High Net Worth

By Gwyn Lurie   |   December 12, 2019

For all of us who live or work in Montecito, the rainy season brings up a still fresh mix of emotions. We’re grateful for the hydration of our mountains as they continue to recover and revegetate. We’re thankful to no longer be in an active drought. But still we struggle with the residual trauma from an event that changed all of us forever.

Yet after the rain there is always sunshine.

Over the past two years our community has come together in ways that have not only benefited our own lives, but in ways that are reaping profound benefits well beyond Montecito’s geographical borders.

Immediately following the 1/9 debris flow, members of our community teamed up to find and implement best practices worldwide in resilience technologies in the hopes of protecting Montecito from further disaster. At the time, no one knew what was next. All of Montecito seemed to have PTSD, and some feared our town could be in ruin for years – a once burgeoning resort community now known as a post-apocalyptic place reminiscent of a Hollywood disaster movie.

While a few got out of Dodge, this group known as TPRC was running flat out with a mission: to keep Montecito’s mountain up where it belongs, and to share its learnings with neighboring communities in similar peril so that others could avoid a similar fate.

With speed, tenacity, and widespread community support TPRC has been able, so far, to install six high tensile steel debris nets on our mountains in time for this season’s heavy rainfall.

Meanwhile, California has suffered the Paradise Fire, Malibu fires, and the Carr Fire, among others.

On November 2, not even six weeks ago, the Getty Fire in the Santa Monica Mountains forced thousands of L.A. residents living west of the 405 freeway to evacuate from their homes. As we know, the horrors of a hillside fire don’t end when the final flames are extinguished.

Beyond the homes that were destroyed by the Getty Fire, that community is now faced with the ongoing danger of living below the fresh burn scar of the Santa Monica mountains during heavy rains.

Fortunately for L.A., the Getty Museum, based on our community’s work, has purchased eight Swiss debris nets from Geobrugg and, using much of the same team we assembled to engineer and install our own nets, plans to have those nets deployed over the next few weeks. If they had to start from scratch, find this technology and a team to implement it, they would never be able to have nets in place for this winter. Now they will.

TPRC’s mission was two-fold: to make Montecito safer and more resilient, and to take what we learned and pay it forward. So when I learned that the Getty was adopting the TPRC playbook even before a disaster could happen, I was filled with pride for our community. And the fact that my sister’s family and many friends live below those denuded mountains, for me, made it all the sweeter.

It was shortly after the tragic events here in 2018 that Former Santa Barbara City Fire Chief Pat McElroy, now TPRC’s Executive Director, first shared the news about what we were doing in Montecito with L.A.’s Assistant Fire Chief, Pat Butler. McElroy and Butler were together providing emergency services during the 2018 Mendocino Complex Fire, when Pat Mac told Chief Butler about our work. Because of that conversation, and the careful chronicling of TPRC’s work by the Journal, the Getty is hard at work today, with our plans in hand.

We didn’t invent the debris net, nor were we the first to discover debris nets, but we were the first to come together as private citizens to light a fire under our local government to partner with us and support our efforts to protect ourselves. The trail we bushwhacked got the nets permitted and installed. And because we laid that groundwork, the residents of Brentwood can sleep more soundly this winter and enjoy, rather than fear, the pitter patter of the falling rain.

“What we told our donors all along is that we would share what we learned with our neighbors. It’s really gratifying to see an institution like the Getty use our R&D to put in nets in advance of a potential disaster. The Getty has the resources to make it happen immediately, and that’s what they’re doing,” said McElroy.

I asked Kevin Taylor, Montecito’s Fire Chief, what he thought about this news. “It’s huge,” he said. “Everything that worked here they’re implementing eighty miles south.”

At the same time, Chief Taylor knows there are no silver bullets. And he makes no bones about the fact that resiliency all comes down to individual preparedness. “It all starts with neighbor helping neighbor,” Taylor said. “That is the true path to resiliency.”

Neighbors who know each other are much more likely to help each other and Taylor places great importance on this. “When I came here in 2015, this was just a job. But immediately following the 1/9 debris flow, all the walls came down and this became a community. Everyone found out we all have the same wants, needs, and hopes for our families.”

Chief Taylor sees a connection between the need to know our neighbors for resiliency and the bigger picture for our world. “In these divisive times this puts into focus what we all have in common. This is important not just for community resiliency, but for democracy itself.”

At the Journal, especially as we develop a robust online presence, we will expand our role in keeping us all informed during important events. To this end we will be collaborating with first responders, emergency management, and UCSB’s outstanding geology department, on how to keep our families and our neighborhoods safe.

In addition, I am grateful that Chief Taylor has agreed to do a monthly column for the Montecito Journal keeping us up to date about important developments regarding community resilience and other important safety matters. There are things each and every one of us can do and his column will help, on an ongoing basis, know what those things are. For starters, pay attention to alerts, make sure your friends and neighbors are signed up for alerts, know where the high ground is on your property, Chief Taylor suggests enrolling in a 20-hour disaster preparedness course being offered through MERRAG (www.merrag.org).

For a deeper dive on this important story of how the lessons learned in Montecito are spreading elsewhere, read Nicholas Schou’s piece entitled “A Net Benefit” on page 56. Nick, the Montecito Journal’s new managing editor, is an accomplished journalist and author of several books including Kill the Messenger and Orange Sunshine, who has joined our editorial staff.


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