Opinion: We know which parts of California are prone to mudslides and fires. It’s time for residents to abandon them.

A man stands near downed power lines in Montecito on Jan. 10.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP)

To the editor: Climate change may be lengthening the Southern California fire season, but heavy rains that follow fires that then result in mudslides are a longtime fact of our geography. (“Sudden, unstoppable and deadly: Mudslides bring destruction with nowhere to hide,” Jan. 10)

The New Yorker published John McPhee’s piece about our debris flows in 1988; he noted that major events occurred in 1934, 1938, 1969 and 1978. Add 2018 to the list.

Houses get built on hills and in canyons because it’s beautiful there — and because it’s allowed. Those who object cite the regular wildfires in the areas and the loss of native habitat, but there’s rarely mention of the risk from mudslides.

Our city and state governments could prohibit construction in these areas despite the protests of profit-seeking developers and residents mesmerized by the wild surroundings. Officials could create a fund to assist those who, for their own safety, should move out of those dangerous zones.


The lives of fifteen Montecito residents (and counting) are what we’ve traded for our inaction. They’re not the first, and sadly, they probably won’t be the last.

Liz Schiller, Pasadena


To the editor: I appreciate the Los Angeles Times’ reporting on the devastating mudflows. I work as a scientific communicator and, like many, I am struck by the difference in the understanding of the severity of the threat between the officials who issued warnings and the residents who did not comprehend the gravity of the danger.


I worry that the unending and often sensationalistic reporting of these deadly natural disasters is partly to blame. Sadly, such natural disasters are common occurrences, and I fear a further numbing of our ability to decipher real and imminent hazards caused by the blur of media coverage.

What can we do to increase awareness of what real hazards exist, particularly to those residing at the interfaces between urban and wild lands? Could the news media put as much effort into explaining the driving forces behind natural disasters as they do into tallying up the death toll afterwards? This kind of reporting could save lives.

Emily Underwood, Carmel Valley, Calif.

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion and Facebook