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City officials prepare for possible mudslide in Avila Fire burn area

Posted at 6:11 PM, Sep 23, 2020

The City of Pismo Beach is preparing for possible mudslides following the Avila Fire.

The biggest concern is the hillside coming down in the path of homes and Highway 101 like we saw in Montecito a couple of years ago. The work to prevent a disaster here is getting underway.

The Avila Fire on June 15 scorched 445 acres and threatened hundreds of homes.

Now, months later, it was discussed at the September 15 City Council meeting.

“I have appointed a committee of experts from the staff and others to prepare for mudslide prep,” said Jim Lewis, Pismo Beach city manager.

Pismo Beach Management Services Director Jorge Garcia is on the committee.

“This mudslide is now a specific concern. It's a real concern and it's something we need to plan for now,” Garcia said.

He says they’re working with Santa Barbara County Emergency Response teams following the devastating mudslides in 2018, which killed 23 and caused millions of dollars' worth of damage.

“To find out what worked, what didn't work, what could have been done better so that we can learn from those decisions,” Garcia explained.

Maps are being created. The homeowners associations have set up straw wattles for erosion, sediment, and storm water runoff control. The city is also working to find as much guardrail and K-rails as possible to have on hand.

“So when we anticipate there will be heavy rains, staff may proactively install some K-rail in order to divert mudflows if they do come, but that's something that'll happen at that time,” Garcia said.

Drainage areas are also being closely monitored alongside Caltrans.

“Meaning culverts are in good working order,” said Jim Shivers, Caltrans District 5 Public Information Officer. “Meaning that they are clear. That they can handle a very strong rush of water if needed.”

Caltrans says it can also put protective crates at the mouth of the drainage spots to keep out debris like trees and branches.

With mother nature in charge of what’ll happen, the city and Caltrans say besides prepping, only time will tell.

“We know where things are most likely going to slide if they do, so it's how do we anticipate and how do we mitigate” Garcia said.

“Much of this is really a wait-and-see attitude,” Shivers added.

The city says it’s also encouraging the homeowners associations to plant vegetation along the hillside to protect the area in case of a mudslide.

CAL FIRE says the Avila Fire was human-caused and intentionally set. The investigation is ongoing.