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It’s the holy grail of flood control. That’s what 1st District Supervisor Das Williams called Montecito’s first post-fire debris basin to be approved since 1971 when the Romero basin was built after that 16,000-acre fire. This one, to go in at Randall Road along San Ysidro Creek, will spread across eight acres and protect downstream homes and properties from the brutal assault of boulders and mud when fire and rain again send them down Montecito’s creeks.
Montecito lost 23 residents in 2018 when a freak cloudburst fell on the heels of the Thomas Fire — which consumed 281,000 acres — and caused massive debris flows to roll from the badly burned hillsides, overflowing all the existing debris basins. On Randall Road, two people lost their lives, and seven parcels were almost entirely buried in mud.
With the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors’ unanimous approval of the project’s final Environmental Impact Report on Tuesday, proponents are one step closer to the biggest dig on the South Coast since the Santa Monica Debris Basin was installed above Carpinteria in 1977. It took more than the obvious benefits to sanction the new debris basin — capturing peak storm flows before they do damage and holding more water to infiltrate into the ground. It took the collective energy of a lot of people to get this far, and many attribute the success to Curtis Skene, who has lived across the road from Randall since he was a boy.
In 1969, Skene stood at his home’s plate-glass window, holding his father’s hand as they watched three feet of mud lap against the four feet of sandbags they’d circled around their house. “It scared the living daylights out of my father and myself,” he remembered. In 2018, he sat for hours in the cold behind the same house, knowing he’d cheated death. “I was almost a statistic,” he said. “I should never have been in the house.” This time the mud rose to 16 feet and swept his home away.