The road's been closed a long time on Highway 144 in Sycamore Canyon. Is it a safety hazard for fires?
Chainsaw Don Wants Montecito Wildfire Plans
Montecito Deals with Fires, Foothill Mansions, and Successful Writers
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Remember Chainsaw Don Miller, the Montecito live-action activist who, last month, cut Caltrans loose from a rhetorical knot tying up a State Highway 192 pedestrian access path? To get the conversation out of stall-mode, Miller grabbed his chainsaw and mowed down two full blocks of offending shrubs on 192. His deed drew decision-makers from Montecito to San Luis Obispo rushing to see his handiwork and, subsequently, rushing to address his concerns about safe walking routes to school.
This month, after watching South Lake Tahoe and Griffith Park burn, Now-that-I-have-Your-Attention-Miller is on fire about Montecito’s wildfire evacuation plan. With dryer-than-ever conditions and a locked gate on Highway 144 in Sycamore Canyon, potentially blocking Montecito’s emergency exit, Miller thinks the community should be discussing fire preparedness and planning for evacuation. With that idea seared in his mind, Miller burned a path to Montecito Association President Bill Palladini.
By J'Amy Brown
“Chainsaw” Don Miller is turning his concerns to wildfire management and evacuation in Montecito.
“I would like the Association to discuss disaster and fire preparedness at your upcoming June 28 homeowner’s meeting,” Miller told Palladini. “It is my understanding you planned to review the upcoming 101 improvements, but my only question regarding the 101 is, ‘How would I get to it in a wildfire?‘”
Palladini took Miller’s comments to heart, torching the previous agenda, and adding a fire evacuation to Thursday’s semi-annual homeowner association roundtable discussion. The meeting, open to the public, starts on June 28 at 6 p.m. in Montecito Hall, 1469 East Valley Road. Palladini promised to have Supervisor Salud Carbajal and Montecito Fire District Chief Kevin Wallace on hand to review emergency preparedness.
Highway 144, better known here as the Santa Barbara end of Sycamore Canyon, is partially blocked because of a two-year-old landslide. Since the massive slide, Caltrans and the neighbors have been in negotiations over the methodology, risks, and authority of a hillside stabilization project. An agreement was reached last March and work will begin soon, with neighbors in command of the $50 million earth-halt project.
By J'Amy Brown
The lock on the Sycamore Canyon-Highway 144 gate.
However, until stabilization is complete, Highway 144 remains closed, blocked by the slide and a locked gate due to the lingering fear that traffic vibrations might cause further damage. It’s the nearly impervious gate, in Miller’s opinion, that poses a disaster-threat. However MFD’s Chief Wallace disagrees, saying the fire district is well aware of the exit blockade and has a wildfire exit plan in place.
“The road re-opening is moving along, but until that happens, we have keys to the gate in all our fire equipment,” Wallace said. “Montecito Fire District personnel also have keys, as does Westmont personnel, the Sheriff’s Department, and Santa Barbara City emergency responders. In an emergency, the gate will get unlocked.”
Wallace added that while he is looking forward discussing disaster preparedness at the Montecito Association’s homeowner meeting, the fire district, he said, rarely suggests evacuation routes prior to an emergency. “We do not want to encourage people to use a specific route,” he explained. “We wait to see where the incident is, and then make our call. If it is wise to use 144 as an egress, we will put signs out designating that exit. We don’t want people driving into the problem instead of away from it. In an emergency, citizens will be informed when and how to evacuate Montecito and where to evacuate-Montecito is well prepared.”
Millers says he thinks that - given the blocked exit and threatening fire conditions - a mock evacuation, similar to the one held on the Riviera, would be suitable exercise for Montecito. “On Thursday, I plan to ask Supervisor Carbajal to consider a local fire drill,” said Miller. “They learned a lot of things about bottlenecks and flubbed evacuations on the Rivera, and Montecito deserves to be equally as prepared.”
SPEAKING OF FIRE PREPPING: What’s the plan? Are you prepared for a wildfire, or are you stuck like a doe in headlights, stopped in your tracks by the overwhelming nature of trying to organize for disaster?
To easy your fear and help you ignite into action, Montecito Emergency Response and Recovery Action Group (MERRAG) has been distributing weekly email disaster preparedness tips and a “Get Prepared” action plan. These tips are great for any procrastinator who lives in a fire prone part in Santa Barbara County, or in California, or the world for that matter. The tips are really that universal and that helpful! To date, topics have included how to prepare a “Go Kit” and how to be fire weather wise.
Just witnessing the hasty retreat South Lake Tahoe residents were recently forced to make should be enough to inspire anyone to get prepared. If you’re still on the fence, remember the previous MFD warning: It’s not if there will be a wildfire in Montecito, it’s when!
Don’t get caught out in the cold, get on the MERRAG hot disaster preparedness email tip list, contact Geri Simmons Ventura at email@example.com or call 969-2537.
ANOTHER FIRE DOUSED: This week, architect Bob Easton may have thrown a wet blanket on a proposed Montecito mansion that was starting to ignite some substantial citizen controversy. The hot-button issue was triggered by a project proposed by Easton’s client, Robert Largura, to develop a single family residence at 2489 Bella Vista. The building pad is located in Montecito’s environmentally sensitive foothills, overlooking Romero Canyon Trail.
By J'Amy Brown
The serene foothills of Montecito will always be a topic of development debate.
This week, when Montage called to see when the story poles would go up, Easton said they are not going to put up story poles because, by the July 2 MBAR meeting, the project will be substantially revised and trimmed down. Easton said intends to present the MBAR with a model showing an abridged plan for the property. The formerly proposed 5,000 square foot, two-story residence will be reduced to a 4,200 square foot, one-story house, further tucked into the hillside to prevent vista disfiguring.