Letters to the Editor

By Montecito Journal   |   February 14, 2019

A Non-Scientific View

Last week, Montecito Journal’s front-page photo of the Romero debris catch basin filled with tons of rocks, coupled with your words stating Montecito had fared the last major storm “very well,” left me wondering why you are still writing about the installation of several steel nets. If what we have in our existing debris basins and widened creeks is doing a sufficient job, and the plan is for county crews to continue clearing and maintaining these creeks and basins, then why do we need to raise and spend up to $7 million on temporary nets? 

One of the main arguments for the nets noted on the Partnership’s site is that this current rain season was forecasted to be an El Niño with higher-than-normal levels of rain. Thus far, the forecasts have been correct. However, Montecito is riding the storms quite well. 

While not a scientist of any sort, I have thought, ever since the January 9 disaster, that much of the reason for the brief intense rains – with rates somewhere between 4″ to 6″ per hour – that triggered the massive debris flow was a tragically freak situation difficult even for Mother Nature, who should never be underestimated, to recreate here in Montecito (these rates of rains have occurred in other places, namely deserts). Please hear me out. 

The areas of the Front Range where the debris flow occurred, those from Romero over to Cold Spring, were the final areas of the Front Range to burn in the Thomas fire, and they burned abnormally hot. The vegetation was not only stripped, it was decimated in most areas. While the fire had been extinguished in these canyons for a little more than one week, there must have been hot spots still smoldering and, in general, the soil, in its newly and unnaturally amended state, virtually one of ash, had to have been significantly warmer than normal. Additionally, there was a huge concentration of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere from all the burned vegetation, which, as we all know from climate change, has a dramatic warming impact on the immediate atmosphere. 

Along came a cold storm front off the Pacific. The rising warm air off the mountains hit the cold air above, creating a very unsettled front directly on top of the burned scars. The ensuing cloud formations from that front were then exposed to the abnormally high levels of dust and smoke particles floating in the immediate atmosphere following the fire. This, in turn, allowed for the clouds to grow even heavier as the water vapor had an overabundance of particles to grasp, which is how rain is formed, creating extra-large rain drops, if you will, and lots of them, and then, wham – we experienced something that, as noted above, typically happens in deserts where monsoons do occur, and the hot-cold-lots of dust particles conditions also prevail. It should also be noted that at the time of the debris flow, the debris catch basins were nowhere near being cleaned out. It is my understanding that two of them had been practically abandoned and were completely filled and overgrown. 

That is my theory for why the debris flow happened as intensely as it did. Please, I invite all of the true scientific criticism out there. 

In any case, it seems to me that Montecito is making it through this rainy El Nino season thus far. Perhaps we might continue to sit back, let it rain (as if we have any other choice), and then revisit the idea of these steel nets next summer rather than continuing to push toward a very expensive, and possibly quite invasive, solution whenever what we have going for us seems to be doing a solid job, even in this El Niño year. 

Martha Blackwell

(Editor’s note: Wow. For a non-scientist, you sure explained that weather phenomenon beautifully. In regards to your question about the wisdom of spending $7 million on the flexible steel nets, that’s an easy question to answer. If I can backtrack a little, after the rains of 1992 that broke an earlier drought here, many people in Montecito dropped the idea of continuing involvement in Santa Barbara’s desalination plant. Even Santa Barbara residents eventually turned their backs on the project and it was mothballed, with some parts being sold to, I believe, Saudi Arabia. Let’s not let that happen again. My wife and I recently returned from a three-month European trip and during that trip I observed similar steel nets all over Switzerland, as well as in Montenegro and other vulnerable places. They are not “invasive,” nor are they particularly unattractive. After a year or so, they blend into the background and are barely noticeable. As far as our basins and deeper creeks “doing a solid job,” that is true, but had those recent rains been just a little more intense, well, anything could have happened. Besides, our local representatives allowed the deterioration of the basin system to take place. There is no reason to take a chance of a recurrence, especially now that we are nearly at the point of installation. The following letter also points to the wisdom of the nets and/or anything else that may prevent another tragedy. – J.B.)

Clear The Creeks… Now!

Seems like another big event has swept passed the California coastline and left the state drenched but looking like the snowy European Alps from the Oregon border to San Diego. At least that’s what I’m told. Unfortunately, I haven’t been anywhere near the coastline for almost two weeks as I’m stuck at home unable to get around for the next little while despite evacuation orders until I’m ready for prime time again. The sun is shining today which sends my thoughts out and about nonetheless!

What I can do however, is to give you a report about the area where I am situated which is not far from the creeks doing their best to send the rainfall down the mountains into the sea. For two very vital creeks this is not happening as it should: San Ysidro and Romero. The water flow from San Ysidro creek, as an example, flows like an upside down ‘V’ (from above the 192) from broad to narrow… very narrow, as it passes under the road and freeway, with houses on either side within several yards of its perimeters. When the water hits the narrows the velocity increases and the creek overflows, spilling onto the 101 freeway and the side roads, stopping traffic as it did last weekend. All known facts. 

The problem: San Ysidro creek should be at a depth of 8-9 feet to accommodate the flow, but is presently at a level just below the roads on either side, at about 2 to 3 feet. The 2018 clean-out did not go anywhere near the appropriate depth for a seamless flow to the ocean.

This is a disaster waiting to happen! 

The next deluge will once again cause interstate traffic to come to a halt and continue to flood the surrounding areas, endangering lives and property. And this is just San Ysidro Creek with Romero in a similar situation. On the Santa Barbara County website I have read that funds to clear the vulnerable creeks has been requested but so far with no response. My question is: does Santa Barbara County have the luxury to wait for those funds? 

I have tried to call the County. No one answers and the call is disconnected. 

These two creeks need immediate attention with large equipment while the sun shines. It would be unfortunate to have the Los Angeles Times once again report unfavorably about the work done here in Santa Barbara. Is there anything that can be done…. now? And what gates need to be accessed in order to receive information?

Within several hours after sending this commentary to the Santa Barbara County Supervisors, I received an email from Das Williams, for which I was most grateful – especially for his speedy response. He placed me in contact with a gentleman from the Santa Barbara County Flood Control and Water Conservation District who addressed one of my concerns and assured me that there were equipment and hauling operations underway. The question of the narrow creek bed was not specifically addressed. I was provided with his contact number, much appreciated, for a continuing conversation.

The clearance of the creek is more complicated than just the narrows, a fact of which I am aware, including illegal barriers impacting water flow. But in the final analysis the narrows where both San Ysidro and Romero Creeks approach the freeway on their way to the ocean is where future damage and/or delay is most likely to occur impacting statewide travel, mandating evacuations, and isolating the area with rainfall far less intense than last week’s deluge. It would be unfortunate to once again have the County held responsible in the public forum clouding all the good work that has been underway since the January 2018 mudslides.

Sigrid Toye

(Editor’s note: Thank you for the update and here’s hoping you heal well and quickly. To your point, our local representatives – First District Supervisor Das Williams, and U.S. Representative Salud Carbajal – have both been pretty much missing in action. Luckily, Montecito has the capacity to raise the kind of money it takes to protect itself, but one would think that Montecito – being the cash cow that it is for Santa Barbara County – would have at least one governmental cheerleader who would put himself in the forefront of a countywide solution that wouldn’t strictly depend upon the deep pockets of its residents. Without the real-estate taxes thrown off by Montecito, this county would be a poor place indeed. It seems to us that protecting that cash flow would be more in the county’s interest than it has shown. – J.B.)

Surcharge Still Necessary?

As a resident of Montecito and a consumer of Montecito Water, I recently received an email from the water district informing me that Lake Jameson is almost at capacity. I have also been evacuated three times in the last few months because of “excessive rain.” Does this mean that we will finally be getting rid of the WSE surcharge from Montecito Water District? 

Danny Eades

(Editor’s note: Good thinking, Mr. Eades. The Montecito Water District is always worried about its finances, so that surcharge will probably stay. – J.B.)

Stupid Youth

A thoughtless word, a shameful error of judgment, no matter how much regretted or how long ago it was committed, no matter the social norms that existed at the time or the youthful state of maturity, the gallows await you. With no prospects of redemption, Hell awaits the sinner. “Off with their heads” I think is the expression used by the French in 1789. Ah yes, apparently the politically correct radical left and the hard right are ready to accuse, judge, and sentence you in two days. No matter your deepest apologies or the decades of positive contributions to your community, your life is now defined by this dishonorable act.

“Are you now or have you ever been… stupid?” Is this what American society has degenerated to? Is this the ”Sovietski” environment we now live in, where suspicious friends or vindictive relations mix in with the truly offended? I do not know the answer but empathy, mercy and rebuilding a life used to be part of our highest virtues, not destroying a person’s life. I am not a religious person but I think, “Judge not, lest ye be judged” is apropos here.

J.W. Burk
Santa Barbara

Dems in Lockstep

When one looks at the television and sees an extraordinary long line of people, one is compelled to stay tuned to find out whether it is yet another caravan from
Central America trying to get into the country, the great California Exodus of people trying to get out of the state, or the Democrats waiting line for Presidential wannabe sign-ups.

However, out of all of those, the person garnering the lion’s share of media coverage these days, is Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, or AOC as she likes to be called, is not one of the Presidential aspirants, at least not at this time. If you don’t know which one she is, I’ll try to describe her. She’s the youngest media darling of the moment. She has a habit of baring all her teeth, flaring her nostrils, and showing off the whites of her eyes. She reminds me of a horse that’s been spooked by a rattlesnake. Despite that habit, she’s not bad looking. She also lays a claim to some sort of minority status.

I have not kept track of exactly how many are running for President, as the cast increases almost hourly, but out of all of them I have yet to hear what I could consider to be an intelligent proposal as to how they would improve the lot of the working class over what Trump has done, or explain why they are opposed to making America great again.

Has Trump lived up to my hopes? No, but I don’t see a better alternative being offered by the Democrats, who need to do a lot of soul searching, especially when it comes to killing of the unborn American babies, which they have now extended to “As good as born.” And please don’t insult my intelligence by telling me it’s for “women’s health.” It is no coincidence that all Democrats are in lockstep when it comes to killing American babies and are also in lockstep when it comes to replacing them with foreign imports.
Larry Bond
Santa Barbara

We Are At Risk

In an Editor’s note following a letter to the editor titled “EPA’s Strict Guidelines?” (MJ # 25/4), Mr. Buckley chose to attack the character and intelligence of the writer, rather than engaging in her concerns about the EPA’s lack of oversight regarding the toxicity and contamination resulting from drilling. 

Let’s get real. AERA, ERG, and PetroRock propose to use extreme extraction methods to penetrate our groundwater to reach oil in Cat Canyon. That oil is so thick and deep underground that it requires steam injection and acidizing to bring to the surface, along with millions of gallons of toxic liquid that must then be sent back underground via wastewater injection wells, endangering the health of our water supply, as well as our air. These issues are nowhere addressed by Mr. Buckley. 

We are already at risk for air pollution in Cat Canyon as a result of drilling. In December 2018, I accompanied an investigator through Cat Canyon. Using a mobile air quality sensor, I obtained hazardous air quality index readings [AQI] for PM2.5 and PM10. A month later, with a representative of our county’s Air Pollution Control District [APCD], I stopped at six entrances to oil field operations. In these two trips, I obtained a total of sixteen different hazardous particulate air quality readings, the range of which was from the low 100’s to above 350, that is, hazardous air quality. These readings are worse than Beijing on a bad day.

Adverse health impacts associated with these readings include premature mortality, increased hospital admissions for heart or lung causes, acute and chronic bronchitis, asthma attacks, respiratory symptoms, and restricted activity days. PM2.5 is associated with the greatest proportion of adverse health effects related to air pollution, based on the World Health Organization’s Global Burden of Disease Project. Short-term exposures to PM10 have been associated primarily with worsening of respiratory diseases, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), leading to hospitalization and emergency department visits.

Long-term exposure to PM2.5 has been linked to premature death, particularly in people who have chronic heart or lung diseases, and reduced lung function growth in children.

Consider public health costs and the tragic consequences of illness and disease that arise from hazardous air pollution. Now, combine that with multiple chemicals in our county’s drinking water as a result of cyclic steam injection, and you have a silent health bomb lurking in the shadows, a major cost to taxpayers and a tragedy that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

It’s time for Santa Barbara County to continuously monitor air quality in the oil fields and in the communities that are downwind from those fields. It’s time to evaluate the incidence of illness and disease in the communities that surround the oil fields. It’s time to look at the real costs of drilling in our county. Then we will have the information we need to identify and protect ourselves from serious risk. 

Irv Beiman
Santa Ynez

(Editor’s note: For the record, I neither attacked the character nor the intelligence of the writer. I, in fact, referred to her letter as “thoughtful.” I merely suggested that it would be better to have American oil companies operating in the U.S. drilling for oil rather than importing our energy needs from a number of other less environmentally aware oil-producing nations. I did express skepticism with her belief that developing an alternative energy infrastructure would “increase local jobs eight-fold,” among other things. 

Readers should know that Mr. Beiman informed us that he is a retired management consultant, and that his consulting experience over a period of more than three decades includes a three-year risk management project funded by the Department of Energy at the Hanford Nuclear Facility in Washington State. And, that he has been researching oil, water, and air in SB County for the last four years on a pro bono basis. Based upon his letter, we can only surmise that he believes no drilling should take place on the Central Coast. If so, it is an opinion with which we disagree. – J.B.)

Who’s In Charge?

I’m really ticked off when I see all this water pour into the sea and then every year we experience another water crisis.

The people who run the county of Santa Barbara must be brain dead… and this is not brain surgery. Why, oh why is there not someone in charge who can think ahead? Why didn’t someone put a few bulldozers into the nearly empty Lake Cachuma (Ed. note: Cachuma is nearly at 60% capacity as of this writing) and dig out hundreds of thousands of pounds of dirt and pile it up so it would accumulate and hold millions more gallons of water? If they did, we wouldn’t be in another water crisis again next or have to drink the reclaimed salt water that tastes like crap.

Who is in charge? Who has foresight? Who has a brain that will have the courage to do the very obvious?

Gene Tyburn
Santa Barbara

(Editor’s note: UCSB Environmental Studies grads pretty much run this county, so unless and until they as a group agree upon the desirability of an expanded reservoir, good luck with that idea. – J.B.)

Better Angels

There is great concern among Americans that we have lost the ability to talk to one another across the current partisan political divide. While this phenomenon didn’t start with the 2016 presidential election, that contest certainly served to draw into stark relief the scale of the issues we face, with each side coming more and more to believe that those with whom they disagree are not just misguided and uninformed, but even perhaps evil. 

We have increasingly placed ourselves within segregated bubbles, consuming different media that draw upon different sets of facts, not just by choice, but now due to the vagaries of marketing tactics that choose to serve us only information that will reinforce our existing views. 

Fortunately there are many organizations emerging around the country that agree on a basic principle: if we once again commit to talking with one another, rather than just at or about one another, we’ll realize that we share much more in common than we thought, and that our basic values and hopes are largely similar, regardless of the media narrative that is being fed to us. 

One of those groups is called Better Angels, and its name refers to Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address, in which he proclaimed, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” He implored us to allow “the mystic chords of memory” to be touched “by the better angels of our nature.”

On Saturday, February 23, we will be hosting a Better Angels Red-Blue Workshop in downtown Santa Barbara that brings members of each group together to have a conversation that helps us understand one another a little better. The goal will not be to convince anyone to change their mind, but to gain a deeper understanding of what drives each of us, and what experiences have helped to form our viewpoints.

The workshop will be moderated by former MJ columnist Randy Lioz, who serves as the Southern California state coordinator for Better Angels, and Matthew J. Long, a Santa Barbara attorney and mediator. There are still a few spots available to participate, but we also welcome anyone who would just like to observe. We encourage you to reach out to us for information at the following email addresses: bruce@bkirkpatrick.com or phil@philmayes.com.

Bruce Kirkpatrick
Phil Mayes
Santa Barbara

No More Drug Wars

I’m for ending the drug war. I believe it’s been as counterproductive as was Prohibition. More crime and ruined lives, not less. Substance abuse is a problem individuals and society must overcome, not the iron fist of the state. 

I don’t doubt cannabis has great medicinal properties, so should be legal along with any other drug, legal or otherwise. However, like alcohol and most any other mind-altering, recreational drug, cannabis can have very adverse side effects, not the least of which is addiction and/or dependence.

I believe it’s been scientifically proven that a certain percentage of consumers will fall into the “problem” category for each type of drug (or alcohol). Hopefully, if one chooses to partake, they will fall into the “no problem” category. However, if one falls into the problem category, damage to addicts/dependents and their contacts can be catastrophic. 

Abstinence is no doubt the best choice, but if one must partake, extreme caution and awareness must be exercised when using any drug or alcohol so that social and behavioral problems that might arise may be addressed immediately. Of course, that’s no fun, so one usually ends up wrecked someplace, but a war on drugs isn’t the answer.

On another note, I look forward to reading Ashleigh Brilliant. He is both witty and inspiring (I hope I can stay nearly as sharp with age). Hattie Beresford always provides interesting historical pieces. She may be related to Sam and Rose Beresford who once lived here in Carpinteria. Sam and his son-in-law, Jerry, did a lot of backhoe work for me back in the day. Lovely folks, all. 

Steve King


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