A fire department convoy heads east along Valley Road in Montecito on January 9, 2023 | Credit: Don Brubaker

With Mother Nature observing the fifth anniversary of the January 9 Debris Flow by delivering  potentially catastrophic rains, Santa Barbara’s Mayor Randy Rowse found himself on the way to the city’s Emergency Operations Center. With city creeks filling fast and running hard, emergency crews have been placed on-call for late-night shifts.

 “We got a lot of hotels so our people can stay in town,” Rowse said.

City Administrator Rebecca Bjork — as former Public Works director — has plenty of first-hand experience responding to past floods and emergency response situations. “Rebecca’s trying to get as many people as she can who can drive around heavy equipment in the middle of the night,” Rowse added. The objective is to keep city workers who would otherwise have to commute north or south, on- call and ready for action. The search for available hotel rooms, Rowse lamented, has gotten harder since Montecito has been ordered to evacuate

“Mission Creek is reaching capacity and we are continuing to monitor the situation,” stated City Hall public information officer Shelly Cone. “We are actively discouraging people from visiting the flooding areas and to avoid driving through flooded areas.” 

Cone said many areas are flooded that do not yet have the warning signs saying so. 

“We are asking the public to stay home if possible,” she added. “All of Montecito has been evacuated. Staff is working on evacuating the Sycamore Canyon area. We have full police and fire staffing. We have also had manhole covers blow off and we are cautioning people to please be aware of their surroundings.” 

The entire Montecito community — including all 15 zones, Toro Canyon, Sycamore Canyon, Padaro Lane — are now included in the areas under a county evacuation order. The interactive evacuation map can be seen here.

The Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management announced the latest evacuation updates via its Twitter page, which county officials will continue updating throughout the day.

Elsewhere in the county, the Serena Park area in Carpinteria and all campgrounds from Rincon to Gaviota (including Gaviota State Beach, Refugio State Beach, and Carpinteria State Beach) are also now being included in the evacuation orders.

Residents in all the affected areas are being asked to leave immediately and head to the evacuation center at SBCC’s Wake Center, located at 300 N. Turnpike Road.

Officials announced that the Santa Barbara Airport is also closed due to flooding, and all commercial flights are canceled until further notice.

“Leave now,” the evacuation order says. “This is a rapidly evolving situation. Please pay close attention to emergency alerts.”

The county “impact areas” associated with the Cave and Alisal burns continue to be under a shelter-in-place order due to flooding, and residents are being asked to “go to the innermost room or high ground.”

“Do not attempt to leave,” the county order states. “If already evacuated, remain out of the area.”

The Montecito Fire Department also announced that its website was temporarily down “due to high traffic.”

The continued rain is also forcing the county to make other adjustments. The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors has postponed Tuesday morning’s ceremonial inaugural pageantry that’s held every four years to swear in newly elected supervisors. As a practical matter, many of the supervisors could find themselves unable to make their way from their homes to the meeting because of impassable road conditions. As a broader concern, some supervisors have expressed doubt whether such an event would be appropriate given the circumstances. The supervisors’ meeting will be held via Zoom only instead of in person.

Up-to-date information on the storm and evacuation orders can be found at ReadySBC.org. Road closures are listed here.

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