It’s a warm, sunny morning, and a stream of water less than a yard wide trickles down Montecito Creek, just off of East Valley Road in Montecito. It is deceivingly peaceful, almost serene here. Less than a hundred feet away, Mary Beth Myers walks under a cluster of sycamore and oak trees. This is where her cottage once stood, an area called Old Spanish Town, where a cluster of small homes were washed away by the January 9th storm.
Myers says nine of her neighbors, and 11 people in this neighborhood died in the debris flow. Myers says it was literally chance that she wasn’t in her home when the storm hit. She says she was less concerned with a voluntary evacuation order than the fact it was cold in her 100 year old cottage. She decided to stay elsewhere the night the storm hit, a decision which probably saved her life.
Myers was already in the permit process to replace her 640 square foot cottage with a slightly larger, 1000 square foot home when the disaster hit.
As she walks around what was the site of her home, there’s no sign of it. There’s just a little rubble, some tree trunks, and some boulders.
Like thousands of other people who lost homes, or had them heavily damaged by the Thomas Fire, or 1/9 debris flow, she’s now facing the daunting task of rebuilding. Since Myers was planning a new home, she says she’s more familiar with the process than most people. She says one of the issues she's dealing with is that she was underinsured.
But, besides going through the building permit process, Montecito debris flow victims are facing an extra issue: FEMA is updating its flood plain maps in the wake of the disaster, which could potentially impact the ability of some people to rebuild. After FEMA releases its new maps, Santa Barbara County may have to rethink where it is safe to build, and rebuild.
Santa Barbara County has set up a center to help people deal with many of the post disaster questions for those who had homes destroyed, or damaged. Ben Romo is Community Recovery and Engagement Coordinator for Santa Barbara County’s Office of Emergency Management.
Romo says one of the key steps the county has taken is to connect homeowners with someone who can work with them through the process. He says some people are already in the process, but others who have never built a home need a lot of help. Romo says one of the key things the county is doing is assigning a planner to each affected piece of property, so owners can work with one person to get their questions answered, and have assistance through the process.
Myers says she appreciates the efforts the county is taking to help answer the new questions which seem to pop up daily. She says the process can be overwhelming, and that it’s a full time job. She says it means making daily calls to check up on things, and sometimes pushing people to get answers.
Myers says she’s hopeful the county will step up to streamline what she calls a long, bureaucratic process to get a building permit. She believes at best, it will take years for people to rebuild, but despite everything that’s happened, she wants to rebuild.