Cameras at the Hot Springs: On Whose Authority?

By Montecito Journal   |   March 14, 2023
The tag attached to the camera

On Feb. 16, 2023, a camera was placed facing a newly restored pool at the Montecito Hot Springs. The camera bore a tag that had printed on it “County of Santa Barbara, Public Works, Trail and Creek Monitoring in Progress, Do Not Tamper or Remove, Enforced by County Sheriff.” 

The Dept. of Public Works wasn’t happy after receiving information about that camera. On Feb. 17, Lael Wageneck, information officer for Public Works, sent an email to me: “I forwarded this information to the sheriff and let them know it may be some type of peeping Tom camera. I asked them if the camera is in their jurisdiction or the forest service. I’ll let everyone know if I hear back from the sheriff.” 

On Feb. 17, Alex Dorman of Public Works Water Resources Division, Flood Control District, wrote to me: “It seems odd the camera has ‘Public Works’ and ‘County Sheriff’ logos and no contact information. The ‘Trail and Creek Monitoring’ label doesn’t seem like something associated with Public Works activities.” 

On the 19th, Mr. Dorman wrote, “We have reached out to all County Public Works Departments and wanted to confirm this is not one of our cameras.” On that same day, Mr. Wageneck wrote to me: “Please feel free to remove the camera and bring it to us.” 

Location of the camera overlooking the hot springs

On the 20th, he wrote: “Yes, we are concerned that someone would pretend to represent Public Works in order to record residents and visitors and discourage people from removing the camera. Thank you again for taking the time to let us know about this. We definitely want to know who is pretending to act on our behalf and why.” 

On the 21st, he wrote to me: “Did you get the camera? If not, can you give me a little more info on where it was (how far up the trail)? We should be able to grab it today if it is still there. If you have it and would like to drop it off, I can meet you at my
office downtown.”

In response to inquiries from Public Works on Feb. 21, Lt. Butch Arnoldi of the Sheriff’s Department wrote in an email: “The primary purpose of the cameras is to capture illegal activity of various types: Being in a ‘Posted Forest Closure Area,’ constructing pools and diverting water for the natural environment, vandalism to the existing private water system, etc… A concerned citizen was authorized to install these cameras and is responsible for monitoring the activity and forwarding that information to the affected agency.” It turns out, there were five cameras.

Regarding forest closure, does the forest service have the right to close off the whole Los Padres National Forest consisting of 1.9 million acres? The agency needs to realize that it’s attached to the forest, that it doesn’t own it. The nature in the forest was created by God for man’s enjoyment. An old New England saying is, “The forest is the poor man’s refuge.” Yes, the agency has the right to close man-made things like unsafe campgrounds, roads, and bridges. But it doesn’t have the right to close off all trails and cross-country travel. It’s important to note that in winter, other national forests more dangerous than our local forest remain open. People go snow camping, mountain climbing, ice fishing, and cross-country skiing in Sierra Nevada forests, and face the risks of avalanches and freezing to death. Even the Pacific Crest Trail in the High Sierra is open in winter. Our forest is very safe in comparison. The order itself may be unconstitutional. Those who enter a closed forest don’t lose their constitutional rights.

Also, is it such a bad thing to create a few relatively small pools that are likely to be wiped out by winter storms? The Chumash were creating pools at the Montecito Hot Springs long before the white man arrived on the scene. All over California, people create pools in creeks. 

It’s hard to believe the sheriff would do something so outside the legal process. It’s not easy to get approval to put surveillance cameras on public land, and doing so requires proper noticing. But no notices were attached to the cameras explaining what the operation was about, nor was any contact information provided in case the public had questions. It’s hard to believe the Sheriff’s Department would have told the “concerned cititzen” to affix a tag to each camera stating it was from Public Works without having first consulted that department. It’s a serious crime to falsely represent a government agency, and even a sheriff’s deputy could be subject to disciplinary action if he did so. And if the operation were approved by a legal authority, why attach to the camera’s tags saying they’re from
Public Works?

Concerning the closing of Los Padres National Forest, a lot of local residents are either practicing civil disobedience or are unaware of the order. It’s going to be hard to keep them away from their cherished trails. For example, on any given day, quite a few hikers can be found on Cold Spring Trail and the Ridge Trail. No signs are at the beginning of these trails stating the forest is closed. People who took the Ridge Trail to get to the hot springs may have ended up being photographed in a pool of hot water, or in the act of undressing, and may not have been aware of it! 

It’s sad that some people think they have the right and power to disrupt the lives of people who are seeking the healing power of nature. 

After the hot springs became popular, residents in the area have been unhappy with hikers parking their cars in the vicinity of the trailhead and have illegally placed rocks in the public right-of-way. The cameras may be an effort to scare people from using the trail. 

Those residents have a lot of clout. Their actions have led to restrictive parking at the trailhead (two-hour parking during weekends, and parking lot closure at dusk), as well as county rangers being placed there. Cold Spring Trail and the Ridge Trail haven’t been a problem to them, and backpackers can still leave their cars overnight at the trailhead serving them. These busier trails have no rangers stationed explaining the forest is closed.

There are a lot of unanswered questions.

Bryan Rosen, Montecito

Don’t Rename ‘The Raft’

As a member of a five-generation Montecito family who has now become an “old-timer” Montecito resident, I have had to adjust to my old familiar places having their names changed: 

The Coral Casino, formerly always called just “the Casino,” is now called “the Coral;” Montecito Union School is now called just “MUS,” and the long-standing Miramar Hotel is now often referred to as “Rosewood.”

But please, please, please new Montecito residents, don’t start calling the future new Miramar Hotel “swim platform” – which has always been, until recently, in the sea in front of the Miramar Hotel each summer for at least the past 80 years – anything but its long-time name: THE RAFT. This is its name, and it carries a proud history!

Thank you,

Sally Bromfield

Hot Take on the Hot Springs

It is good that the MJ questioned local authorities about the cameras at the hot springs, but the responses were very inadequate in my opinion. It is still unanswered why hidden cameras with fake I.D. tags were placed in a national forest in an area where nudity is known to occur. The response mentioned vague issues about water diversion, debris flows, and people building soaking “tubs.” The only water being diverted from the hot springs is by the Montecito Creek Water Company. Some people have moved around rocks at the hot springs to make a few pools. But those are only temporary in nature, as they are changed or obliterated when heavy rains come and large rocks are moved about. No damage is done to the environment by moving a few rocks to make pools.

Most of the article dealt with forest closure. It is high-handed and a power grab to order a public forest closed and is only the latest example of authorities using “health and safety” concerns to trample on people’s freedoms. The authorities are treating residents as children, and that is bad.

Clint Belkonen

Mystery on Butterfly Beach

I like to think of myself as a local history buff. I get my hands on as many local history books as possible and love reading about all the people and things that have come before me (I’ve got to thank Lost Horizons bookstore in the Upper Village for the constant supply of literature). It turns out that for an area with not too many people, plenty of surprising and fascinating things have happened here, and many interesting people have called the South Coast home.

The mysterious pier pylons off of Butterfly Beach

That’s why I was surprised when I visited Butterfly Beach on Friday afternoon, March 3, to see something I don’t recall ever reading about. The beach’s destruction thanks to the recent storm was quite shocking, but it did reveal what seems to be the remains of an old pier or dock amongst the rocks.

I was even able to get up close to one of the pylons, which appeared to still be anchored in the ground, though bent. It had a rusted metal coating, with wood sticking out the end.

Very curious, upon arriving home I whipped out my trusty The Days of the Great Estates by David F. Myrick. Though the book has no information on Butterfly Beach specifically, it does have a map of the area from 1899 behind the front cover.

Although it was a bit squished right inside the book’s binding, I was delighted to see a pier marked right in the spot I had been standing on the beach! I think the letters are “P.D.” I have no idea what that refers to, and none of the other piers on the map (both Stearns and the grouping used for Oil Drilling in Summerland) are marked by any letters at all.

The words “Country Club” also appear above the pier, and I recall reading that there were golf links located in the area back then, though most of the course was just sand. I tried to find more information on the Internet, but typing in things like “Butterfly Beach Montecito History/photos” just returns TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews. I did stumble upon Brad Bayley’s website “Santa Barbara Vintage Photography,” which provides many great pictures of the Biltmore and Montecito Country Club back when they first opened, but alas, none of Butterfly Beach.

Looking again at The Days of the Great Estates, but this time to the back inner cover, there’s a map of the area in 1937. By this year, it seems, the pier had vanished.

I thought I might reach out to the readers of Montecito Journal for more information. Does anyone know about this mysterious piece of Montecito’s past, that existed from at least 1899 but was gone by 1937?  

Sullivan Israel


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