to Santa Barbara County
Welcome to the American Riviera! Santa Barbara County, between Los Angeles (about 100 miles to the south) and San Francisco (about 300 miles to the north), is home to beautiful landscapes; a great climate for living, playing and working; and a culture that is diverse in almost every way. Adjacent counties include San Luis Obispo County to the north, Ventura County to the east and Kern County to the northeast.
There is much more to Santa Barbara County’s terrain than the world-famous, south-facing beaches stretching along California’s Central Coast. The Los Padres National Forest makes up about one-third of the county’s 2,735 square miles and includes the Dick Smith Wilderness and San Rafael Wilderness along the Sierra Madre Mountains that run like a rugged spine up the eastern part of the county. The Santa Ynez Mountains trend gently toward the west, from just north of Santa Barbara to Vandenberg Air Force Base and Lompoc, and form the dividing line between what’s known as North County (Santa Maria, Lompoc, Buellton, Ballard, Los Olivos, Guadalupe, Santa Ynez, Los Alamos and Solvang, in mountain upland valleys) and South County (Santa Barbara, Goleta, Carpinteria, Montecito and Summerland, in the strip between ocean and foothills).
Much of Santa Barbara County is sparsely populated and mountainous. The county sits among a series of transverse mountain ranges, the only ranges within the contiguous United States to trend in an east-westerly direction. Most of the developed areas in the county are in the intermountain valleys and along the coastal plain.
Santa Barbara County offers many attractions, along with plenty of history, culture and modern amenities. In addition to world-class outdoor recreation opportunities, there are museums, theaters and a zoo. Those interested in the county’s history can visit El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park, which encompasses much of the original Presidio site in downtown Santa Barbara.
There are also many shopping, dining and nightlife opportunities for residents to explore. A number of annual events and festivals celebrate everything from California’s history to music and art.
For thousands of years the Chumash tribe of Native Americans lived along California’s Central Coast and in interior valleys of the region now known as the county of Santa Barbara. Spanish ships explored the area, and by 1769 colonies were beginning to establish a series of missions and presidios. The Presidio of Santa Barbara was established in 1782, and Mission Santa Barbara followed four years later. The missionaries associated with Mission Santa Barbara are credited with planting the county’s now-famous wine grapes late in the 18th century.
Following the Mexican secularization of the missions in the 1830s, the mission pasture lands were divided into large ranchos and granted to citizens living in the area. But the end of the Mexican period came quickly for Santa Barbara. The Treaty of Cahuenga, signed Jan. 13, 1847, ended fighting in the Mexican-American War in California without any bloodshed in Santa Barbara.
The county of Santa Barbara was one of the 26 original counties formed in California at the time of statehood in 1850. The Southern Pacific Railroad commissioned writer Charles Nordhoff to write about Santa Barbara to draw people to the town. He is credited with starting the tourism boom in the 1870s that would lead to Santa Barbara becoming a world-famous resort destination.
In the 1890s, Summerland Oil Field was discovered, and its development began changing the local economy and landscape. Summerland was the site of the world’s first offshore oil well.
By 1901, Santa Barbara was accessible by both land and sea with the building of Stearn’s wharf to allow steamboat access and the completion of the railroad to both Los Angeles and San Francisco. Rail travel put an end to stagecoach travel through the San Marcos Pass.
Santa Barbara was the center of the U.S. silent film industry from 1910 to 1922. Flying A Studios covered two city blocks and was the largest movie studio in the world; it produced about 1,200 films.
The 1925 earthquake hit Santa Barbara hard and caused severe destruction. In rebuilding, the city took on its unified Spanish character through architectural reform.
World War II brought more change to the area. North of Point Conception the Army created Camp Cooke, which would later become Vandenberg Air Force Base. After the war ended, those who had seen Santa Barbara during the war came back to live. By the mid-1970s, opposition to uncontrolled growth led to limiting the city’s population to 85,000 through zoning, and water meters were denied to developments to limit growth in adjacent areas such as Goleta. The halt in growth led to sharp increases in housing prices.
Voters approved the connection to state water supplies in 1991 and growth resumed, though housing was in such short supply that less than 10 percent of the population could afford a median-value house in Santa Barbara. As a result, many workers in Santa Barbara commute from more affordable areas such as Santa Maria and Lompoc. By 2006, Santa Maria had become the county’s largest city, and it and its surrounding area continue to grow rapidly.
State of California
California Highway Patrol
The statewide California Highway Patrol is headed by a commissioner and is divided into staff and field operations. The Coastal Division, which includes Santa Barbara County, has 700 personnel and 11 area offices, three of those in Santa Barbara County: in Buellton, Santa Maria and Goleta. CHP is responsible for highway safety and for protecting the public and their property, state workers and state property. CHP also collaborates with local, state and federal public agencies.
Governor’s Office of Emergency Services
The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services protects lives and property by planning for and responding to threats, crimes, hazards and emergencies. Visit the office’s website for information on California threats and hazards and other preparedness information.
Santa Barbara County
The Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management is responsible for emergency planning and coordination in the Santa Barbara operational area. Visit the office’s website for the county’s emergency management plan and other disaster preparedness information.
Weather and Climate
Santa Barbara County’s climate is typically warm and dry in the summer and cool and wet in the winter, similar to a Mediterranean-type climate, further bolstering the area’s “American Riviera” nickname. During its 300 days of sunshine a year, Santa Barbara’s daytime temperatures range from the mid-60s to the mid-70s, usually with low humidity, and the inland and mountain areas of the county see daytime temperatures about 15 degrees warmer. Proximity to the Pacific Ocean moderates the climate and temperatures near the coast.
The Pacific High Pressure system is the primary influence on the county’s climate. Adjacent steep mountain ranges paralleling the coast produce an orographic effect — storms approaching the county from the ocean are forced upward against the mountains, resulting in increased precipitation with increased elevation — which can result in flash flooding along the county’s south coast.
Precipitation within the county varies by season and location. Average annual precipitation ranges from 8 inches on the Cuyama Valley to more than 36 inches at the apex of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Occasional intense rainfall coupled with the county’s topography can lead to flooding, but on average, rainfall within the county is moderate. Most rivers, creeks and streams remain dry during the summer months. Snow is common at the highest elevations, more than 6,500 feet about sea level.
Layering clothing will allow you to maintain comfort throughout the county. A sweater may be needed to keep the chill away in the early morning, evening and nights. Daytime temperatures in the seaside areas as well as the valley regions may call for short sleeves. Ocean temperatures average 55 degrees in the winter and 65 degrees in the summer but can reach the mid-70s in the fall. A wetsuit is a good idea for the winter and spring months if you plan to get in the water. In the fall, Santa Anas, or Sundowner winds, may occur where temperatures rise and humidity drops as the winds shift to blow from the hot inland areas toward the Pacific Ocean.
Every second counts in a disaster so planning and preparation can be lifesavers.
Be Prepared California is California’s official emergency preparedness program led by the California Department of Public Health.
Be Prepared California gives residents, communities, public safety professionals, businesses and schools valuable information and resources regarding a variety of emergency scenarios. The website provides information on creating an emergency plan and emergency kit, pet preparedness and disaster preparedness for seniors. For more information about disaster preparedness, visit www.bepreparedcalifornia.ca.gov.
The following are considered significant hazards in Santa Barbara County.
Flash Floods/Coastal Surge
Most areas across the globe experience some form of flooding; areas in Santa Barbara County are within the 100-year floodplain. Flash floods and other flood events occur regularly during rainstorms due to local terrain and hydrology. Coastal storm surges in the county have historically been associated with tropical storms.
A flash flood watch is issued when flash flooding is expected to occur within six hours after heavy rains have ended. A flash flood warning is issued for life- and property-threatening flooding that will occur within six hours. During a flash flood watch or warning, stay tuned to local radio or TV stations or a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio for further weather information.
If you are outdoors during a rainstorm, seek higher ground. Avoid walking through any floodwaters — even water 6 inches deep can sweep you off your feet. If you are driving, avoid flooded areas. The majority of deaths in a flash flood occur when people drive through flooded areas. Roads concealed by water may not be intact. Water only a foot deep can displace a vehicle. If your vehicle stalls, leave it immediately and seek higher ground. Rapidly rising water can engulf a vehicle and sweep it away.
Several active fault zones pass through Santa Barbara County. It is important to be prepared for an earthquake. Identify potential hazards in your home. Secure top-heavy furniture to a wall. Use earthquake putty on hanging pictures and mirrors. Secure objects on shelves that could become projectiles during an earthquake.
In the case of an earthquake, remember: Drop, cover and hold on. If you are not near a table or desk, drop to the floor against an interior wall and protect your head and neck with your arms. Avoid exterior walls, windows, hanging objects, mirrors and other objects that could fall.
For more information on earthquake preparedness, visit www.earthquakecountry.info.
Some exposure to sunlight is good, even healthy, but too much can be dangerous. Broad-spectrum ultraviolet radiation, listed as a known carcinogen by the National Institute of Environmental Health Science, can cause blistering sunburns and long-term problems like skin cancer, cataracts and immune suppression. Overexposure also causes wrinkling and premature aging of the skin.
Cloud cover — which can be sparse in Santa Barbara County — reduces UV levels but not completely. Depending on the thickness of the cloud cover, you can still burn on a cold and dim day. So be prepared with sunglasses, sunscreen, long-sleeved garments, wide-brimmed hats and an umbrella.
Santa Barbara County experiences wildfires on a regular basis in part due to the local vegetation’s conduciveness to wildfires. Even when urban areas are not threatened, the smoke and ash produced can create air quality issues for hundreds of miles. Wildfires are unpredictable and impossible to forecast so preparation is especially important. Find wildfire tips from the Santa Barbara County Fire Department at www.sbcfire.com/firestorms.