Rebuilding efforts for Montecito homeowners affected by the Jan. 9, 2018, debris flows won’t be completed until early 2029, with a total cost estimate of nearly $58 million if current trends continue, according to a report released Thursday.
Economic consulting company Robert D. Niehaus Inc. collected data on the status of building projects and established a timeline for remaining construction efforts in Montecito.
The report’s authors gave this assessment:
“We note, however, that some building codes changed in response to the debris flow and there has been uncertainty in the insurance market.
“Additionally, some families have decided to move out of the area and have left the rebuilding process to new buyers. All of these factors could result in a longer recovery than anticipated.”
The massive Thomas Fire in December 2017 burned more than 280,000 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. It destroyed more than 1,000 homes in Ventura County, and additional structures were damaged.
Two years ago, the subsequent debris flows ripped through Montecito — killing 23 people and destroying or damaging hundreds of structures — in the early morning hours of Jan. 9, 2018, after heavy rainfall on the fire-denuded hills sent boulders, thick mud and other debris downhill to the ocean.
In all, Santa Barbara County inspected more than 600 structures on 462 parcels for damage after the debris flows, according to the report’s findings.
About 38 percent of dwelling structures initially received green tags because they were damaged on Jan. 9, 2018, according to the report. Nearly 30 percent of homes were yellow-tagged, and 33 percent of dwelling structures received red tags.
Green-tagged properties were deemed safe. Yellow-tagged properties were allowed restricted use, and red-tagged properties were deemed uninhabitable.
A total of 285 parcels had one or more structures that were severely or moderately damaged in the debris flows, according to the report.
“Projects have been completed at a steady pace since the disaster … . Roughly 200 projects have been completed thus far, at a pace of approximately nine projects per month,” the report stated.
To date, the total cost of all building permits associated with the rebuilding efforts is nearly $32 million.
The report’s authors also gave this assessment:
“The median time to completion for demolition projects was 161 days from the date the permit was issued, whereas the median time to completion for repair projects is 171 days. … After an initial spike and subsequent decline in permitting activity following the debris flow, permitting activity has been relatively stable throughout 2019. Since last May, the county has issued an average of approximately four permits per month.”
Last year, Robert D. Niehaus Inc. published a report that focused on recovery efforts one year after the disaster. At that time, most parcels had returned to green status.
“However, we found that most of the completed building projects were demolitions as opposed to repairs,” the report stated.
The firm obtained building permit history from the county planning website for the 285 parcels categorized with a yellow tag or a red tag in January 2018 or January 2020.
“Although most of the structures have passed inspection as of January 2020, there are still a considerable number of damaged structures,” according to the nine-page report.
— Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.