Residents Attempt to Destroy Montecito Hot Springs Pools

By Montecito Journal   |   June 18, 2024

On the early morning of May 27, 2024, a group of local homeowners/residents escorted a demolition crew carrying picks and shovels to destroy the Montecito Hot Springs pools. About eight people in all, dressed in black. This event was captured on a video taken by a hiker, a young man, who was en route to the hot springs. When confronted by this hiker the crew ran away with their black masks and hoods pulled over their faces. The video captures one resident engaging in a confrontation with the hiker. In it, she claims the pools are illegal. Both parties asked the other if they have a permit.

Humans have been appreciating the healing nature of these hot spring pools for thousands of years, dating back to Chumash times. California has many wilderness hot springs. Has a permit ever been required at any of these springs to construct a pool using surrounding rocks? The pools are grandfathered in due to long-standing usage. Andrew Madsen, Public Information Officer for Los Padres National Forest told Noozhawk the Forest Service doesn’t plan on removing the pools (see Noozhawk PM Report June 4, 2024). He said: “The Montecito hot springs have been used by the public as well as the native inhabitants in this area since long before Los Padres National Forest came into being.” Maybe the hot springs can be dedicated to the Chumash people.

Seeing rocks placed in streams to form pools is common throughout California. Sometimes pools are made by children. One doesn’t see the government destroying these pools, but Mother Nature sometimes does.

Why didn’t the residents apply for a permit to take down the pools, instead of taking the law into their own hands? Since the pools are on public land and not designated as a monument it would appear the residents have as much right to take down the pools as someone has to create them.

But why do so? Why rob people the opportunity to enjoy the healing waters. Many low-income persons visit the hot springs. The springs offer equity to low-income people, since all can afford to enjoy them. The people who want to destroy the springs could make up for the loss of equity from doing so by donating money for low-income people to enjoy local spas, which are not equitable right now.

It would be a different story if the hot springs weren’t being taken care of. But that’s not the case. Local volunteers keep the area clean and know the importance of doing so to preserve the free springs. Yes, there may be some litter from time to time, but it gets picked up.

The good news is that the majority of people who visit the springs are responsible. They appreciate Mother Nature and are good stewards of the land. Montecito residents go there. I met a volunteer with the Montecito Trails Foundation enjoying the hot water.

Concern has been expressed that water is being diverted from the creek. For most of the year the hot springs are the beginning of the creek, and the water stays in the creek. So no diversion. No harm to wildlife, either.

Real water diversion is a serious matter, harming wildlife, and Montecito Creek Water Company has been engaging in this practice for many years. In fact, prior to the acquisition of the land for the public, the water feeding the present-day hot spring pools was siphoned off for estates, robbing the creek of much needed water. The Fish and Game Department put a stop to this practice.

The water company is still siphoning the water from hot springs in the next canyon over – Cliff and Barn Hot Springs. The traditional pools in those locations are no more. This taking of water from our public lands is legal but unethical. 

Members of the public who are seeking peace and healing should be left alone. A couple of years ago the MJ published an interview with a Sheriff’s Department representative concerning the cameras placed at the hot springs and nearby. He described a meeting at the trailhead parking lot. At the meeting a resident who lived nearby mentioned how people were jumping over a fence erected during the closure of the Los Padres National Forest. This resident asked if it was okay to install cameras. A law enforcement officer from the U.S. Forest Service approved of doing this. Subsequently, a well-known local elite installed a camera, including one pointed directly at a hot spring pool that had naked people in it.

A permit was never acquired to place the cameras which had false tags stating they belonged to Public Works. An investigation by the Sheriff’s department was supposed to occur, but we never heard any more about this from local media.

If an ordinary citizen had placed the cameras, he or she would be in big trouble. But because the operation was approved and executed by elites, there are no consequences for anyone. Another example of the double standard in justice. If local media weren’t trying to protect elites, it could engage in a serious investigation, and help bring equity to justice.

What will local homeowners and residents think of next? If there are no consequences to a camera aimed at naked bathers, or rocks placed to block hikers from parking on the public right of way, they are likely to be emboldened.  

Bryan Rosen


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