No Sounds Walls in Montecito

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   February 15, 2022
A rendering shows northbound Highway 101 lanes with a chain link fence and landscaping instead of a sound wall

Last week at a well-attended Montecito community meeting regarding the 101 freeway widening project through Montecito, reps from the project reported that sound walls that had been proposed in the Montecito portion have been removed due to flooding concerns. 

The project is in initial planning review with the County of Santa Barbara as part of the Coastal Development permitting process, and the project was required by Flood Control to analyze if the proposed sound walls would create a rise in flood waters. The flood risk was analyzed using Recovery Mapping that was adopted by the County in response to the 1/9 Debris Flow. The 101 Project team has confirmed and reported that the proposed sound walls could create a water rise during a flooding event. Flood Control Engineering Manager Jon Frye said it’s not a matter of if a flood event will happen, it’s a matter of when. “Flood Control does not think it’s a good idea to put a flood wall in this area,” he said at the meeting. 

According to project rep Kirsten Ayars, sound walls are considered through a seven-step process; the first six steps follow federal guidelines for projects that use federal funds. These steps include identifying sensitive receptors, measuring existing and predicting future noise levels, identifying affected residences, reviewing potential noise abatements, determining financial reasonableness, and voting by affected property owners. Property owners are considered affected by a proposed noise abatement measure if their properties (adjacent to the abatement) are predicted to be impacted or benefited receivers, or if the physical environment of their properties will be altered directly by the noise abatement measure. Alteration of the physical environment includes – but is not necessarily limited to – blocking access, interrupting scenic views, causing loss of visibility from the highway, creating shadows, and interrupting natural airflow. For noise barriers, the combined effects of acoustical and physical alterations of the environment are generally limited to 150 meters (500 feet) or less from the edge of traveled way of a highway. Currently there are 15 “severe receptor” properties in Montecito. 

The seventh – and final – step in the process is the Coastal Development Permit process. This process reviews project features, impacts, and compliance with coastal policies, and the sound walls have not been found to be consistent with local policy requirements, including updates since the debris flow, in order to be approved as part of the project. The Recovery Mapping assumes that all bridges, culverts, and water conveyance structures are blocked and would not pass flood waters. 

According to Ayars, the team also studied alternate wall types and configurations, such as walls with flood gates, staggered walls with openings, shorter walls, and other alternatives that might alleviate this problem. Unfortunately, the options resulted in a rise in flood waters during hydraulic modeling, did not meet freeway safety requirements, and/or would not meet the federal sound wall requirements. 

In place of the sound walls, a black coated chain link fencing planted with vines and landscaping will be proposed. “We are making the chain link fence as aesthetically pleasing as possible,” Ayars said, who also said that some sound walls in Carpinteria were required to be omitted from the project as well. There is a sound wall being installed in Summerland by the northbound onramp at Sheffield Drive, which is not in the flooding area. 

Nearly 100 questions were asked of the 101 team at the meeting last week; many members of the community are not pleased that the sound walls have been removed from the project. At the Montecito Association this past Tuesday, board president Megan Orloff said that the Board will continue to pursue the issue with First District Supervisor Das Williams as well as the Flood Control Department. Because the decision is based on recovery mapping from 2018, the mapping and models do not take into account the new debris basin on Randall Road as well as other mitigation models, which several residents have pointed out. “The projects we are working on [including the Randall Road basin] are debris control projects,” said Frye. “They are not going to affect the amount of water that flows,” he said. “We don’t want to provide noise abatement and then have residents have to deal with increase flooding,” said Ayars at the MA meeting this week. “It’s a tough subject, and I hope people continue to share their thoughts with us.” According to project reps, the freeway widening will cause a less than five decibel increase in sound for the majority of the community, thanks in part to the use of reinforced concrete pavement, which is the quietest roadway surface that has been developed to date. The surface has a long lifespan and reduces tire noise because cars are not going over degraded areas. 

Homeowners directly impacted by the increase in noise by the freeway will be given access to funding for private property improvements, which can include window replacement and landscaping to buffer the sound. Sound walls on private property will not be allowed. 

The project will move forward through the Coastal Development Permit process with County hearings this spring and summer, including MBAR meetings later this month and in March, the Montecito Planning Commission in April, and County Planning Commission in June. For more information, contact the project team at (805) 845-5112 or or visit the project website at

Montecito Association Meets 

At a lengthy Montecito Association Meeting earlier this week, the Board voted unanimously to continue efforts for the MA’s Hands Across Montecito project, which was launched in 2021 as a pilot program to help provide outreach and resources to homeless people living in Montecito. Homelessness country-wide has increased since the pandemic began in March 2020; at the time the program launched there were about 30-50 homeless living in Montecito in various encampments near the Bird Refuge, Hot Springs freeway exit, near the Pointe Market on Coast Village Road, the area near the freeway and Coast Village Circle, the area between Olive Mill and San Ysidro roads, and near the railroad tracks near Montecito Shores and Bonnymede. HAM partnered with outreach coordinators from City Net, an organization comprised of a team of nonprofit professionals who work to end street-level homelessness. Founded by Brad Fieldhouse, the organization was already working in the City of Santa Barbara and partnering with Cottage Hospital to get local homeless the medical help they need. 

Executive Director Sharon Byrne gave an extensive power point presentation on the project, which exceeded everybody’s expectations in terms of number of volunteers – nearly 20 people – who donated time, money (roughly $123,000), and resources, as well as number of homeless people helped. It’s estimated that there are fewer than five people currently living unsheltered in Montecito. The project included multi-camp cleanouts, countywide partnerships, and the trailblazing of a new way to provide resources for the homeless population that could very well be used for other communities trying to tackle this issue. “Thank you for giving us this opportunity,” said Byrne, who spearheaded the project. The Board voted favorably to launch a new round of funding and to move forward with a new contract with City Net. 

During Community Reports, Santa Barbara Sheriff Lieutenant Butch Arnoldi gave a briefing on crime in Montecito in the last month, which included an increase in mail theft, multiple DUIs, a residential burglary on Butterfly Lane, and multiple thefts from vehicles at a local trailhead. During the latter crime, a group of four individuals broke into cars at the trailhead, and found a key to a local hotel room; they then went to the hotel and stole items from the room. They were pulled over in Ventura County, and arrested after a search of the vehicle led to the recovery of dozens of stolen items. 

Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Taylor said the warm weather we are having this week is “fire weather,” although there are no red flag warnings in effect as of press time. “If we don’t get any more rain, we will be in fire season sooner rather than later,” he said, reminding the community to be familiar with the District’s “Ready! Set! Go!” wildfire preparation guide. (Visit for more information.) 

The next Montecito Association Board of Directors meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 8. For more information, visit


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