As we roll into spring, most in Montecito feel a temporary sense of relief, anticipating that any rainstorm in April will not rise to the ½-inch-per-hour threshold needed to trigger another evacuation.
Evidence is that the added protection from new wider, deeper, boulder-lined creek channels restored by the Army Corps of Engineers and County Flood Control, plus massive debris channel clearing by County Flood Control, has mitigated some of the debris flow risk.
Evacuation Options in 2019
However, as we look ahead to the winter of 2018-19, there is the possibility of another evacuation. If that occurs, what follows is a short list of some of your more attractive options.
The Rosewood Miramar Beach Resort
The Rosewood Miramar Beach Montecito Resort, originally scheduled to open June 4, then October, is now accepting reservations for dates after January 7, 2019, for its 122 guestrooms and 48 suites on its Montecito beachfront site.
To check it out, I Googled the Rosewood Hotels & Resorts website to find a room in mid-January 2019 at the new Rick Caruso’s Rosewood Miramar Beach Resort. I found a king-bedded, Beach House guestroom with an ocean view for an introductory off-season room rate, weekends or weekdays, of a robust $1,030 per night, plus a 12% hotel occupancy tax ($123.60), plus a tourism tax of $3.85 per night, bringing the total room cost to $1,156 per night.
The Rosewood Miramar Montecito does offer a lower-priced king-bedded room for a rate of $705 per night, plus $85 in occupancy taxes, plus overnight parking, but there is also the likelihood that the new Rosewood Miramar will also offer a special “evacuee” rate, as it’s normal customer base is likely to be non-existent because of said evacuation.
As a former CEO for two of the largest hotel chains in the world, I can still remember the $6 per night room rate at Motel 6 when it was founded in 1962 in Santa Barbara. Twelve years later, the first 60-room Super 8 opened in Aberdeen, South Dakota, for $8.88 a night. But, that was then.
The Santa Barbara Inn
My own evacuation resort preference, and that of many of my neighbors, has been the discovery of our home away from home: the delightful, newly renovated beachfront Santa Barbara Inn with its signature restaurant, Convivo, across from East Beach at Milpas and Cabrillo Blvd.
Hotel owners Mimi and Richard Gunner re-opened the Santa Barbara Inn to rave reviews in July 2016 after a complete rebuild of the 55-year-old hotel, which began in 2013. The resulting 68 spacious, 400-sq-ft guest rooms, most with balconies and views of the ocean, offer 42-inch and 55-inch flat-screen, high-definition TVs and wireless Internet access, all without a resort fee.
The Santa Barbara Inn has been offering an evacuation room rate starting at $289 per night. A free breakfast at Convivo is included in the room rate. What moves this hotel from four to six stars for me, is the compassion, graciousness, and charm of its Rooms Division manager, Johanna Dearinger, an alumnus of the Four Seasons Santa Barbara Biltmore, and her hospitable front desk team led by Emily Flowers. They are awesome at providing six-star service!
Other Local Evacuation Hotspots
The newly renovated Fess Parker Hilton Resort has also been popular with evacuees, with room rates through Trip Advisor starting at $361 per night. Equally popular have been seaside accommodations all along Cabrillo Boulevard, especially those willing to take pets. For budget-minded travelers, the lowest-priced rooms in Santa Barbara come in at about $100 per night, offered by Motel 6 of Santa Barbara, the Sunset Motel, and the Town & Country Inn. A favorite hideout of another small group of Montecito evacuees (including MJ founder James Buckley and Montecito Motor Classic honcho Dana Newquist) has been the Inn by the Harbor, which offered a special rate of $125 a night in a unit that included a small kitchenette.
Well-heeled insured Montecito residents fled to the Ritz-Carlton Bacara, the new Hotel Californian, the downtown Kimpton Canary, and the tiny Simpson House B&B. Some sought refuge with short-term rentals from Airbnb or other vacation rental options. Many modest-priced travelers fled to Ventura or Buellton or Solvang to find less expensive accommodations.
A modest-priced beachfront evacuation option includes the 17-room Inn on Summer Hill on Lillie Avenue in Summerland, safely tucked into a no-flood danger zone, owned by Paul and Mabel Shults of Montecito. Ten rooms have full ocean views. King and queen beds are offered at about $200 a night with free Wi-Fi, free overnight parking, free breakfast, and a free hors d’oeuvres, cheese, and wine happy hour.
Danny Copus, owner and GM of the Montecito Inn, was hit directly with a tidal wave of mud and boulders on January 9, forcing an evacuation of all guests at the inn and a mudslide that buried guest cars parked in lower-level parking lots. Guests awaiting evacuation in Army trucks at daybreak were startled to see deliveries of free breakfast treats by volunteers from Little Alex’s, just doing their part to help flood victims. The Montecito Inn was quick to dig out of the muck, repair the damage, and return to business. Montecito Inn owners and managers also helped some Olive Mill Road victims with food, coffee, and even bathrobes.
Unfortunately, the Four Seasons Santa Barbara Biltmore has not been available for evacuations. It closed in mid-December due to deposits of choking soot and ash from the Thomas Wildfire and it reopened in January, days before the January 9 mud and debris flow when guests were again evacuated. The Biltmore is not expected to be back in business before June. Ty Warner’s San Ysidro Ranch, still closed by the mudslide, is not scheduled to be reopened until 2019, though the restaurants – The Stone House and Plow & Angel – should be open sometime this summer.
The real victims of mandatory evacuations are not the Montecito homeowners, who were merely inconvenienced, but the local shopkeepers, restaurants, and other service providers, with hundreds of employees facing huge losses of revenue. For business owners, rent and payroll costs continued with no income from Montecito customers. The saddest part of these evacuations is the pain inflicted upon those who work in Montecito. They are the most financially vulnerable, and it is they who have been punished the most severely.