How much does it cost to mitigate mudflow? Some of the costs incurred from Montecito’s mudslides were $21.3 million for a debris basin, $6 million for steel net curtains, and $250,000 to clear nets after every storm event. What does it cost a community when mitigation is inadequate or non-existent? In the 2018 Montecito mudflow, the costs were 23 lives lost, $421 million in insurance claims, hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed, and more than 900 people trapped by flooding and rescued by public agencies.

In the wake of the disaster, the Los Angeles Times conducted an eight-month investigation that culminated in the article “Santa Barbara County knew mudslides were a risk. It did little to stop them.” The investigation found that “government officials did not heed decades-old warnings to build bigger basins that could have made mudslides far less catastrophic.”

Since January, the residents of Los Alamos continue to alert the Board of Supervisors that the development project by Legacy Homes in Los Alamos is located in a designated FEMA floodplain (2006) and is adjacent to the steep slopes of the Purisima Hills. As described in the Los Alamos Community Plan EIR (2011): “the low soil permeability and steep slopes (45-50 percent) of the surrounding hills combine to promote very rapid flash-flood type flooding conditions within the canyons and at the mouths of canyons where they discharge into the Los Alamos Valley.”

As a Disadvantaged Unincorporated Community in Santa Barbara County, Los Alamos cannot come close to raising $6 million in private donations from its residents, as Montecito residents have, to fill a gap in county budget shortfalls for mudflow mitigation measures. County officials must ensure public safety. The first step is to pause this project and request a subsequent environmental impact report. Proceeding with the Legacy Homes/Village Square project as-is would be a repeat of past mistakes by County officials, resulting in devastating consequences. Will the 2023 Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors heed the warning of their constituents in Los Alamos?


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