Roadmap for Rebuilding

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   March 22, 2021

As we approach the most significant storm in our area since the debris flow of January 9, the Board of Supervisors last week reviewed and approved a plan to help homeowners rebuild their properties. Public Works reps outlined two significant efforts that are currently underway by both Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA and the County, which will provide guidance to property owners about how and when the worst-hit areas will be able to begin rebuilding.

“We know many property owners are anxious to move forward with rebuilding,” said Matt Pontes, director of Recovery for the County of Santa Barbara. “But the debris flow created unique challenges in Montecito that we are working aggressively to resolve,” he added, reiterating those sentiments at a Montecito Association-sponsored community meeting January 14.  

Because the debris flow dislodged many survey markers and other landmarks, making it impossible to identify many property lines without professional surveys, the County will work with outside surveyors to re-establish survey markers along public rights-of-way. Creek channels and land elevations have also changed throughout the debris flow area, which means existing FEMA flood maps are no longer accurate. County staff is working with FEMA on interim flood hazard/recovery mapping to assess where and how high water and debris is predicted to flow in the future. The process is dynamic, and maps may change depending on the severity of this week’s storm. 

The survey work is expected to take a minimum of three months. Until it is completed, the County is advising property owners to temporarily delay making any significant expenditures on design plans, so their decisions and permit applications can be informed by this work. “We sympathize with property owners and understand how hard it is to wait at a time like this,” said Pontes. “The survey, engineering, and mapping that we are doing throughout the debris flow area will significantly reduce the costs that individual homeowners would incur if they were taking on these tasks on their own. However, if property owners want to move ahead on their own, they can work with their case manager to find out what professional studies they would need,” he added. 

The County has already assigned case managers to each impacted property, and property owners are advised to contact their case manager by calling 568-2090. The Board of Supervisors will receive a report on the progress of the mapping every 14 days. 

Other rebuilding efforts discussed at last week’s community meeting: the rebuilding of six Montecito and Carpinteria area bridges. Four bridges are slated for complete replacement following the 1/9 debris flow – Cravens Lane at Highway 192, Toro Canyon (east) at 192, Romero Canyon/Sheffield at 192, and Montecito Creek at 192 – while two other bridges at San Ysidro and Toro Canyon (west) are being repaired. Caltrans reps report that the bridges can be demolished following the relocation of public utilities, and that reconstruction will take up to a year. 

The County also announced last week a newly established Community Wellness Team, led by the County’s Department of Behavioral Wellness. The team, a collaboration of 13 local agencies, will offer a continuum of services to meet the needs of individuals impacted by the collective and individual trauma experienced after the Thomas Fire and 1/9 debris flow.  

Suzanne Grimmesey, MFT, chief Quality Care and Strategy for Santa Barbara County Behavior Wellness, says that symptoms of stress experienced in response to trauma may include anxiety, sadness, depression, or confusion and may be noticed in sleep, concentration, work, or relationships. “People respond differently to trauma and may have different levels of need,” Grimmesey explained. “Within the Community Wellness Team continuum of care, a range of crisis services are available, including short- and long-term counseling.”

A member of the Community Wellness Team, Cottage Health is offering an intensive outpatient program of groups designed to help individuals learn how to manage symptoms of anxiety, depression, and trauma. Cottage Health support groups will be provided in English and Spanish and all are free. Orientations for the intensive outpatient program begin this week. More information is available at

More information on the Community Wellness Team, including where to access services is available on, under Health and Safety. 


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