New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

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New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito
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Aftermath of the 1/9 Debris Flow in Montecito (Photo: SBCFD)

By edhat staff

A new report by the Los Angeles Times states Santa Barbara County officials knew mudslides were a risk in Montecito and records show they did little to prevent them.

Situated above Montecito, Cold Springs Creek can turn into a vessel for mud, huge boulders, and uprooted trees during harsh winter storms. It drains three square miles of sheer mountain front.

The only protection Montecito residents and their properties have is a low dam built in 1964 by the Army Corps of Engineers at the mouth of the creek’s canyon. It forms a basin to catch falling debris. Since it's construction, the basin has filled with vegetation and sediment along with the 16 other basins built along the hillside to Carpinteria.

Last year the Thomas Fire ravaged the hillside leaving the area vulnerable to rapid erosion. Then on January 9 of this year, an unprecedented storm caused debris flow and mudslides that killed 23 people, destroyed 130 structures, and caused insurmountable damage. 

The Los Angeles Times reports they conducted an eight-month investigation and found "government officials did not heed decades-old warnings to build bigger basins that could have made the mudslides far less catastrophic — and that Santa Barbara County failed to thoroughly empty the existing basins before the disaster, drastically reducing their capacity to trap debris."

They further state that "Santa Barbara County flood control officials and the Army Corps had known for half a century there were too few catchments and that the ones they had were far too small to stop the enormous debris flows that the Santa Ynez Mountains were prone to produce."

Per a Santa Barbara County survey, the Cold Springs Creek catchment was cleared out in 2005, but the basin only had two-thirds of its capacity. The Times reports that during a major mudflow, that reduction would enable 7,000 cubic yards of storm debris that could have been trapped to flow into Montecito. According to records included in a 231-page county report on state of the flood control system, published mid-2017, the 11 catchments surveyed had only 44% of their designed capacity.

According to documents retrieved by the Times, neither the flood control agency nor the community was worried, and no officials remarked that the catchments were more than half full with sand and rocks.

Read the full report at latimes.com

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LocalMatt Dec 22, 2018 10:40 PM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

I joke a lot on edhat. But in all seriousness, we are all adults. Blaming others for not telling the people what to do is childish. There isn't a manual that comes with mother nature. I was told at a young age. Nobody cares about you except your family. I listen to my own intuition and family. Take responsibility for yourself. Blaming the county or city or who ever will not fix your problems.

sb93105 Dec 23, 2018 06:42 AM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

Public Safety is their job I’m not blaming the county for my problems or for the loss of life that day however maintenance of the basins and evacuation protocol is fair game - they may have worked hard days before the 9th but what was the maintenance work over the past 10 or 20 years ? Set backs from creeks ? Basic community planning, development programs ?

yacht rocked Dec 22, 2018 03:14 PM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

" we the people rely on the authorities to make hard decisions for our safety if we choose to ignore it then that's on us...." No, authorities aren't responsible for this, you are. They advise, but you are responsible for your safety and actions. We had days of fire and smoke, followed by warnings of potential flooding in subsequent rainstorms. Don't expect the authorities to show up with a helicopter at the last minute like some action hero. Look up and think for yourself.

sb93105 Dec 23, 2018 06:32 AM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

I agree that people would still have stayed however we don’t know which people would have stayed or left the point is -it would have implied the situation had the potential to be dangerous therefore more people might have left , personally I would have preferred to air on the side of caution given our areas history if that was my job - our first responders are all amazing but the groups and authorities that made the decisions should have at least reviewed the 1995 storm footage ?

sb93105 Dec 22, 2018 12:33 PM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

True but which evacuation scenario would you rather live with? Having seen this before and given the conditions with the fire and storm, evacuation to to EVR was difficult to understand- we the people rely on the authorities to make hard decisions for our safety if we choose to ignore it then that's on us. Making the line at EVR implied that they were not too concerned - and felt it would not be a repeat like 1964, 1965 & 1995 the question is why?

sb93105 Dec 22, 2018 08:31 AM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

Google the 1995 Flood Report from the County - its all old news 200 year storm aside- sadly we new enough to request mandatory evac to ocean i realize many would have not left but at least we would not have to live with that mistake . This town thinks backwards - amazes me that the accountability and understanding of a well known threat has everyone so confused.

a-1566704523 Dec 22, 2018 10:57 PM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

He and other public officials need to stop referring to public servants doing their jobs as “heroes”- that kind of rhetoric just glorifies human beings who, while perhaps doing their best in challenging situations, may in fact make mistakes. They are not wearing capes. The press conferences in the immediate wake of the 1/9 Debris flow were exercises in self promotion and hero worship....over the top at the time and, now we see, a tad erroneous

a-1566704523 Dec 22, 2018 10:57 PM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

He and other public officials need to stop referring to public servants doing their jobs as “heroes”- that kind of rhetoric just glorifies human beings who, while perhaps doing their best in challenging situations, may in fact make mistakes. They are not wearing capes. The press conferences in the immediate wake of the 1/9 Debris flow were exercises in self promotion and hero worship....over the top at the time and, now we see, a tad erroneous

SBZZ Dec 21, 2018 12:37 PM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

SB Observer – My opinion regarding the preparations the County made to protect the community leading up to the flood is based on what I read in the local media, plus conversations with people familiar with that effort. My comments are rebuttals to people on this site who think the County was negligent in that regard and do not pertain to the LA Times article. You may now continue with your rant.

a-1566704523 Dec 21, 2018 12:11 PM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

Everyone living in Santa Barbara is in a high-risk area, not just people in Montecito or Carpinteria. Santa Barbara City is at risk of fires, debris flows, earthquakes, tsunamis. It’s easy to second-guess someone else’s disaster. However as someone who has gone through this one I suggest that you take a close look at your own risk factors, e.g. proximity to the nearest geologic fault, then review your insurance. Most people in Montecito found out that they were underinsured.

tsulger50 Dec 21, 2018 10:23 AM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

More importantly, I am interested to know what the capacity is of that Cold Springs catch basin now that the Army Corps of engineers removed all those boulders and cleared it after the storm? Is it back to the 1964 capacity of 20,000 cubic yards? Or back to pre-storm 12,775 cubic yards?? Who does one call to find that out?

RHS Dec 21, 2018 09:57 AM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

The article (which I read as a subscriber) was a hit piece and an example of the new LA Times aggressive attitude. Living here I know that NO ONE in this town would have approved the building of the number and size of catch basins that the article claims were appropriate. I know that NO POLITICIAN would have supported this effort. The story is another whine fest after the fact cheap shot. But people in Montecito have big pull. Their injuries are so much worse than those folks who suffer without housing, medical care, decent food or proper schools for decades. Really crap.

SantaBarbaraObserver Dec 21, 2018 12:25 PM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

Your conclusion is 100% based on your own assumptions and perceptions. The problems we face as a city, a county, a state and a country need strong leadership and fortitude to overcome. We need to stop placating to small factions whose interest undermine the integrity of the whole. That only happens when leaders do the "right thing", not what is easy, not what gets them the most warm-n-fuzzy's or campaign donations and "support". Stop accepting this kind of stuff as OK. It is not OK. Our leaders, our elected officials failed in so many ways. IMHO there is absolutely nothing wrong with holding people accountable and ultimately culpable for their duty and their service. //

a-1566704523 Dec 21, 2018 12:04 PM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

want to see some leadership? a good example of a sheriff? look at the sheriff of Las Vegas after the mass shooting-honest, stand up guy. Look at the Sheriff of Santa Rosa after the fire last year-honest, stoic, a leader. Look at the Sheriff from Butte County, stoic, leader, taking no guff and a leader of the people. Who can we describe like that here in SB County? Supervisor Adams in the North County is probably the only example and he is very unliked. It's quite telling. (NO, i am not particularly an Adams supporter or member or North County but I challenge anyone here to give a better example or a true leader in this area).

RHS Dec 21, 2018 12:04 PM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

SB Observer: OK. But in a democracy doing the "right thing" is defined as doing what the public wants (assuming the public is informed). I really doubt that any leader would have been able to rally community support for the physical disruption and cost such endeavors would have necessitated.

SantaBarbaraObserver Dec 21, 2018 11:54 AM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

What you describe is what real leaders do. They make tough decisions. The push real issues forward regardless of the pushback from a small and vocal minority. But we do not have strong leaders, we have the weakest bunch of officials I've ever seen. They are true wet noodles. Incapable of strength or even marshaling the resources towards a resolve. Their legacy is one of inaction and debt. They are inept. Please dont accept the status quo as correct RHS, instead we should all insist that our leaders do the right thing, not the easy thing. That's their job and their duty.

a-1566704523 Dec 21, 2018 10:59 AM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

yes, identified by the government agencies of the long distant past, not the current lazy lackeys that are doing the 'work' these days. just look around. do you see a well kept, well managed, weed free, pothole free, smooth running government around here? i did not think so. i hike all of those hills. been going up there for over thirty years. it doesn't take a blind PERSON to see that the creeks were full of sediment, weeds, overgrown with junk. most municipalities would keep them at least clean, that is not the case here, at least in my own feeble observations. whats really missing from all conversation is the lack of funding to do what needs to be done so everyone turns a blind eye to what should be the real conversation. most think we don't need the government to subsidize our existence but who came to the rescue? who did the grunt work? who funded it? who gives out the big grants for the big projects? where's the DA get funding for her special projects? Where's sbpd get money for DUI checkpoints? who's paying for all the repairs? not locals. there is no money in this city or county and that is a fact.

RHS Dec 21, 2018 10:35 AM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

Seriously. The story notes that the government agencies had long ago identified the needs and dangers of the creeks. They had even kept them clean over time. But the people who live near these properties and the developers who want to put up more and more housing block such functional approaches (i.e., the paving of the LA River worked to control the dangers of runoff down there after decades of devastation but it would never be accepted here). We can't even build freeways without decades of delay and condescension to the wealth of that community. Now that their special place has been damaged they are immediately ready to blame government. It is entitlement mentality of the highest rank. (And please try to act as an adult without the ad hominum attacks. Whether I am a "guy" or an "hitting the bong bud" is unknown to you and irrelevant to the discussion.)

a-1566704523 Dec 21, 2018 10:06 AM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

seriously guy? the investigation by the times has been ongoing since the event, pre dating the new owner. you should be thankful that someone/some entity is doing some real investigating on the matter as your precious news supress and other local blog barneys haven't bothered to touch this story with a 10 foot pole. so, in essence, quit your whine, baby. a 'hit' piece? sounds like you're hitting the bong bud.

SBZZ Dec 21, 2018 08:27 AM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

I have not read the article (I suppose I have to now) but give me a break. The Thomas fire did not die down here until Dec 17 or so and the flood came about 3 weeks later. How much more could one except the County to do in such a short time? Why do most of us live here – for the natural beauty? Is it really worth further gutting of drainages and damming them up? You would rather look like LA? In preparing for the winter, I do not blame the County. The flood warning however was problematic.

SantaBarbaraObserver Dec 21, 2018 08:47 AM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

Wow. So you have no idea what facts were presented, what the specific issues are, what the conclusions were, and yet you have formed an opinion on the matter? This is exactly what's wrong with our society. People too lazy to read or research but instead browse a headline, parrot some host and then stick to their guns no matter what. The older I get the less faith I have in people. Have we really become this willfully ignorant? Idiocracy.

LocalMatt Dec 20, 2018 08:33 PM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

Menchar, try calling Caltrans with your questions. Ask for the Caltrans forman and engineers running the job. You might get some clarity. The debris and rock removal was also a huge part of the job, unlike other bridge jobs in the area. Many factors make up the engineering estimate for job completion. Although it looks like a simple job, when jobs are forced to be done quickly the cost goes up dramatically.

LocalMatt Dec 20, 2018 07:46 PM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

This article might be true for the debris basins....the big picture is nobody would ok a project disrupting the steelhead from migration and the massive earth moving project would have upset everyone in montecito with huge trucks and back up alarms. Even if the basins should have been cleaned out the red tape would have made it impossible. Try to do any work on a creek job. It's like trying to work with your hands tied behind your back.

a-1566704523 Dec 21, 2018 01:29 PM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

Well, it seems that the County management didn't have enough funds to clean and expand the catch basins but they certainly thought that they had enough funds to pay the nice salaries and benefits enjoyed by them. And, as was pointed out, the County is already technically bankrupt if you consider the unfunded obligations incurred for employee pension obligations.

LocalMatt Dec 20, 2018 05:57 PM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

Contractors working 6 days a week 10 hours a day to replace your bridge. The gas company had to move a huge main line for the new bridge footings and a very large box culvert is being built 100 yards north of the bridge. Menchar please enlighten us as to what you actually know about this project?

menchar Dec 20, 2018 08:05 PM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

Really - 6 days a week ten hours a day? On the face of it, the project has not held schedule, despite being in planning for very many years predating the flooding, and the cost appears to be irregular. How do you explain a cost that's 20% of the entire current phase of the 101 widening? That's 50% of the cost of the other five bridges on the 192 under repair or replacement? How does a box culvert 100 yards upstream preclude timely completion of the bridge proper and returning it to service? It's not "my" bridge, it's the public's.

menchar Dec 20, 2018 04:56 PM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

The county is surely culpable here, but there's plenty of blame to go around. I wonder how many have read the county's approved catch basin plan from before the fire/flood that called for modifying several catch basin debris dams to allow fish to swim through (i.e. put an opening in the dam) and for actually removing several of the basins altogether. You couldn't make this stuff up. The official who, on the face of it, would appear to be ultimately responsible for the bungled Montecito evacuations was Sheriff Brown, who was re-elected a few months later despite his errors and his shameless deflection of blame. The county followed up the under-evacuation with a series of over-evacuations. And as we saw this week with the high speed pursuit by SBSD, the county alert system remains fundamentally flawed and inaccurate and/or the county simply does not know how to use it. Another consequence of the flooding which hasn't seen much attention is CA192 bridge repairs. 5 bridges are being repaired or replaced for $20 million, and a sixth one - the Arroyo Paredon bridge, a short, straight, single span two lane bridge - for $11 million. The bridge schedules all continue to slip - there's no date of completion at all established for the Arroyo Paredon bridge. Maybe sometime next spring. Even if you were to accept the dollar value of the contracts overall, how do you explain the Arroyo Paredon bridge? It's costing nearly 20% of the entire cost of the Carpinteria 101 widening project which includes four large bridges! Your tax dollars at work.

andrewbaker77 Dec 20, 2018 04:22 PM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

As for the LATimes claim the warnings were confusing - I was on the other side of the world in remote Borneo and still heard about understood the need to evacuate before the storm - voluntary vs mandatory zones did not matter - there's a gigantic mountain over you, it just burned, and big rain is coming. Go to Motel6 and have a pizza party.

Flicka Dec 20, 2018 04:14 PM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

Well, a couple of deaths were above the mandatory location of East Valley Road, right next to a creek with a flood control warning, deputies and friends tried to convince him to leave. The voluntary evacs, below 192 should have been notice to anyone living by a creek to get out, take responsibility. A flash flood warning is deadly serious. In Carp the debris catch-all is huge and prevented a lot of destruction. Some of the damage, Montecito Oaks and Glen Oaks were flooded during the 1969 flood, a good warning it might happen again (and it did). The late Maria Herold, curator of the Mont. History Committee was convinced many community problems could be traced to ignorance of history. Her goal was to educate.

jdoggydogg Dec 20, 2018 04:13 PM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

Those basins and creeks hadn’t been really touched in years, maybe decades. They continued to fill over time then the unimaginable happened. The fact that Hayman was told by county attorneys to shut it speaks volumes. This city and county are crumbling before our eyes and this Is just another example of the poor management of the county of sb, although I find the county to be way more competent than the city, there were many mistakes made on this one on many levels.

Red Creek Dec 20, 2018 09:16 PM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

That fact that mud flows (and fires) happen is not the point. What is under review is what can a community reasonably do to ensure safety of its citizens, including not letting them build in areas which burn and flood, over and over and over, generation after generation. And for those who choose to live in those areas, how to minimize the threat to their lives when another disaster is threatened?

Factotum Dec 20, 2018 03:51 PM
New Report Indicates County Officials Did Little to Prevent Mudslides in Montecito

County supervisor Peter Adam did try to get voters to devote a fixed amount to county infrastructure maintenance every year. Voters turned this proposed mandate down, mainly due to the county employee unions who raised threats about losing budget flexibility. That refusal to be specifically accountable for county maintenance needs also becomes part of the "faulty finding" if fingers are going to be pointed. Adam tried; unions said no.

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