Cause For Celebration

By James Buckley   |   February 7, 2019

Over the course of the past week, the Santa Barbara area received anywhere from four to eight inches of rain, possibly even a little more at what local weather people like to call “the higher elevations.” Montecito was blessed with a good amount of precipitation too (Jameson Lake is now filled and spilling over Juncal Dam into the Santa Ynez River), with nearly four inches at sea level, and more as one climbed up the backcountry. The good news in all of this is that because many of the creeks were as much as twice as wide in some places as they were before last year’s disastrous mud-and-debris slide, and our debris basins were cleared of nearly all rocks, growth, and debris before this latest series of storms, Montecito came through pretty well. Very well, in fact.

Yes – and mostly out of precaution – the Four Seasons Biltmore had to close for the weekend, as did Pierre Lafond and virtually all the shops in the upper village, along with Coast Village Road businesses such as the Montecito Inn, Lucky’s, and others. And yes, as many as a couple thousand residents were advised – directed – to evacuate… again. Most did as were told… advised… although there were many who opted to “shelter in place.” Highway 101 was closed in both directions for a time, as mud swept onto the roadway from burgeoning creeks and had to be removed before traffic could resume.

But, overall, everything that happened was indeed good news for Montecito. By this time next year, for example, the re-growth in the foothills behind us should be near the 40% mark. Which means that much of the stuff that could have come down in another intense rain event will be held back by natural flora. By next winter, perhaps as many as a dozen flexible steel nets designed in Switzerland and manufactured in New Mexico will have been installed in the most vulnerable areas above our creeks, thanks to the efforts of the Partnership for Resilient Communities. And County crews will be on hand to bulldoze the creeks and basins before the rainy season begins anew.

Plus, now that we have a virtual tabla rasa in what had been our chaparral barrier, we can and should set our sights upon reconstructing that chaparral to benefit those of us living under its protective limits. Which means we should be planning and mapping out exactly the kind of (native) brush we want up there. We can also build fire stops and access roads and designate controlled burn areas so that what happened on the morning of January 9, 2018, never happens again.

Calling On Das Williams

And, one way to insure that positive outcome is to press our First District Supervisor, Das Williams, to aid in this development. Das is not only our representative at the county level, he is also a person with deep roots in the environmental community. And, no matter how sincere those intentions, the results of some of those environmental policies were a direct cause of the 2018 disaster. It had been forty years since our creeks had been cleared of overgrown plant life and boulders. Controlled burns were a no-no, as were bulldozers in the creek beds (which were common and regular pre-1970s). In retrospect, many now see the wisdom of what our forebears had been doing for decades. If Das could get behind this effort and convince his environmentally active friends and acquaintances to come along too, we’ll be that much better off and Mr. Williams could add that success to a resumé that we know he hopes will go beyond his stretch as First District Supervisor. For federal (FEMA) help, Salud Carbajal can and should be called upon to add his powerful voice as well.

Before last weekend’s storms, we’d already determined that it would be three to five years until Montecito businesses and residents could breathe freely, but the recent storms served to illustrate that at the most we’d have one more rainy season (2019-2020) to be concerned with evacuations and the like. After which it seems, we can once again embrace our all-year-long weather reputation.

With the re-opening of the Miramar within a month or two, and the grand re-opening of Montecito Country Club and its Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course, and the introduction of yet more fine restaurants and clubs (including Milt and Arlene Larsen‘s Magic Castle Cabaret this month), in addition to newly designed fire-and-flood safety measures, we can count ourselves once again as among the fortunate few… just for being here.


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