said.
Both public school superintendents shared their concerns over budget cuts due to the mudslide. Dr. Anthony Ranii from Montecito Union School reported that the school will need to cut several teachers and staff members to account for the new budget reductions, based on the reassessment of property values following the 1/9 storm. He also discussed the conservative approach he will take moving forward. “I will definitely be canceling school very aggressively during storms,” he said, adding that contingency plans include hiring a bussing company to transport students out of the area if a rogue storm cell shall occur. “We also have shelter-in-place plans should we need them, getting the kids to higher ground and having enough food and water to keep them for days on end, if necessary,” he said.
Dr. Amy Alzina, Cold Spring School’s superintendent/principal reported that her school will take a major financial hit following the 1/9 event, to the tune of $485,000. “Our school cannot keep its current programs and staffing in place, with losing ten percent of our budget literally overnight,” she said. “It makes me emotional because our students have already been through so much, losing two classmates and six family members from our tiny community. I cannot bear the thought of them losing their favorite teacher or specialist programming.”
Doctor Alzina and the school board have started a fundraising campaign to raise the $485K, available through the school’s website (www.coldspringschool.net; click on the Fundraiser button). “We’re finding out how resilient we really are,” she said. Doctor Alzina added that there are plans in place to hold school at a satellite campus during future storms.
The next Montecito Association meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 13.