A Plea to Governor Brown. Please think differently so you can help protect us from fire, mudslides, landslides, flood, and drought.

After wandering through the Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens, one is struck by the huge boulders scattered about. Where did they come from? It shouldn’t be a mystery. The Garden is within a creek bed, right below a steep mountain range.

As is Montecito.

Mission Canyon Potential II
The potential of a devastating mud flow event above the Santa Barbara Mission.

Did planning agencies and developers consider the story the boulders told in the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden prior to developing the areas within potential highways of mud and rock along the coast? Did they consider the severe danger that would present itself after a major fire removed the protective chaparral cover from the mountains above?

The heartache that happened in Montecito was predictable.

Montecito mudslides II
The direction of the 2018 Montecito mud flows from the mountains above. After the protective chaparral cover was removed by fire, a January rain storm unleashed a heartbreaking mudslide.

The 2005 La Conchita landslide just 10 miles down the coast from Montecito that killed 10 people and destroyed 9 homes was also predictable. A similar landslide happened in 1995.

LaConchia_USGS_Photo II
The 2005 La Conchita landslide should not have been a surprise. The area is known for landslides. Photo: USGS.

The devastation of Santa Rosa during the 2017 Tubbs Fire shouldn’t have been a surprise since the same area was burned in a ferocious fire in 1964.

Hanly Fountaingrove post
The devastated Fountaingrove community in Santa Rosa that was destroyed during the 2017 Tubbs Fire. The city was warned this area was too dangerous to place homes.

Please Governor Brown, direct the Office of Emergency Services to stop what they have been doing. It’s not working. Please conduct a thorough examination of our neighborhoods and the process by which we approve and develop those neighborhoods. Where is the clear and present danger and how do we address it?

In neighborhoods already placed in harm’s way, inform us, establish a clear way to deal with the hazard, and develop plans to get us out of the way WHEN the danger presents itself.

In areas yet undeveloped, make sure we don’t repeat past mistakes.

The loss of nearly 10,000 structures and 46 lives in the 2017 wildfires, and the loss of 65 homes and 21 lives in the 2018 Montecito mudslide is unacceptable.

The only mystery is, where is the outrage? While large, high-intensity wildfires and mudslides are inevitable, the devastation to our lives is not.

Please, our response cannot be just more of the same – clearing more habitat, more rules concerning insurance, and pretending we can control nature. The fact that there is no state agency called Cal Quake to prevent earthquakes should provide a model. Cal Fire needs to reexamine its approach.

Contrary to the hyperbole about dead trees, “shrub-choked wildlands,” and “overgrown grasslands” (yes, overgrown grasslands), wildfires destroy communities because they are flammable and are placed in harm’s way.

Please, address the actual problem (why we build flammable homes in flammable places) rather than attempting to control the uncontrollable.

Please, assist existing neighborhoods-at-risk to retrofit homes with known safety features (e.g. external sprinklers, ember-resistant vents), develop clear evacuation/response plans that communities understand and practice on a regular basis, and tell developers who want to put people in harm’s way, “No more!”

There are too many meetings, too many in search of profit, and too many egos promoting the old paradigms. It’s time to change the conversation. Please, let’s sit down and honestly plan, “How are we going to protect lives and property from lessons learned over the past year and from the clear and present danger of climate change?”

Additional information.

Our full set of recommendations and comments on the current approach taken by Cal Fire.

The official operations map for the Montecito mudslide.

The report by the City of Santa Rosa pointing out the mistakes in the approval of Fountaingrove II in a very high fire hazard zone.

Ten years after the La Conchita landslide.

We are still talking about what to do about wildfires, report, after report, after… Many of the recommendations are the same, most have not been accomplished.
The 1993 Recommendations.
The 2003 Recommendations.

Hyperbole in the press. It’s Nature’s fault:
1. Shrub-choked wildlands!

Our response to the above article.

2. Overgrown grasslands!

3. Dead trees to create massive wildfires we can’t even predict!

Meanwhile, increasing numbers of homes burn.

Here is a good place to start – focus on protecting lives and property rather trying to control wildfires.

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