As part of a hedge against future debris flows, county supervisors authorized the $4 million purchase of a Randall Road residence to help create a new eight-acre debris basin on the mountain side of Highway 192. The property in question — 640 Randall Road — is owned by Ronald Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University, and his wife, Joanne Rosenblatt. It’s the first real money the supervisors have spent on an ambitious $25 million plan — involving eight property owners — to create the biggest debris basin in Montecito. Unlike the other properties, the couple’s home sustained relatively minor damage and was being remodeled at the time the debris flow struck. Work continued after the disaster. Supervisors authorized the deal now so as to keep the purchase price low, before remodeling is finished.
Though the county needed the couple’s property to make a sufficiently large basin, any final deal remains a long way off. The eight property owners all indicated a willingness to sell, but at what price? The county has applied for a Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) grant to pay for 75 percent of land acquisition and construction costs. But will FEMA provide funding at pre-disaster values or at their post-destruction prices? Flood Control czar Tom Fayram stated the $25 million price tag assumes post-disaster land values.
New debris basins, as a rule, are prohibitively expensive and environmentally problematic. Supporters of the debris basin proposal — a concept spearheaded by one of the destroyed property owners and joined in by the others — point out that 95 properties downstream from Randall were wiped out by last January’s debris flow. Some of that damage, they contend, could have prevented had there been a major debris basin.