Op-ed: Santa Barbara Amateur Radio Club Displaced After 50 Years of Service From the Mesa

Santa Barbara Amateur Radio Club installed the Talanian Communications Facility at the Vic Trace Reservoir site in 2011 thanks to disaster preparedness grants. (Courtesy)

By Levi C. Maaia, Director-at-Large for SBARC

The Santa Barbara Amateur Radio Club (SBARC) and its Santa Barbara Wireless Foundation (SBWF), a fixture in community and emergency communications for more than a century, is being compelled to relocate its communications structure from the city-owned land atop the Mesa. This move is necessitated by upcoming construction on the adjacent Vic Trace Reservoir, which will eliminate access. The club now faces an uncertain future due to the new municipal developments and lack of a permanent home for its facilities.

SBARC, founded in 1920, has operated radio repeaters and digital communications systems from the Vic Trace site since it was first permitted under a Santa Barbara City Council proclamation in 1975. The systems originated in a simple garden shed at the site and evolved into the sophisticated Talanian Communications Facility modular structure that stands there today thanks to disaster preparedness grants secured by SBARC over the past decade. This facility was named in honor of Bill Talanian, whose dedication and leadership have been instrumental in the organization’s development. The repeater and other communication installations at the site have been crucial in facilitating local and emergency communications across the region.

Despite the club’s rich history of service and community integration, relocation efforts have been fraught with challenges. The City of Santa Barbara has not facilitated an alternative site that accommodates the specific needs of advanced radio communications. As a result, SBARC is facing a scenario where it may have to operate with diminished capacity, potentially impacting its ability to provide critical services.

SBARC has not only maintained this site with high standards but has also significantly contributed to community safety and scientific research. The club has installed systems for automated ship tracking used by UCSB and Scripps Institute for whale strike mitigation research and has provided ADS-B aircraft tracking and emergency beacon monitoring vital for local aviation and emergency response.

In addition to its technical contributions, SBARC has been a cornerstone in the local non-profit and governmental agency networks, providing indispensable communication services and support. A notable partnership includes hosting a strategic station at the American Red Cross building at State Street & Alamar Avenue. This station has been crucial in disaster response and coordination efforts, demonstrating the club’s commitment to public service and emergency preparedness.

The Club’s Santa Barbara Wireless Foundation initiative has been a beacon of technological outreach and education, fostering wireless communication innovations and training the next generation of radio operators. These programs, including youth scholarships, have amplified the club’s impact, extending beyond Santa Barbara into broader regional benefits.

“We are deeply embedded in the fabric of Santa Barbara’s emergency response and scientific communities,” stated Brian Milburn, SBARC’s president. “Our ongoing efforts to secure a new site are driven by our commitment to continue serving these vital roles. We appeal to the community and local authorities to support us in finding a solution that allows us to maintain our capabilities and continue our public service mission.”

For further details or to assist SBARC in their relocation efforts, please visit sbwireless.org/news/

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  1. Knowing a bit about SBARC I’m sad the City isn’t actively helping find a new site, and hoping the County will step up. Thank you SBARC, for all the benefits your countless hours of volunteer work have provided to SB, County, and CA. Maybe once the reservoir is complete a spot can be found there for that small unit?

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