MERRAG Updates

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   February 7, 2019

In anticipation of last week’s evacuations and storms, volunteers from MERRAG, the Montecito Emergency Response and Recovery Action Group, were in the upper village hosting a kiosk with storm and evacuation information, keeping residents informed on emergency preparedness. This was the second time this year that they manned the kiosk to inform residents about potentially dangerous weather. 

In December the group elected their new president and board members at their annual meeting at the Four Seasons Biltmore. Troy Harris was elected president; Carrie Haffner, second vice president; Gayle Tucker, treasurer; and Tom Schleck, secretary. Other board members include Sue Ziliotto, David Boyd, Vicky Harbison, Phyllis Marble, Sandie Owens, Warner Owens, Keith Yeager, and John Ziliotto. Several of the board members have also served as presidents in past years. New members and officers were sworn in by Chief Chip Hickman of Montecito Fire, who also presented the Volunteer of the Year award to Sue Ziliotto. Mike McCaleb was recognized for his many years of service to MERRAG.

The group has had a part in several events over the past few months, including helping to plan and execute the door-to-door storm outreach program in December, when residents were notified of the new risk debris flow map showing approximately 1,300 properties in Montecito which are in the red disaster zone area. Personal contact was made with all residents who were home, if no one was home, information was left for the residents; they were advised of the interactive map designating areas at risk from the debris flow and given protective actions literature. MERRAG worked with Montecito Fire Protection District, Santa Barbara County Search & Rescue, and Habitat for Humanity in executing the event. In January, MERRAG participated in the Raising Our Light ceremony at Lower Manning Park, followed by a candlelit processional to All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church. Due to limited parking, various parking lots throughout Santa Barbara and Montecito were designated as shuttle/bus pick- up locations for the ceremony participants. MERRAG’s Communications Van was located at MUS and maintained contact with two MERRAG volunteers at each of the eight parking lots, helping to communicate between the shuttle drivers, assuring that all arrived at the ceremony on time, were taken back to their prospective parking lots, and that safety of all was maintained throughout the evening. A MERRAG volunteer was even able to assist a lost third grade child in reuniting with her parents.

The newly elected Board is looking forward to another year of service. “MERRAG is weathering some challenging times. Yes, that’s a pun! We are seeing not only climate change, such as sundowners and resulting wildfires, winter storms, and debris flows, but also some human-dynamics sea changes. We are evolving in the practice of emergency management,” said incoming board president Troy Harris.

MERRAG, which is an official volunteer auxiliary of Montecito’s three public service agencies, provides crucial personnel and communications support during community emergencies as well as training for community members in recovery and response. Community Awareness Classes are held on the 2nd Thursday of every month, at 10 am at Fire Station 1. A listing for the classes can be found on the MERRAG website,

Two Bridges Re-Open 

Last Wednesday, January 30, Caltrans announced the reopening of two bridges on Highway 192: Romero Canyon Creek bridge and the Toro Canyon Creek bridge. These bridges were rebuilt following the debris flows and flooding last January. 

Caltrans is working with the contractor, Security Paving of Sylmar, on this $20 million project to restore full access to all five bridges within this corridor, and is striving to complete most of these projects in early 2019, weather permitting. Construction continues on Montecito Creek Bridge (expected to reopen in July); San Ysidro Creek Bridge (expected to reopen in March); Toro Creek Bridge (completion expected in June); Arroyo Paredon Bridge (completion expected by end of March). 

A segment of State Route 192 is open to motorists but through traffic is strongly advised to continue using US 101. State Route 192 remains closed at multiple locations between Sycamore Canyon/Camino Viejo Road and Cravens Lane. The area was highly congested this weekend with the closure of Highway 101. The bridges that were recently reopened were not impacted by this weekend’s storms.


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