Tom Fayram helped Santa Barbara County during Montecito debris flow and other disasters
In 1986, Tom Fayram found his dream job working for the local flood control district, just over a year after graduating from college.
Luckily for Santa Barbara County, this man and his dream job helped to prevent and mitigate natural disasters for decades, and the community is more than happy to celebrate him as he enters retirement.
“To do a job you love for 35 years … not everyone gets to do that,” said Mr. Fayram, who retired Dec. 10 after his long service as a Santa Barbara County drought and flood specialist.
As the county’s deputy public works director since the mid-1990s, Mr. Fayram led countless public projects and lobbied for millions of dollars in federal funding for said projects.
From the Painted Cave fire in 1990 to the Montecito debris flows on Jan. 9, 2018, Santa Barbara County has seen its fair share of crises.
Fortunately, it did not take long for Mr. Fayram to assert himself as the man for the job.
“What really gave me job satisfaction was getting projects done that benefited our community,” the civil engineer and Santa Ynez resident told the News-Press. “I remember thinking very early on, I’m going to retire from this job.”
The Milwaukee native left the Midwest as a child after his father, who was working at Delco, was transferred to Goleta.
And that’s how Mr. Fayram came to the county that would be his lifelong home.
Now at 61, he can’t imagine living anywhere else.
“It’s pretty hard to beat Santa Barbara County,” Mr. Fayram told the News-Press, commenting excitedly on the supportive community and the fact that he can wear shorts in December.
After graduating from Dos Pueblos High School, Mr. Fayram attended UCSB, eventually transferring to San Diego State to become a civil engineer. The young graduate worked what he considered to be a very long year in downtown Los Angeles until a position opened up with the Santa Barbara County Flood Control and Water Conservation District.
Mr. Fayram didn’t like the job or L.A., which was a big jump from growing up in Goleta.
So Mr. Fayram accepted a position in Santa Barbara County, moved back home and soon married his wife Kathy, who retired one year ago after teaching for 33 years at Jonata Elementary School in Buellton.
Contrary to his work in Los Angeles, Mr. Fayram skipped the bureaucracy and went straight to work on public projects and quickly rose among the ranks.
By around 1990, he was promoted to engineering manager and then again a few years later to deputy director.
As deputy director, Mr. Fayram led many successful projects not only through his own merit but because of his relationships across the country.
Mr. Fayram teamed up with the city of Santa Maria to start giving annual presentations to the U.S. Corps of Engineers in the early 2000s.
He made such a name for himself that when he lobbied for federal funding from the Corps to repair the Santa Maria River levee, he was jokingly greeted with “Santa Maria, right?”
After securing the help of the Corps and more than $40 million, Mr. Fayram looks back on this moment as, “the story that no one will ever write because of our repairs.”
More recently, the deputy director was integral with mitigating the 2018 Montecito debris flows.
“I always kept contact with the Corps of Engineers because they have emergency response assistance. An event like that costs a lot of money,” Mr. Fayram said. “I called the colonel (in the corps) that morning, and he immediately started going to work based on the relationship we had with the corps.”
The corps and eventually FEMA provided manpower and funding while the deputy director and maintenance manager, Rick Tomasini, provided leadership.
Mr. Fayram described the event as incredibly collaborative and said the Corps of Engineers and FEMA trusted that he needed help when he asked.
This moment was one of many where Mr. Fayram demonstrated capability, leadership and appreciation for his cohort.
Mr. Fayram said he owes the success of his time with the county to his co-workers on both the local and federal levels.
“Where I was the luckiest was having an incredible group of people to work with. Whether it was the debris flow response, or the levee or any other project,” he said. “They were dedicated and knowledgeable. I couldn’t do 35 years at this job without the quality of people I was fortunate to work with.”
Mr. Fayram plans on enjoying retirement alongside his wife both abroad and at their home in Santa Ynez.