Montecito – The Future Starts Now!

By Bob Hazard   |   February 13, 2020

It has been more than 25 years since the formal adoption of the Montecito Community Plan, crafted by concerned citizens, who were charged with protecting and preserving the special, small town, semi-rural residential character of our community.

Back in 1995, semi-rural meant the lack of sidewalks and traffic lights, narrow winding roads, subtle road signage, low-density residential development, limited commercial development, unobstructed community and neighborhood view corridors, extensive greenery, easy access to walking and riding trails, uncrowded beaches and recreational facilities, convenient shopping, clean air, friendly and courteous small-town neighbors, fine elementary schools with low student/teacher ratios, and diverse housing, architecture, landscaping and property sizes. With the exception of unforeseen potential community gridlock on local lanes, the 1995 Montecito Community Plan has served us well.

Since 2018, Montecito has had its share of negative publicity – life-threatening fires and floods, serial evacuations, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and increased homelessness. Such negative and undeserved perceptions need to be reversed. The start of this new decade is the ideal time for residents of Montecito to pause and plan for resolving the most critical challenges facing Montecito over the next 25 years.

Montecito Association Planning Efforts

As a healthy start, the Montecito Association’s Land Use Committee, under the able leadership of chair Dorinne Lee Johnson and Executive Director Sharon Byrne, has identified the “Top 5 Priority Issues for Montecito.” Land Use hopes to spend the next 12 months developing solutions to the issues that they perceive to be Montecito’s five greatest concerns:

1. Widening of the 101 and the Resulting Invasion of Traffic Gridlock into Montecito

Our treasured Montecito lifestyle is being threatened on a daily basis by the reality of 100,000 cars, campers, trucks, and big rigs passing through Montecito on U.S. Highway 101. Vehicles that once whizzed past Montecito are increasingly being re-routed by sophisticated GPS systems through the heart of our community to avoid highway gridlock. With no new North-South Highway project on the Caltrans drawing board, 101 traffic is expected to increase by 4% per year, negating some of the advantages of an added part-time, high-speed express lane. Already, epic traffic loads jam the 101 when Interstate 5 is shut down for winter storms over Tejon Pass, or serious accidents close one or more existing lanes of the 101.

Locally, North Jameson Lane, Ortega Hill Road, and Lillie Avenue have already become “the third lane of the 101.” The lamentable closure of the southbound on-ramp to the 101 at the Cabrillo Blvd interchange in 2009 by the City of Santa Barbara, SBCAG and Caltrans has re-routed Santa Barbara beach traffic for the last 11 years through Coast Village Road to enter the 101 at Olive Mill. Our elected leaders promised that all beach traffic could be redirected through signage to enter the 101 at Milpas; that prediction proved to be as shortsighted as the clouded vision of the walking dead.

Widening the 101 through Montecito is challenged by the most constricted right-of-way along the entire 101 corridor. Without wide shoulders on both sides of the vehicle lanes, nighttime construction through Montecito will be twice as slow and twice as expensive as construction in the wider right-of-way between Carpinteria and Sheffield Drive.

Two proposed roundabouts – one at the intersection of Olive Mill, Coast Village Road, North Jameson Lane and the on and off-ramps to the 101; and another at San Ysidro and North Jameson Lane – promise new congestion, especially if each roundabout is restricted to a single lane of traffic.

Local workers who commute to our community are finding that their drive times have nearly doubled in peak traffic periods. Finally, Caltrans tells us that this will be the last widening of the 101 for the next 75 years, so if we don’t get it right this time, there are no foreseeable fixes.

2. Community Safety and Security

Could the disaster of 1/9/18 happen again? We are told that the 1/9 Fire, Flood and Debris Flow was a 100-year, or even a 500-year event. Yet what happened on 1/9/18 – was a more extreme repeat of what happened in Montecito in 1969, and again in 1995. Montecito was warned by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1969 that our small debris basins were inadequate compared to Carpinteria. We knew that our creek channels were overgrown and poorly maintained due to a lack of county funding for creek management programs. We knew that we lived beneath a bounty of boulders, many as big as a Volkswagen bus.

Following the 1/9/18 disaster, our community, fearful for its future safety, came together and privately raised millions in funding to install six ring nets on private property in the most dangerous creek channel canyons. There was not one dime of county funds offered or accepted. The promise was that the ring nets would double the catch capacity of our inadequate debris basins. Multiple agencies granted emergency permits, but the Department of Fish & Game limited its permits to only one to two years before demanding net removal. Without permit relief from Fish and Game, all six ring nets will soon have to be removed from Montecito, cutting our promised protection in half.

3. Water Reliability and Security

In this age of advanced technology, and with the largest water reservoir on the planet right on our front doorstep, we can achieve permanent water independence, including totally eliminating the future threat of drought.

South Coast dependence on an aging, expensive, State Water Project, designed to serve 23 million Californians in a state that is now home to 40 million residents, is both foolish and dangerous. Today, California farms and communities have been promised state water allocations of 4.23 million acre-feet (AF) per year. On average, the State System is delivering only 2.4 million AF per year, a 44% shortfall. The water shortfall is being masked by local groundwater wells that are being over-pumped, which rapidly depletes healthy underground water basins.

The State Water Project steals water from Northern California to deliver it to thirsty Central Valley farmers and coastal Southern California cities. Its 21 dams and surface reservoirs, power plants, pump stations, 700 miles of canals, pipelines and tunnels are inadequate and environmentally unsustainable. The State Water Project is also the largest consumer of electrical power in the state.

Fear of future drought can be eliminated if only we are bold enough to take the right steps.

4. Undergrounding Montecito Utilities

Look… up in the sky: It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s the recent trimming of roadside trees by Southern California Edison reveals even more of our hideous overhead power lines, featuring primary and secondary conductors, transformers the size of oil drums, telephone lines, cable lines, and refrigerator-sized cellphone transmitters. The recent conversion from distressed wooden poles to steel and concrete makes the overhead landscape even more repugnant. Imagine what this mishmash of overloaded poles, crossarms and sagging overhead lines will look like by 2099.

Key areas of Montecito are already undergrounded, including Coast Village Road, the Upper Village shopping district, Birnam Wood, Ennisbrook, and parts of San Ysidro Road. Particularly ugly power lines and power poles lie along 192 East Valley Road. That’s a good place to start if Caltrans, Edison, Cox Cable, Verizon and funding for Water Main replacement can be used to pay the undergrounding bill.

Undergrounding plans should include the heavily traveled arterials of Hot Springs Road, Olive Mill Road, Sheffield Drive and the remainder of San Ysidro Road, plus Schoolhouse Road and San Leandro Lane. Burial of utility lines along the rest of Mountain Drive, which is already partly undergrounded, and Sycamore Canyon Road would make a huge difference in visual appeal and fire safety.

Climate Change and Sea Level Rise

For the past 20 years the typical Montecito weather forecast has been “Sunny with a dash of ocean breeze.” Recently, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report to the United Nations, the world has already warmed by 1-degree centigrade since 1850. If global temperatures rise by another 1.5 degrees, humans will face unprecedented climate-related risks and weather events. Gone will be coral reefs and artic summer ice. California sea levels, which have risen by less than nine inches in the last 100 years, are projected to rise more than nine feet by 2099. Coastal California is predicted to see extensive flooding and increased erosion. Isla Vista’s crumbling cliffs will topple into the sea and Montecito’s prime beachfront property could retreat to north of the 101.

Montecito Needs Our Help

Our 26th President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt, noted, “Complaining about a problem without posing a solution is called ‘whining.’” He is right! The great Albert Einstein added this piece of advice: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created the problem… If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about the solution.”

What do we want our community to look like by 2050? Creative problem solving is the process of redefining challenges and seeking opportunities, coming up with innovative and affordable solutions, and then taking action. What rules can we break? What can we do that is different and better?


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