La Casa de Maria Closing for Rebuild

Interfaith Retreat Recovering from 1/9 Debris Flow

Mounting cleanup and rebuilding costs have prompted retreat leaders to lay off employees and temporarily close La Casa de Maria’s doors.

Paul Wellman

Mounting cleanup and rebuilding costs have prompted retreat leaders to lay off employees and temporarily close La Casa de Maria’s doors.

With ongoing cleanup costs approaching $2 million and an estimated price tag of $75 million to rebuild, La Casa de Maria and the Center for Spiritual Renewal ​— ​a nonprofit interfaith retreat on 26 acres in the foothills of Montecito ​— ​is closing for the foreseeable future. Situated along San Ysidro Creek, the retreat had nine of its 17 buildings destroyed by the 1/9 Debris Flow, which inundated about half the property with deep mud loaded with boulders and uprooted trees.

In the immediate wake of the natural disaster, retreat leadership laid off 28 employees, according to Kathleen Buczko, the director of advancement; eight others were recently let go. “We are streamlining operations to solely focus on fundraising and rebuilding the property,” she said. “We are suspending all programming and retreats until we can determine that the property is again safe and ready for large groups and regular programming.” In previous years, the retreat hosted approximately 12,000 visitors annually, operating with a $4 million budget.

“This has been a tough decision,” Buczko added, “but we believe it gives us the best opportunity to concentrate [on] rebuilding and rebirth. In the coming months, we will be sharing the results of our visioning process.” The cleanup and rebuilding effort could take three years, she said.