Neighborhood Pinch Points In the Pandemic
The pandemic has introduced a slew of new neighborhood issues that require a lot of work to untangle. We’re happy to step up for some of these, but many are outsider-induced. Most of these issues started up in late spring, near Memorial Day, when the lockdowns had eased, the weather got warmer, and people wanted to get out.
Our lovely trails were “discovered” in the late spring by out-of-town visitors, who then posted their experiences on social media, and encouraged others to hit Montecito for fun daytrip activities, like ride their mountain bike down Hot Springs Trail. Suddenly we saw things we’d never seen before: overcrowding, haphazard parking, and trash, including food waste from restaurant chains with no presence in Santa Barbara County.
People were camping at the Hot Springs Trail, stringing hammocks on private property at the trailhead, and constructing fire rings. Ashlee Mayfield at the Montecito Trails Foundation, the Sheriff’s Department, the Fire Department, and County Public Works, and I were trying to deal with these issues pretty much weekly. The County tried two-hour parking to cut back on traffic. That seemed to help, but then people just moved the signs.
We tried patrolling it. Ashlee went up there with the United States Forest Service and the Fire Department to bust up fire rings. We’re now looking at a ‘no overnight parking’ ordinance with the Sheriff’s Department in multiple areas. Vehicles line the road from East Mountain all the way down Riven Rock, sometimes blocking driveways. The County cannot prohibit parking on a public street unless it impedes fire vehicle access.
One of the frequent fliers at the Hot Springs trailhead, the “Cool Bus,” after complaints from neighbors and contact from the Sheriff’s Department, decided to relocate to Butterfly Beach and camp out there, where he again encountered sheriffs. Beginning Memorial Day weekend, and with ensuing heat waves, the Montecito beaches erupted as the new hot zones. Similar to the trails, we saw dirty diapers and trash, urinating on people’s lawns, and erratic and overcrowded parking. The County closed the beaches during the holiday weekends, and the Fire Department put its foot down on street overcrowding in the case of Humphrey Road. All the jammed parking meant no fire vehicles could get back there. So “no parking” zones were implemented in that area to mitigate the issue.
Property owners on private roads near beaches and trailheads have also woken up to finding their neighborhoods as new “hot spots” for parking and overnight vehicle camping. They have posted these areas as “no parking” to defend themselves from incursion and dumping. Since these roads are privately owned, the owners can post the signs, and they don’t have to conform to a set style. That is confusing longtime local users of these roads, who suddenly find themselves confronted with no parking signs, and wondering whether this is legal? It is.
All of this is causing my phone to ring. Rather like other arguments raging nationally at present, most of these problems could be easily solved if everyone would just be better humans. It’s frankly shocking that someone would make the effort to drive hours up here to enjoy Montecito’s natural beauty and rural character, and then dump their trash and drive off. How long do they expect it to remain beautiful and rural, exactly, with that kind of behavior? Who even does that – goes to someone else’s community, and trashes it?
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, even places like Hammond’s Meadow have had their share of incursion, bonfires, camping, people storing firewood on vacant homeowner’s properties, trash, and more. There’s no sign that tells you what this is, or how to behave here, so people are making up their own rules, and they’re sure leaving us a lot of trash.
We encourage you to join the Montecito Association. We tackle all kinds of issues like these, and welcome your involvement in your community. We also appreciate the terrific neighborhood watchers out there who keep their eyes on this community, and work actively to solve problems when they arise.