After all else failed, Santa Barbara County stepped up for Guadalupe in a way that moved 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino to tears for the resilient community he represents and the board on which he serves.

“Today you were public servants,” Lavagnino told fellow supervisors after they unanimously voted on Sept. 12 to allocate $8 million in county funds to realign the Santa Maria River near Guadalupe. “You should be proud.” 

In January, Guadalupe was inundated with river water for the fourth time in the last three decades, renewing calls for a permanent fix to the recurring issue. Displaced families slept in H-2A housing, temporary trailers, and on a gym floor. The disadvantaged community was also cut off from the closest outdoor recreational opportunity—the Guadalupe Dunes and beach. 

And applying for aid from the state and federal governments to put the pieces back yielded squat. The county’s initial April application to the California Office of Emergency Services went missing somehow, and CalOES asked the county to reapply for the temporary fix! By the time state officials came out to tour the project site, water was no longer flowing so the state decided Guadalupe no longer had an emergency on its hands! 

It’s just piles of debris in places that didn’t have it before. It’s just 20 families that were displaced from their homes due to the river flowing where it shouldn’t. But no emergency to see here! 

“We wonder if that would have been the same case had CalOES acted on our initial application in April because that was 60 days later,” Public Works Director Scott McGolpin told supervisors.

With El Niño predictions on deck for the upcoming winter, McGolpin asked county supervisors to approve the project money by the Nov. 1 deadline. 

“If the disadvantaged community of Guadalupe has got any chance this coming winter, the county of Santa Barbara has to take on a leadership role, as we’re finding no other level of government wants to do that,” he said. 

So Lavagnino’s colleagues stepped up. Through the weird bickering and partisanship that have increasingly become enmeshed in the fabric of board meetings over the past couple of years, supervisors came together and made what was necessary happen. 

“We all embraced a new county vision which emphasizes collaboration and camaraderie, putting people over politics,” Lavagnino said. “We are not adversaries. We are colleagues.”

Of course, not all the comments about the item were so loving. 

For some reason, Los Padres ForestWatch Director of Advocacy and Field Operations Benjamin Pitterle felt that he just had to weigh in on the issue. It’s important, he said during public comment, to understand that rivers meander naturally. 

“It’s not surprising flooding has happened,” Pitterle said. 

He said ForestWatch was all about protecting homes and infrastructure but asked the county not to do too, too much reworking of the river channel and blamed agriculture for flood risks.

Well thanks but no thanks for the two cents, Ben. 

Guadalupe is a disadvantaged community that deserves all the protection we can muster—floodplain or not.

The Canary is all about building community resilience. Send ideas to [email protected].

Comments (0)
Add a Comment