How Did We Get It So Wrong?

By Bob Hazard   |   June 13, 2019

Throughout history men have made some bad choices by unwittingly clinging to the past, rather than recognizing and embracing an uncertain future. Here are a few memorable misjudgments:

In 1903, the President of the Michigan Savings Bank warned Henry Ford’s lawyer, Horace Rackham, to protect his money. “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty.” Henry Ford ignored this popular advice and proceeded to build a simple, reliable black car that the average American worker could afford. The result was the Model T built on an assembly line – two innovations that revolutionized American society and changed the world we live in today.

In 1939, Gary Cooper was offered the Rhett Butler role in Gone With The Wind, but turned it down with the comment, Gone With The Wind is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history. I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his nose and not me.” GWTW earned the Academy Award as the Best Picture of the Year. It became the highest grossing film of all time.

In 1943, Thomas J. Watson, Chairman of IBM, predicted, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” By October 2014, there were two billion personal computers in use throughout the world. In 2018 alone, approximately 260 million PCs were shipped around the world.

In 1946, movie mogul Darryl Zanuck at 20th Century Fox proclaimed, “Television won’t be able to hold onto any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” Globally, more than 1.4 billion households now own at least one TV set, representing 79% of total households.

In 1962, after an unsuccessful audition, Decca Records declined to sign The Beatles, saying “We don’t like their sound and guitar music is on the way out.” The Beatles went on to become the most successful musical artists of all time with more than 600 million singles and albums sold worldwide.

In 1966, Time Magazine, in its Futurists Edition concluded, “Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop because women like to get out of the house, like to handle merchandise and like to be able to change their minds.” Amazon is now the largest e-retailer in the world with close to $232 billion in 2018 sales. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, has become the richest man in the world with $146 billion.

In 2007, Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, predicted, “There is no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.” By the end of 2019, Apple will reach a total of 1.7 billion shipments of iPhones and expects to ship the 2 billionth iPhone sometime in the middle of 2021.

Not to be outdone, the tiny, tony town of Montecito has made a few bad bloopers of its own – ones that it wishes it could take back: 

Annexation of Coast Village Road by the City of Santa Barbara

In 1960, the voters of Montecito concluded there was no need for the Montecito Sanitary District to spend the money to install a sewer system on Coast Village Road (CVR). Shortsighted voters turned down a bond proposal for a Montecito Sewage Treatment plant to replace septic tanks in Montecito. Terrified business owners along CVR, whose septic systems were overflowing and malodorous, turned to the city of Santa Barbara for annexation because the city offered to add sewer service to the business district of Montecito.

In 1961, a year after the city annexed CVR, William H. Joyce, Jr, then President of the Montecito Sanitary District and his board, contracted for a study with Stanford Research Institute to plan and design a new sewage treatment plant for Montecito. The treatment plant was completed in 1961, funded by a mere $3.1 million in revenue bonds in a classic case of too little too late.

As a result of city annexation, Montecito permanently lost its planning and zoning control over the heart of its business district. The City of Santa Barbara now decides building heights and densities; higher sales taxes; and hotel taxes to boost the city’s tax revenue. If the city decides that a new Olive Mill roundabout is needed at “the Gateway to Montecito,” that’s it. If the city decides that a re-opened southbound entrance ramp to the 101 at the Hot Springs/Cabrillo intersection is not needed, that’s it. If the city decides Montecito could use a pot shop or two to generate more tax revenues, that’s it.

Historically and psychologically, CVR belongs to Montecito. Unfortunately, our village business district was high-jacked by the city because of our own short-sightedness, and yes, our stupidity as a community.

Failure to Widen the 101 in 1993

In 1989, a project to widen the 101 to six lanes was included in the list of Measure D projects approved by voters. Widening was initially popular, until 1992 when “Grassroots 101” under the leadership of Alex Pujo,was formed. Fearful that widening might reduce the width of median landscaping, Montecito voters narrowly rejected the project.

At a crucial meeting of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) in the spring of 1993, then Supervisor Naomi Schwartz deemed the 101 widening plan to be “inadequate to protect the scenic character of the freeway.” The decision was made to put aside the widening and study alternatives, even though Caltrans had funding for the widening in-hand and the design was shovel-ready. As a rejected suitor, Caltrans immediately shifted the funding to more receptive transportation projects, while Montecito went to the back-of-the-line for future funding.

Representative Lois Capps sounded the alarm in September 1993: “The daily frustration of traffic gridlock on Highway 101 demands our immediate attention. The truth is we should have done something long ago, but we didn’t.” 2020 traffic counts are estimated at 100,000 cars and trucks per day passing in and through Montecito.

Closure of the Southbound On-Ramp to the 101 at Cabrillo Boulevard

In 2010, the unfortunate closure of the southbound on-ramp to the 101 at the Cabrillo Blvd/Hot Springs interchange turned a bucolic, gentrified Coast Village Road into a nightmarish public parking lot. Montecito had no say in the closing of the southbound entrance to the 101 at Cabrillo Blvd, which rerouted Santa Barbara beach and hotel traffic onto Coast Village Road, before entering the southbound 101 at Olive Mill Road.

The city’s contention that East and West Beach traffic would use the Milpas 101 on-ramp proved to be a mammoth misjudgment. Santa Barbara City Planner, Rob Dayton and City Mayor Helene Schneider, denied there would be a Montecito impact from the southbound closure, claiming they knew better.

Community Coalition Effort to Retain Left-Lane On and Off Ramps On the 101

Beginning in 2012 and continuing for four years, a well-intentioned group of Montecito citizens, known first as the MA Community Coalition, and later as Common Sense 101, raised some $200,000 in community contributions to petition Governor Jerry Brown and Caltrans to retain both north and southbound left-lane ramps at Cabrillo Blvd/Hot Springs, and the left-lane ramps at the Sheffield Drive interchange.

Caltrans planners and the California Highway Patrol were adamant that left-lane ramps on six-lane highways were unsafe. The debate ended when Caltrans declared publicly that left-lane ramps will no longer be included in six-lane highway construction projects. Both the California Highway Patrol and the Governor concurred in that assessment, noting that if left-lane ramps remained, and an accident occurred, Caltrans would lose every lawsuit, resulting in massive judgments against the state for allowing lanes they had declared unsafe to remain.

The Common Sense 101 campaign resulted in a four-year delay in the approval of the March 2012 Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the South Coast 101 HOV Lanes Project. The Montecito community was viewed as an obstructionist to widening efforts by both SBCAG (Santa Barbara Association of Governments) and Caltrans. Wiser planners in Carpinteria eagerly embraced the widening process and successfully secured early funding for their projects.

In late 2014, a so-called “Transportation Futures Committee”‘ retained local attorney Marc S. Chytilo to challenge the Caltrans Environmental Impact Report (EIR), inducing another two-year delay for Montecito. That lawsuit, supported by then Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, cemented the decision to widen first in Carpinteria, and push Montecito’s widening to the tail-end of the widening process.

The January 9, 2018 Montecito Mudslide Evacuation Plan

No one could have predicted that on the night of January 9, 2018, a short but violent rainstorm would send mud and debris roaring through neighborhoods of Montecito, killing 23 people and destroying or damaging some 400 homes. The storm rolled in after midnight and at 3:30 am dropped 0.66 inches of rain in just 15 minutes on fire-burned slopes, denuded of vegetation. 

LA Times investigative reporter Joe Mozingo reported: “On January 8, county officials issued mandatory evacuations – but only in the neighborhoods closest to the mountains, north of East Valley Road. Officials estimated that only 15% of the residents in the mandatory evacuation zone left the area. Sadly, seventeen of the 23 deaths happened outside the mandatory evacuation zone.

“Residents had no idea of the devastation that the Santa Ynez Mountains could let loose in a major storm after a fire. They expected water or mud damage at worst. The creeks they knew were mostly tame, even in the wet season, gurgling along, feeding the aquifer and the wildlife and the gnarl-armed oaks that gave the area its natural allure.

“Fast-moving mud and ash picked up the sandstone boulders and burned trees and surged down the mountain. Within half an hour, the basins were overflowing. Mud gushed over the dams on Cold Spring and San Ysidro creeks with such velocity that it fractured both dams in places and coated nearby trees 30 feet high. The debris quickly clogged up bridge culverts, then spilled into the same neighborhoods flooded in 1964 and 1969. In hindsight, three violent storms in 50 years should have sent a stronger evacuation message

“Throughout Montecito, the deluge obliterated landscape walls and wiped away cars and houses, sweeping up more wreckage as it rushed to the ocean, two to three miles from the mountains. As it had in 1964 and 1969, debris followed Olive Mill Road down to U.S. 101, crossed an overpass, and emptied into the Pacific.”


Without a vehicle for local government representation, it is very difficult for Montecito residents to shape the events that determine our future. There’s an old Irish proverb, “May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been, the foresight to know where you are going, and the insight to know how to fulfill your vision.”


You might also be interested in...