Montecito Association Discusses Ring Nets

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   August 15, 2023

Pat McElroy was at the Montecito Association Board of Directors on Tuesday, giving a report on the six steel debris flow nets that were placed in the canyons above Montecito in 2018. Recently, the citizen-led group that spearheaded the installation of the nets, The Project for Resilient Communities, filed an application with the County of Santa Barbara to extend the five-year emergency permits for the nets to remain in place. If the application is rejected, the nets will have to be removed by November of this year, prior to the start of the rainy season. 

According to McElroy, this year’s storms in January impacted all of the nets in the community, and filled one to the top in San Ysidro Canyon, which was critical in containing a debris flow. “The nets’ benefit have now been proven,” McElroy said, adding that the nets are all on private land. All landowners have granted a five-year extension, and insurance has been secured for the next five years. The group is seeking a five-year extension to the permits from the County, and are also seeking to discuss the possibility of the nets being managed and maintained by the County moving forward. The group is seeking to donate the nets system as part of an overall strategy for Public Works infrastructure becoming more robust for the community’s protection.  

The group has applied for an extension with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, an extension with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and has FEMA evaluating funding for 94% of the costs to clean out the full net in Upper San Ysidro Canyon. That net has not been able to be cleaned out earlier because of the closure of the back country. “This support by FEMA indicates proof of concept that the nets clearly work,” McElroy said. 

The National Weather Service is predicting a strong El Niño for the upcoming winter.  Since the year 1820, more than 41 debris flows, debris laden flooding, and floods have occurred in the South County drainages. The nets were installed after the debris flow of 1/9/2018, as part of an overall disaster mitigation plan. This was done with essential support from private citizens and with county, state, federal, and environmental support, when the county was focused on other critical areas of recovery. 

The group is seeking monetary support to help fund the project through the end of the year, as well as vocal support of the nets via letters and contact with the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. “After natural disasters, people forget, and we have to let the people in power know that we remember,” McElroy said, adding that there are many new residents in Montecito who were not present during the 1/9 debris flow disaster.  

To get involved, learn more, and contact the County, visit If the permit is not extended, it will cost $600K to remove the nets, which will be paid for by a previously-secured grant from California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 

The Montecito Association Board of Directors pledged support, and will be sending out further information to the community in their weekly newsletter. 

During community reports, Nick Turner from Montecito Water District reported that the equipment has now been installed for smart readers, and numerous communications regarding the smart meter program will be going out to District customers shortly. Turner said a study on implementing a recycled water program in Montecito is still underway, with grant funding being pursued to help pay for environmental review and preliminary design for a potential facility. “It’s critical for bolstering our water supply and future water reserves,” Turner said. Another study, this one on the District’s potential consolidation with Montecito Sanitary District, is now published online. The study found that the benefits of consolidation are fairly limited, and the two separate governing boards will be deciding how to proceed, if at all.

Montecito Union School Superintendent Anthony Ranii reported on facility projects on campus, including a recently completed fencing project, which raised the height of fences at the school terraces. Other summer projects nearing completion include a bathroom at the Nature Lab, as well as installation of a new climbing area and purposeful play area. The school continues to be on budget and schedule for a $14M project to renovate the infrastructure in the main building. “We’re really proud to be able to do that project with in-house funds,” Ranii said, adding that up next is the renovation of the kindergarten and first grade classrooms. The first day of school at MUS is August 24, and the campus will welcome 340 students. 

Cold Spring School superintendent Dr. Amy Alzina reported that fences around her campus have also been raised and repaired, and that the $2M STEM & Art building project is underway, with hopes it will be completed by the end of 2024. The school is welcoming back 184 students this year, and school starts on August 17. 

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Lieutenant Butch Arnoldi reported on recent crime, which included an auto burglary at Loon Point; a residential burglary on School House Road; and packages and mail stolen on Miramar Avenue. There have been 90 parking citations given out in the last two weeks at local trailheads for illegal parking. 

Montecito Association Board President Megan Orloff told the Board that numerous candidates have applied for the job of executive director, and that she is hoping to hire someone by the end of the month. The vacancy was left by the departure of Sharon Byrne, who resigned last month. 


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