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Future floods will be taken into account as the city of California rebuilds

After the power and drinking water return, and the cleaning crews take the last rocks and remove the chipped houses like a battering ram, the rich coastal hideaway of Montecito, California, will begin to be rebuilt with the possibility of another catastrophic flood. mind.

Although portions of the city of about 9,000 were saved, the rubble razed entire blocks as they killed at least 20 people last week. Sewer lines broke, fire hydrants were cut and power lines dropped.

While an aggressive cleanup could mean that Montecito will receive visitors again in weeks, the reconstruction of the infrastructure and hundreds of homes will be measured in months and years. It offers the opportunity to reimagine aspects of a city that has favored slow growth over runaway development closer to Los Angeles, 145 kilometers (90 miles) from the coast.

Telephone and electrical lines can be moved from poles to underground conduits. A micro grid for solar energy would increase self-sufficiency.

Questions are also coming up about how to protect the city from future disasters. Is it time to install sewers and storm drains to divert floods like other Southern California cities have built? Or demand that the properties capture rainwater for future use instead of dropping them into the Pacific Ocean?

"Unfortunately, a tragedy like this is needed to have the opportunity to" toughen a place against the next disaster, "said Sheldon Yellen, CEO of the disaster recovery firm Belfor Property Restoration." You can bet everyone will look all the possible ways. "

The most ambitious proposals would face the twin realities: the main infrastructure costs important money, and Montecito has traditionally favored a natural aesthetic to maintain its character.

Even on the coastal coast of California , the unincorporated community stands out.It is much more likely that a house will sell for more than $ 10 million less than $ 1 million.It sits on the "American Riviera," an area around Santa Barbara known for its Mediterranean climate. and the architecture that reflects its Spanish colonial past.

Montecito means "little mountain" in Spanish, and it was the foothills of A coastal mountain range that the city crowded towards the ocean that gave way last Tuesday. Recently burned by the largest forest fire recorded in California, the hillside could not absorb a heavy storm interrupted by an epic downpour of nearly an inch in just 15 minutes.

The resulting torrents of mud, rocks and uprooted trees deposited several brown veins at least 100 yards across through leafy neighborhoods. More than 60 houses were destroyed and more than 450 were damaged, officials in Santa Barbara County said.

It was the worst disaster of its kind in the US UU Since 2014, when a hillside in the state of Washington gave way, killing 43 people. Debris removal took about six months near the community of Oso, a much more humble area than Montecito, where Hollywood celebrities live, play and marry.

The tremendous volume of debris covering houses outside of Bear meant that many buried properties were never cleared. Instead, the crews contoured the new mounds to encourage natural drainage to a river below, then sowed the land with cover to limit erosion.

The stabilization process took about three months and cost about $ 8 million, said Matt Zybas, director of solid waste in Snohomish County.

While the owners in Montecito have the capital to rebuild, few will do so with the help of flood insurance.

Only 58 buildings in the town of 3,200 households are covered under the National Flood Insurance Program, according to Edith Lohmann, insurance specialist at the US Federal Emergency Management Agency. UU Although the number of Montecito homes insured outside the government program was not available, it is the dominant source of flood coverage nationwide.

Critics also complain that the city is generally slow to allow new construction.

"We're going to make it a lot easier than normal to rebuild," said Das Williams, supervisor for Santa Barbara County whose district includes Montecito.

Because the small shopping center for coffee shops and boutiques was not devastated, Williams hopes tourists can return in a matter of weeks.

In the reconstruction, the city will have to fight with the amount of an initial payment that is willing to face future disasters. The discussion on new infrastructure often focuses on projects "ready for the shovel"

"Mother Nature, for better or for worse, has already made the shovel look in much of our community," said Charles Newman , vice president of the Montecito Planning Commission. [19659002] Still, there may be a limited appetite for requiring owners to install water catch devices, especially when balancing against the need to return to normal.

"Requiring it could be an obstacle at this time, psychologically or otherwise," Newman said.

The local government could explore a new storm drainage network. Montecito has relied mainly on streams that cut mountains to the ocean for drainage, said Tom Fayram, deputy director of public works in Santa Barbara County.

And then there are the huge scars on the slope, which could be stabilized by reusing the boulders that fell through the city.

But even with the improvement, catastrophic landslides would still overwhelm the city, Fayram said.

"I would say it's impossible to create a drainage system to address the event that happened last Tuesday," he said. "In places where I was standing, the debris flow was 15 feet above your head, it was not water, it was a mud, with rocks covering your head and trees, this is not a problem with the drainage system. debris flow from what we've never seen. "

Michael Balsamo contributed from Santa Barbara, California. Pritchard reported from Los Angeles. Contact Pritchard at https://twitter.com/lalanewsman and Weber at https://twitter.com/webercm.

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