people hike past a development sign on Montecito trail
Notices of development for The Partnership for Resilient Communities’ debris net project line the San Ysidro Creek trail in Montecito. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

With permits in hand, the nonprofit group planning to install debris-catching nets in Montecito creeks is busy fundraising the estimated $7 million needed for construction, maintenance and insurance.

Regulatory agencies approved emergency permits for The Partnership for Resilient Communities’ proposal in December, and Santa Barbara County’s approval has a mid-February deadline to put in the nets, said Pat McElroy, the nonprofit’s executive director and former Santa Barbara city fire chief.

“Nobody ever thought we’d get this far, let’s face it,” he said Monday. “Having another challenge is just another day.”

The approved project is for installing two nets in Cold Spring Creek, two in San Ysidro Creek and seven in Buena Vista Creek, on private land. An application to install more in Romero Creek is pending review by the U.S. Forest Service.

Funding for the project is coming from private donors, individuals and foundations.

“There was a lot of people who expressed interest in the project and told us to come back when we had a permit,” McElroy said.  

Alixe Mattingly, another member of The Partnership’s core team, said the group has raised $2.5 million and needs to double that in the next few weeks. The nonprofit is also hosting an informational community meeting about the project at Montecito Union School on Jan. 16, she said in an email.

The project cost includes a $2 million performance bond or letter of credit, a condition required by Santa Barbara County and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, two of the regulatory agencies that approved emergency permits for the project, according to McElroy.

The bond would guarantee money to pay for maintenance and net removal, he said.

McElroy and other members of the nonprofit team say the project is critical to potentially reduce the damage of debris flows, which continue to threaten Montecito and other communities below recent wildfire burn areas.

While the proposed GeoBrugg flexible debris control nets, made by a Swiss company, would not be able to stop a debris flow, they would act as a series of brakes to slow the momentum and hopefully rob the rock and other debris of the sediment they need to move downstream, McElroy has said.

The number of nets The Partnership for Resilient Communities will install this winter is dependent on the amount of money it can raise, McElroy said. The group has prioritized six of the 11 permitted net sites, two in each creek, in case it cannot raise the full amount in time to comply with its emergency permit deadlines.  

“We want to make sure every canyon has some protection,” McElroy said.

“We picked the six highest-volume nets and made those our priority … Everything past that will supplement those ones.”  

The nonprofit is still working on its insurance and agreements with private property owners, whose land will host the debris net sites.

Paint marking site on San Ysidro Creek in Montecito

One of the San Ysidro Creek debris net sites is marked with orange paint, seen in November.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

According to the Santa Barbara County permit application, the nets would be installed across the creek channels, 3 to 5 feet off the bottom of the creek bed. If a storm brings down debris retained by the net, it would be redistributed along the creek channel, including moving it to the downstream side.

Excavators would be flown in by helicopter to “reestablish the low-flow channel” and some work may be finished by hand. 

Santa Barbara County’s emergency permit approval is for one year of installation and maintenance, and the nonprofit will have to go through a conventional permit review process to keep the nets in place for an additional four years, until vegetation regrows on the burned hillsides to lessen the risk of post-fire debris flows. 

Pat McElroy

The number of permitted nets installed this winter will depend on project fundraising, said Pat McElroy, executive director of The Partnership for Resilient Communities.  (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

The Partnership for Resilient Communities also plans to apply for permits to install additional net sites in South Coast creeks, and pursue FEMA funding.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at