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Businesses Were Hit Hard by Thomas Fire, Montecito Mudslides

Impacts of twin disasters were discussed at panel discussion hosted by the UCSB Economic Forecast Project

Peter Rupert, executive director of the UCSB Economic Forecast Project, speaks Wednesday during a panel discussion on the impacts of the Thomas Fire and the Montecito debris flows. Click to view larger
Peter Rupert, executive director of the UCSB Economic Forecast Project, speaks Wednesday during a panel discussion on the impacts of the Thomas Fire and the Montecito debris flows. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The Thomas Fire and subsequent Montecito debris flow hit the retail accommodation/food services industries the hardest, leading to at least 213 layoffs and 60 percent of businesses closing their doors for an average of 13 days.

That’s according to data presented during a UCSB Economic Forecast Project gathering titled “What Happened and What Now UC,” at the Lobero Theatre on Wednesday, in front of about 450 people.

Peter Rupert, executive director of the Forecast Project, sent surveys to the business community and received 293 responses, 93 percent from the South Coast.

Rupert kicked off the presentation offering several charts and statistics showing the impacts, as much as they are measurable, from the fire and debris flows.

The Thomas Fire alone resulted in $1.8 billion in insurance claims. Firefighting costs reached $177 million.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent $80 million on cleanup and $30 million on mud and debris removal. Half of the businesses said they laid off at least one employee.

Combined revenues declined $4.9 million in December 2017 from the same month the prior year; the revenue drop was $2.5 million in January, year over year.

About half of the businesses had insurance for disasters.

The road to recovery will be long, Rupert said.

“It’s going to be hard,” he said. “It’s going to take many years, but we’ll do it.”

He was joined on the panel by several speakers with unique perspectives on the natural disasters.

They included Dave Jones, California insurance commissioner; Joe Holland, Santa Barbara County clerk-recorder-assessor; Betsy Shaffer, assistant auditor-controller for Santa Barbara County; Nina Johnson, senior assistant to the Santa Barbara city administrator; and Kathy Janega-Dykes, president and CEO of Visit Santa Barbara.

Janet Garufis, Chairman and CEO of Montecito Bank & Trust, and Ed Edick, co-founder, owner of Village Properties, moderated the event.

Jones noted that 2017 was the worst year in the history of California for wildfires.

Statewide insured losses from the October and December wildfires totaled $12.3 billion.

In Santa Barbara, he said, there 2,354 residential property insurance claims, 32 of which were total losses, totaling $200 million in insurance claims. There were 266 total commercial property claims, five that were total losses, totalling $5.2 million.

Jones said the fire and debris flows impacts will make it difficult for homeowners to find insurance for their properties in the future.

“In Montecito, it’s going to be a challenge to find private residential insurance,” Jones said.

Holland said property values in Montecito dropped a combined $1.2 billion from the fire and debris flows. About 400 residential and commercial properties were damaged.

He said it will take his crew until May to inspect every property.

“We have to go and inspect these properties individually to change their assessments," he noted.

Montecito resident Megan Orloff, also a member of the Montecito Association, showed a “word cloud” to the audience with words such as “answers” and “transformation” and “rebuild” to illustrate the many thoughts and expressions she hears in the community.

“The resiliency of the community has been profound,” she said. “There’s really a complexity of emotions.”

She said the people of Montecito need a voice.

“For the Montecito community, where there’s a will, there’s a way,” she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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