February 3, 2023
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Newsom, other local officials gather in Santa Barbara to support tri-county’s efforts

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Randall Road Debris Basin. (Jorge Mercado / PCBT)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom and other elected officials were in Santa Barbara to support work underway that has made a difference following Jan. 9’s unprecedented storm and express the need to locals to stay vigilant as more rainfall is expected.

Newsom, Rep. Salud Carbajal, Senators Monique Limon and Gregg Hart and other local officials were among the elected to visit Randall Road Debris Basin in Montecito on Jan. 13.

About 1 to 3 inches of rain are expected to hit throughout the state beginning Jan. 14 and going through Jan. 17.

That is much less harsh than the nearly 10 inches of rain that hit the tri-county and left behind significant damage on Jan. 9.

However, because of that previous harsh rainfall, floods and debris flow is more likely to happen, prompting officials to express concern to locals about staying safe.

“California is the size of 21 state populations combined. We’re dealing with a scale that we’ve never dealt with,” Newsom said.

It’s why, Newsom said, the state has requested the major disaster declaration from the federal government. 

On Jan. 9, Carbajal and Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, signed a letter to President Joe Biden to amend California’s federal emergency declaration to include San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

The letter detailed how each county needed federal emergency assistance due to Santa Barbara’s multiple fire hazards increasing debris flow risk and the over 6,000 homes in San Luis Obispo County that remain without power.

On Jan. 10, Biden’s letter was amended to include 14 new counties, including both Santa Barbara and SLO.

“The President could not be more responsive, reaching out proactively. The Chief of Staff and FEMA Director are in the state of California today assessing damage which is a good sign and we’re grateful for that. We could not ask for more from our federal partners,” Newsom said.

The debris basin is located where five houses used to sit before the Montecito mudslides swept them away in 2018.

“We lost 23 lives here in the debris flow a number of years ago and this was realized as a result of that tragedy. But it was realized because of leadership and collaboration between the state, out local communities, local governments and the federal government,” Carbajal said.

“It just illustrates how we need to continue to do that throughout our state and throughout the tri-county.”

California National Guard units, as well as local volunteers and organizations, have been working around the clock to clean out the overflow debris from the Jan. 9 storm and especially given that additional rainfall is coming soon.

Construction on the basin, now the largest in Montecito, was completed in the fall of 2022, just in time, county supervisor Das Williams said.

It cost $20 million, and it was worth every penny, elected officials expressed.

“We built this debris basin in record time and it was ready just in time for the storm that it was built for,” he said.

During his speech, Newsom noted the efforts the state has made to work with federal officials during this harsh rain storm, which has left at least 41 counties in the state with “significant damage.”

He added that the state is investing $8.6 billion into more capable infrastructure, drought diversion and stormwater capture systems that are needed for the 21st century.

“We’re resourceful, we’re rugged, we have grit, in this community in particular, and we’re here mindful that we need to quickly pivot in terms of our approach for hydrology,” Newsom said.

“Quickly pivot in terms of how we store water, how we replenish water, how we built our diversion systems, and how we protect the people that we serve in the state of California.”

Newsom also expressed his concern over the 5-year-old child who was swept away by dangerous currents on Jan. 9 up in Paso Robles.

He said over 200 people have been sent out to deal with damage in San Luis Obispo County, including the search and rescue mission of that little boy.

Newsom ended his speech by expressing the need for Californians to “use their intuition” and to remain vigilant and alert until this storm fully passes.

“We’re not out of the woods. I guess that’s why I’m here. It’s why we’ve been up and down the state. We’re going to see this through and we’re going to come back. When the cameras are gone, that’s when the real work is done,” he said.

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