Properties along Concha Loma in Carpinteria flooded during January 9's storm.

Photo: Joyce Donaldson

Properties along Concha Loma in Carpinteria flooded during January 9's storm.

Carpinteria Digs Out from Under Its Flood and Mud

Schools Reopen as Teachers Are Bused In from Santa Barbara and Goleta

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

To the east of the mud pit that is starting to resemble Highway 101 again, Carpinteria schools were able to reopen today — for essentially the first time since December 5 — after a convoy of school buses, led by California Highway Patrol officers, moved teachers and staffers from Santa Barbara and Goleta back to the classroom. The four yellow buses were joined by 13 more full of public safety, medical, and other key personnel who worked in Carpinteria or beyond. They all wound their slow way from the Sears parking lot to Carpinteria with a police escort, and will do the same in reverse this afternoon.

"They are thrilled," said Carpinteria schools superintendent Diana Rigby of her students. "The decibel level on the playground is very loud." The transportation had been organized by the county's Office of Emergency Management, she said, along with all the school districts, the bus districts in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, Caltrans, La Cumbre Plaza, and more. "Parents sacrificed, too," she said. "They've forgone the home-to-school transport so we can have these four buses."

"We had to stay out of the way of the dump trucks," said school employee Robbie White of the journey, "and the highway was strange without any traffic"

The dump trucks are moving muck from Montecito out to the beach at the end of Ash Avenue. "There's a sludge pile down there, and the ocean is black," said resident Leslie Westbrook.

Santa Monica and Franklin creeks in the adjacent salt marsh are also full of silt from upstream, and diggers are at work moving the silt into the ocean waves. "I would like to point out," said Carpinteria Mayor Fred Shaw, "that there are inspectors at the Ash Avenue site ensuring what is being deposited in the ocean is just mud, dirt, and silt."

Shaw had tried to board the train running from Carpinteria to Santa Barbara on Monday to attend an officials' briefing in Montecito. He said the train was an hour behind schedule. As he waited on the platform with several hundred people, train conductors stepped off the Amtrak, then closed the doors. They verified that passengers were essential personnel — either medical or rescue workers — before allowing them to board. Most of the remaining passengers were turned away for lack of space, though the train had grown to 10-12 cars. Shaw decided to take the next train that would come in about an hour.

The city had held a standing-room-only public meeting on the storm aftermath on Sunday at the Alcazar Theatre. The dumping was an issue for some in Sandyland — which is near the marsh — Westbrook said. Stuff to be mulched was also being dumped at the very east end of Carp, past the bluffs.

Shaw said his citizens were concerned and anxious about when things would get back to normal. Part of the program was about getting to Santa Barbara by train and how the watershed above the city had fared in the storm — as much as 83 percent burned in places. City businesses were missing many employees and reducing their hours, said Shaw, though those from Ventura were now able to come up.

The internet was working most of the time in most parts of town, Shaw said; businesses were able to use their point-of-sale registers again. The outlying areas closer to Montecito remained without, however. One resident, Mo Foley, said they were feeling pretty isolated out there on the 192, with no internet service and a damaged bridge on Toro Canyon.

Joyce Donaldson, who runs Carp's Chamber of Commerce, lives not far from Carpinteria Creek, which during the January 9 storm built up a giant pile of trees, branches, and rocks at the Carpinteria Avenue overcrossing. Pooling water flooded some homes there, and Donaldson recalled being awakened by a noise like a freight train roaring around 5 a.m. She ran for it in her pajamas, she said, and as she drove toward friends' homes, she encountered giant bubbles of water coming out of manholes in the middle of the street. Back home around 9 a.m., she saw properties on low-lying areas of Concha Loma across the creek inundated with water and mud.

Now, Carpinteria is "kinda getting it back together," Mayor Shaw said. Donaldson said she was starting a #MeetMeInCarpinteria endeavor to attract people back to town.