Site of the mudslide road closure along Highway 150 between Thomas Aquinas College and Santa Paula
Site of the mudslide and road closure along Highway 150 between Thomas Aquinas College and Santa Paula


At Friday morning’s meeting of the Ventura County Transportation Commission, Thomas Aquinas College Vice President for Operations Mark Kretschmer spoke about the recent closure of Highway 150, which connects the California campus to nearby Santa Paula — and offered the College’s assistance. “I wanted to give the Commission some perspective on how the road closure has affected the local community,” said Mr. Kretchmer, “while helping to brainstorm solutions for how we can all get by until the road is clear again.”

Vice President for Operations Mark Kretschmer
Vice President for Operations Mark Kretschmer 

February rainstorms caused a massive mudslide on the hillside just above the highway, spilling tons of dirt and debris onto the road and making it unpassable. Until the rainy season comes to an end — and with it, the threat of further saturation and slides — state transportation officials are unable to safely clear the blockage. Experts predict that it will be months before cars can drive the closed stretch of highway once more.

“Hundreds of families are affected,” said Mr. Kretschmer, noting the agricultural nature of the area surrounding the campus. “You have workers trying to get to the avocado and cattle ranches as well as the nearby oil fields, plus employees who can’t get to their jobs in town. You have all the Santa Paula businesses that have lost customers coming in from Ojai, parents unable to bring their children to school, and 4-H kids who can’t access their livestock.”

The College has also been affected. “We have about 70 employees who live in Santa Paula, who can no longer make their usual commutes, and many students who hold jobs and shop in town,” Mr. Kretschmer explained. “While it’s still possible to get here by coming from the opposite direction, through Ventura and Ojai, that detour adds about 45 miles and as many minutes, one way, to the drive.”

The wasted time and gas — and the displaced traffic that now slows Highways 126, 101, and 33 — make all the more pressing the need for mitigation. “I suggested that if the county opened a footpath around the mudslide, the College could set up a shuttle service on both sides to bring people to and from it,” said Mr. Kretschmer. “I also offered to let the state move the debris to ranch land that the College owns, adjacent to the campus, as we have done in the past.”

Joining Mr. Kretschmer in his comments were two TAC neighbors, Ventura County Agricultural Commissioner Korinne Bell and Jenny Arana, a local realtor. Gloria Roberts, the Director for Caltrans District 7, also made a report about the mudslide and other issues affecting county roadways. All four discussed possible short-term solutions, which members of the Commission thoughtfully considered.

“The Commission was gracious with its time, and the members seemed eager to find ways to bring relief to the community,” said Mr. Kretschmer. “County Supervisors Matt LaVere and Kelly Long were especially attentive, and we are grateful for the leadership they have shown.”


Aerial view of mudslide and road closure, courtesy of Caltrans
Aerial view of mudslide and road closure, courtesy of Caltrans