They are known as some of the toniest stops on a sort of Southern California Riviera. Laguna Beach, Malibu and Santa Barbara are separated by 200 miles of coastline, but they are united by their images as sunny playgrounds.
Malibu has its movie celebrities. Laguna Beach has its artists colony. And Santa Barbara has an understated combination of the two. And all three cities have shared a propensity in recent years for brush fires.
As most of Southern California bailed out of torrential rains, the glamorous trio of beach resorts had something else in common Wednesday--flooded streets and highways had left them essentially isolated from the outside world.
After a battering far worse than anyone could remember, Santa Barbara awoke Wednesday to a bitter insult: The usually picturesque city was buried in waste-deep muck.
State Street, known for its quaint shops, looked like a river bottom. Two unoccupied cars were completely buried in mud that filled the Mission Street underpass to the Ventura Freeway. And the beaches were covered with smelly silt and debris.
Theresa Comingore moved here from Los Angeles four years ago because of the beach town's travel-brochure qualities. On Wednesday, she had one word to describe her community: gross.
"It's sad," she said. "It's sad to see. . . ."
The storms exploited the very geography that makes Santa Barbara special. The clouds stalled between the sea and the Santa Ynez Mountains and let loose with more than 17 inches of rain. After hitting the ground, it all came rushing down canyons and hilly streets, bringing along trees, debris, cars and a whole lot of mud.
"Mud, mud is the story around here," said Scott Donovon, shoveling some of the 10 tons or so of muck that accumulated in the parking lot of Morton Associates, the Anacapa Street firm where he works.
Despite limited access imposed by the closure of the northbound Ventura Freeway until Wednesday afternoon, there were plenty of people out on the streets, ready to take a firsthand look at the mess.
Many were out in Donovan's neighborhood, in the heart of Santa Barbara's downtown, where merchants, restaurants, commercial firms and local artists form a happy cooperative, and where tourists are apt to congregate.
"We had 10 inches (of mud) in the parking lot," said Laila Rashid at the Santa Barbara Winery, where employees scooped up piles of brown goop. "For us, it was a double whammy, since we have Vineyards in the lower Santa Ynez Valley, right on the banks of the river. We don't know about damage there."
But for someone standing up to her ankles in mud, she was generally philosophical about her predicament.
"If it is going to happen, it's going to happen in January," she said, referring to the bad weather. "We're just grateful this sort of storm didn't happen in December, during our busiest month."
Business was not at all on the mind of Evi Christenson, 69, of Santa Barbara. Christenson was trudging down State Street headed for the city's most popular beach strand, where the raging waters had deposited mounds of debris.
"I guess I'm just a little out of my mind, at least eccentric," she said, explaining why she was walking down a muddy street several miles from her home. "But, then, as I like to tell my friends, all of Santa Barbara is my living room."
Christenson was on her way to Stearns Wharf, in the heavily visited beach area at the end of State Street, to have lunch. At least some of the pier's restaurants had managed to open during Wednesday's lull in the weather.
"I wasn't sure if this was such a good idea, but I saw others coming on bicycles and on foot, so I thought what the hell," she said.
Pat Krivulka, a construction worker in downtown, seemed more miffed by the foot and road traffic than the mud.
"It's a big mess to clean up, but we will," he said. "But it is so much harder with the tourists and local tourists coming by to take a look. We're trying to clean this up and people keep coming down."
Two such visitors were Trevor Pitchford and Ken Banks, who were out for a walk. The day before they couldn't get out at all.
"I was trying to get to work but this whole quadrant was under water," Banks said. "I spotted a boat that had drifted onto the beach, a wrecked sailboat. I got myself a bamboo pole, like a gondola pole, and got to work."