Santa Barbara Digs Out, Cleans Up as Next Storm Heads In

When Mission Creek Rose, It Spilled over Its Bridges

What's left of a fence on De la Vina Street. | Credit: Sharon Byrne

As Mission Creek rose behind her house during the storm on Monday, Flavia DeLucia kept an eye on it, until a neighbor called her around 10:30 a.m. to say they were evacuating and that she should, too. “My neighbor saved me,” DeLucia said. The creek had jumped the bridge on the block above hers and water was building up on De la Vina Street at the front of the house where DeLucia lives with her husband near Haley Street. “I was completely shocked. I was paying attention to the wrong side,” she said.

She walked through water nearly waist high — holding her brother-in-law’s arm — to reach his car two blocks away where he had parked to come rescue her. “I had to find the cat! I wasn’t going to leave him behind!” DeLucia exclaimed. “It was terrible,” she said. “The water was cold and dark,” so cold that her legs grew numb, she recalled. “It was kind of a horror movie situation. I didn’t know if we were walking on the sidewalk or the street.”

De la Vina Street awaits city clean up crews. | Credit: Sharon Byrne

Monday’s storms delivered nearly twice as much water as anyone was expecting, and Santa Barbara’s creeks kept rising, overtopping bridges and banks in some places. Down by West Haley and De la Guerra streets, it’s likely that Monday’s rising tide that morning shoved some of the descending creek waters back upstream, adding to the load.

Nonetheless, for the blocks of the lower Westside around Haley, De la Vina, De la Guerra, and Bath streets, many homes are dealing with the aftermath of water and mud in gardens, floors, furniture, and walls.

Sharon Byrne is DeLucia’s neighbor and was helping to organize Montecito for the Montecito Association ahead of Monday’s storm. Amid all the evacuation messaging, she suddenly realized that her own home was also at risk for flooding and headed home to evacuate her mother. “Montecito had fewer problems because of the ring nets and the new debris basin at Randall Road,” Byrne surmised. “Montecito wasn’t the problem this time,” she said. “It was everywhere else.”

Credit: Flavia DeLucia

By the time she reached De la Vina Street, the creek had jumped the Haley Street bridge. Byrne’s home is on a ground floor but has an extra 18 inches of elevation compared to DeLucia’s, she said. “We got water under the door, but it didn’t go any further.”

Byrne shot off a letter to the Santa Barbara City Council, however, expressing in no uncertain terms the need for help in her neighborhood. “I am pretty upset,” the letter begins, asking why no one along Santa Barbara’s creeks had been warned to evacuate. In a phone conversation, Byrne said she caught a ride later from Montecito Fire, and the person driving her agreed that her neighborhood looked worse than anything they’d seen in Montecito. The roads were mud-covered from Ortega Street on down. Cota and Bath is where the dumpster floated away, she reminded.

Flavia DeLucia | Credit: Courtesy

“Thanks for getting on Coast Village right away and clearing the mud — another lower-lying community. Appreciate it,” her letter concluded. “Too bad the Eastside and Westside don’t warrant the same kind of service, apparently.”

Byrne made a modulated version of her pitch at City Council on Thursday, after learning Coast Village merchants had cleared their road themselves. This morning, however, Public Works backhoes were on lower Westside streets, scooping mud into dump trucks.

DeLucia said it took two days for five men to clear the mud from her home and her yard. She spent another day with three helpers cleaning the interior of her home, putting the furniture outside to wash off. They’ve set fans to dry out the home and the area underneath the home, she said. But what was disappointing is that they’d endured months of noise, dust, and trucks while the Haley and De la Guerra Street bridges were upgraded, DeLucia said. “We thought finally it’s over, it’s done, and everything is fine.”

Out in Montecito on Thursday, the Bucket Brigade, formed after the 2018 debris flow, was covering as many loose hillsides and road washouts as they could with plastic staked in place and sandbags, in anticipation of rain starting up again today. Abe Powell, who founded the volunteer group, was down in a ditch when the Indy called him.

Credit: Flavia DeLucia

Powell said at least 100 homes in Montecito had suffered some flood or mud damage, and that the volunteers had loaded up about 5,000-6,000 sandbags and sent them out. They’d formed a partnership with Direct Relief and Habitat for Humanity after Santa Barbara City Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez called to ask for help. The plan yesterday was to meet in Santa Barbara today, he said. To get help, or to volunteer, Powell said to contact the Brigade at their website — sbbucketbrigade.org.

During Monday’s storm, people phoned in 110 requests for service, the city said, most of them for rescues of people trapped in their vehicles. Pools of water on streets not only can extinguish a car engine, but flowing water can float a car away. The saying is, “Turn around, don’t drown,” when in a vehicle and encountering a big pool of water.

Over on Santa Barbara’s Eastside — where video was captured of a kayaker navigating a flooded Spring Street on Monday — the city has set up a bilingual assistance center at the Eastside Library on Montecito Street to answer questions in person and connect residents with available resources. Those resources are needed California-wide, as Northern California suffered even worse damage, with 19 people known to have died from the storm’s effects. On Thursday, Governor Gavin Newsom — who is scheduled to visit Montecito this Friday afternoon — requested a “major disaster declaration” for the state, which could include disaster recovery assistance for residents and businesses, if it is granted by FEMA.

As for the rain coming on Friday, DeLucia could only express her dismay: “It’s unbelievable.”

Dust gathers in the area from cars driving over the dried mud. | Credit: Sharon Byrne

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