With fires once again ravaging California, it seemed more than appropriate that Montecito’s 2007 Citizen of the Year Award will be bestowed dually on the Montecito Fire District and the Montecito Emergency Reaction and Recovery Group (MERRAG).
“This is the first time we have ever honored an organization instead of an individual, but after the work these two organizations did on the Zaca Fire, they just stand out for the award this year,” explained Mindy Denson, chair of the Montecito Association‘s Beautification Day committee, which bestows the award on behalf of the community.
Accepting the award for the Montecito Fire District will be Chief Kevin Wallace. “We are very honored and the department will turn out in our Class A uniforms to accept this award,” Wallace said proudly. Wallace has been with MFD for 24 years, taking the helm at MFD about two years ago. He’s also been a firefighter for Santa Barbara County and the Greeley, Colorado fire department. The chief lives in west Santa Barbara with his wife of 24 years, Maureen, and his two children, Erin, 22, and Shane, 20.
The Montecito Fire District was started in 1917 when Montecito was a remote community and the closest fire department was 11 miles away. Today, the district has a staff of 46, two fire stations in Montecito, and an annual budget of $11 million - but district’s mission to provide unique and special help remains ignited. Explained Wallace, “We have a long tradition of service and this big honor reaffirms that the public appreciates our efforts.”
MERRAG, the volunteer civil defense agency that will share the award with MFD, was conceived in 1987 by then-Montecito Fire District Chief Herb McElwee. McElwee recognized that Montecito could be easily isolated in a disaster and that the small number of emergency responders could be quickly overwhelmed in a widespread disaster.
With those key concerns in mind, McElwee enlisted the help of the Montecito Water District and the Montecito Sanitary District. Together, they developed a disaster preparation plan to maximize Montecito’s self-help potential in the first 72 hours after a disaster. Today, many trained volunteers and institutions participate in MERRAG, including Westmont College, Montecito Union School, Cold Spring School, Casa Dorinda, the American Red Cross, the Biltmore Hotel, and Lotusland. MERRAG volunteers assisted in the Riviera evacuation drill and, during the Zaca Fire, they assisted the Sheriff’s Department with road closure patrols and served as information hosts at the Montecito Zaca Fire kiosk.
The award will be presented as a part of the Beautification Day’s award ceremony at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, November 3. The Beautification Day festivities start at 9 a.m. with a continental breakfast hosted by the Four Seasons Biltmore. Residents can then participate in a community litter removal task force, enjoy a ride on a fire truck, or have pictures taken with the honored firefighters or Smokey the Bear. The annual fall community celebration is held at the Upper Village, 1470 East Valley Road.
SEEING STARS: Friday night was a nearly perfect evening for stargazing in Montecito - but not from a bar stool in Lucky’s. This star-search was held at Westmont College and, with a crystal clear sky and a stellar lecture from Australian astronomer Martin George, visitors could not have asked for more than what Westmont’s Keck Telescope provided.
George is a world-renowned astronomer and past president of the International Planetarium Society (IPS) and chair of the IPS’s International Relations Committee. More than 75 people showed up to hear him speak about radio astronomy and Pluto’s demotion from planetary status. (“It’s still there,” he said to defuse the audience’s moan. “We didn’t vote it out of orbit.”) He talked about Australia’s role in the lunar landing (“Yes, it really happened”) and Australia’s love of astronomy (“The Australian constitution supports it. Does yours?”). He also noted how important public viewing events are to increase popular interest in the astrophysics, and he was exuberant about Friday night’s event.
George made the complex subject matter shine like a harvest moon and afterwards, this being Montecito, we had our tough questions. George’s birthplace of Tasmania seemed to hold a lot of intrigue. “Where was Errol Flynn born?” one questioner asked. With the star-struck questions out of the way, the assembly broke up to view the more celestial bodies from outside telescopes, provided by members of the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit and from Westmont’s mighty Keck telescope.
Westmont physics professor Dr. H. Michael Sommermann acted as the congenial and patient observatory host, helping each visitor eyeball the moon from a precarious ladder. If you want to crawl up the ladder to stardom, the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit holds this public star gazing on the third Friday of each month in conjunction with Westmont.
ASSOCIATION ELECTIONS COMING UP: Bill Palladini, president of the Montecito Association, says ballots for the Association’s Board of Directors will soon be in the mail for the December 15 election. MA’s nominating committee, made up of Diane Pannkuk, Dick Shaikewitz, Ted Simmons, Deirdre Hanssen, and Gene Sinser, brought forward a slate for MA’s 2008 open board seats. Up for three-year terms are:
J. W. Colin staged a failed write-in campaign for a board seat in 2007, but was later appointed to fill out the remaining year on Ralph Baxter’s term. Colin is now being nominated for a three-year term of his own. He is also a member of the Voices of Montecito.
Bob Short currently serves as a LAFCO alternate and worked with the Montecito Association in 2002 as member of the member of its Governance Committee.
Michael Cook has been active with his condominium association board at El Montecito Verde.
Dave Kent is a realtor who has lived in the Montecito area for more than 30 years.
Dave Carpenter is the former chair and CEO of the Unihealth Foundation and has said he hopes his prior experience in public relations will be of help to the board.