Randall Road Debris Basin Moves Forward
This Saturday, March 19, Santa Barbara County Flood Control will take acquisition of 630 Randall Road, the final one-acre property to be acquired in which to build the Randall Road Debris Basin. After a lengthy delay, a recent ruling by the Ventura County Superior Court has given Flood Control the green light to continue building the basin, which will ultimately be the largest debris basin in Montecito. The project was proposed along Randall Road in Montecito by private interests – mainly by nearby resident Curtis Skene – with the general support of affected property owners in the area, following the Thomas Fire and 1/9 Debris Flow in 2018.
The nine-acre project received approval by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors in August 2020 and a $13.5 million grant from FEMA in November 2020. Back then the County began talks with the owners of seven properties on Randall Road and one on East Valley Road, and paid pre-debris flow market value for all but one of the lots, which were each about one acre in size. The final lot at 630 Randall Road belongs to Catherine Montgomery, who lost her husband Dr. Mark Montgomery and 22-year-old daughter, Caroline Montgomery, when the home on the property was swept away during the debris flow. Last month she was ordered to release possession of the property via eminent domain. “The judge decided it was for the greater good of the community,” said Flood Control engineer Jon Frye.
Construction on the debris basin commenced last May despite continued litigation regarding the last property, including a court venue change to Ventura County, requested by Montgomery. According to Frye, the rest of the project is finished, with the contractor, Vince Lopez & Sons, demobilizing their staging from the site in January. “Honestly for the last year, we’ve been waiting for the acquisition of the last site. We completed all the authorized work in January,” Frye told us. “If there was any constant with the Randall Road project, it was change,” he added, saying that the pandemic and associated closures also played a role in the project’s delay.
What hasn’t changed is the cost of the project: the estimate of $15.5 to $17.5M still holds, as the contractor agreed to lock in the bid cost until the final parcel was acquired. It’s expected the final phase of the project will begin late April, with completion at the end of the summer. Currently, Flood Control is looking into removing the remaining trees on the Montgomery property, and has been working with Montecito Trails Foundation and County Parks & Rec regarding the public trail to be built on the perimeter of the basin.
While the County is being granted pre-judgement possession this Saturday, the judgement phase of the eminent domain action is expected to take months to iron out and includes determining the compensation for the property. The negotiations to that effect will remain confidential. “That’s for the courts to decide,” Frye said. Montgomery has said previously that she hoped to preserve the property for sentimental reasons, as a way to remember her husband and daughter who were killed.
The 1/9 Debris Flow on January 9, 2018 took the lives of 23 members of the community, as well as damaged or destroyed nearly 500 homes.