Local Recovery Center in Montecito

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   March 8, 2018
Community Recovery and Engagement coordinator Ben Romo will oversee the newly opened Montecito Center for Preparedness, Recovery, and Rebuilding, located at the Orfalea building on Coast Village Circle

On Thursday, March 8, Santa Barbara County will open a dedicated space in Montecito to continue working with members of the Montecito community during the recovery and rebuilding process. The Montecito Center for Preparedness, Recovery, and Rebuilding – dubbed “the Montecito Center” – will provide information and guidance following the closing of the Local Assistance Center (LAC) at Calvary Chapel, which was open for nearly six weeks following the 1/9 debris flow. The center is located at the former home of the Orfalea Family Foundation, at 1283 Coast Village Circle. 

“This is a place to continue the work we started immediately following the mudflow,” said Community Recovery and Engagement coordinator Ben Romo, who is overseeing the County-run Center, which is funded in part by FEMA. The LAC had representation from 58 agencies, allowing mudslide victims an immediate, one-stop shop to replace important documents, deal with insurance companies and FEMA, access financial help, find temporary housing, and much more. “Now, we are in a more long-term mode, connecting people with help for not only rebuilding and getting their lives back on track, but preparing for future disasters,” said Romo, who spent more than five weeks at the LAC, helping families and individuals access immediate care. “I saw people who I’ve known for years, needing help after losing everything. It really was surreal,” said Romo, a long-term Santa Barbara resident. 

The Montecito Center is designed to be a key source of support, information, and resources for all residents, businesses, and employees who need or want to access services, obtain information, provide input, voice concerns, and get involved in the recovery and rebuilding process. A variety of agency and program staff will be present to assist residents, and linkages will be made for counseling services and with representatives of County departments involved in recovery and rebuilding. County Planning & Development staff, Public Works, and reps from First District supervisor Das Williams’s office will be on site, while other agency reps will be available on-call. A FEMA-funded counseling program will be housed at the Center, with eighteen counselors on rotation providing support for victims. 

“I truly believe that long-term recovery is going to occur best when we have a system in place in which input can come from those with boots on the ground, and filter up through the chain of command. Having this space is the place where that can occur,” said Romo, who directly reports to Matt Pontes, the director of recovery for the 1/9 debris flow. Relevant community groups are encouraged to the use the space; the Coast Village Association will hold its next board meeting in the Center’s conference room, at 8:15 am on Thursday, March 15, to connect with Romo and join forces to help the business community. 

“We are bridging the gap between multiple agencies and those needing their services,” Romo said, adding that part of that includes connecting homeowners with their County-assigned case planners to move forward with rebuilding. Part of that process includes moving mud and debris off property; the County announced this week the launching of a material exchange website, to facilitate the sharing of materials while limiting the debris going into landfills. The website allows homeowners, contractors, landowners, farmers, and others, inside and outside of Montecito, to connect directly with Montecito residents who have materials on their property that need to be removed. The website is: http://sbcountymaterialexchange.com/. 

Local philanthropists Paul and Jane Orfalea, and Natalie Orfalea generously availed the Coast Village Circle property for the cause, at no cost. The United Way of Santa Barbara County also donated generously, contributing funds toward a dedicated staff member who will serve as the first point of contact for individuals and link them to the appropriate services necessary to support their long-term recovery efforts. “This really is a community effort, and we look forward to being here,” Romo said. The center will be open for four to six months, and possibly longer.

Hours of operation will be Monday through Friday, 10 am to 3 pm, Wednesday, 6 to 8 pm, and Saturday, 10 am to 2 pm. The Montecito Center for Preparedness, Recovery, and Rebuilding is located at 1283 Coast Village Circle. The phone number is (805) 845-7887 and the email address is montecitocenter@sbcoem.org.


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