Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo
Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo. Contributed photo

2023 was a very challenging year in Monterey County and it reminded me how crucial county government is in addressing the most pressing needs of our communities. I was honored to serve as chair of the Board of Supervisors over the last year, but this week, that chair leadership role was handed over to my colleague from District 2, Glenn Church, as the position rotates each year by district number. But our unfinished county business will continue into this new year.

Flood Recovery for Pajaro

Our county was hit hard by the atmospheric river storms last January and March, and the County of Monterey successfully advocated for the State of California to create the first-ever Storm Assistance for Immigrants Program to assist undocumented flood victims who didn’t qualify for FEMA assistance due to their immigration status. In June, we were also successful, with the help of our state legislators, in obtaining $20 million in state funding to help Pajaro with its recovery after the devastating floods. In the coming months, our county will not only provide additional assistance to individuals and small businesses, but also fund needed services and lasting community infrastructure projects at the library and Pajaro Park, to name a few.

Pajaro River Levee Project

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the new Pajaro Regional Flood Management Agency are currently working to quickly complete repairs in three areas of the existing Pajaro River levees that were damaged during last year’s storms. The Army Corps provided $20 million for this work and the goal is to get those repairs done by the end of this month. 

But what Pajaro and Watsonville residents truly desire is for the Pajaro River Flood Risk Management Project to be completed as soon as possible that will construct new levees to provide 100-year flood level protection. Last November, a partnership agreement was signed to expedite the construction of the project to replace the original levees built in 1949. Negotiations to obtain needed property for the first phase of the project in Santa Cruz County has already begun and the groundbreaking is aimed for this coming summer.

Watsonville Community Hospital Ballot Measure

Watsonville Community Hospital is now in public ownership with the creation of the new Pajaro Valley Health Care District. But there continues to be ongoing challenges with the operation of the hospital and needed infrastructure and medical equipment needs. The hospital district board has now placed Measure N on the March 5 primary election ballot in Watsonville and North Monterey County. I urge support for this measure that will allow for the purchase of the actual hospital property that will save taxpayers $3 million a year in rent alone, but will also expand other critical services, including emergency room care.

Housing and Homelessness

There is much more work to do on addressing our housing and homelessness crisis and will require some bold and courageous decision-making this year by our Board of Supervisors if we are to meet our housing requirements. I am leading an effort to build affordable housing on two county properties in Salinas, but planned housing in Gonzales and Soledad will need public support to get it through all the needed approvals. In December 2022, our Board of Supervisors approved building a model farmworker housing project in Pajaro to house up to nearly 400 farmworkers. It is currently being constructed despite a lawsuit that attempted to stop it. It is the largest housing project in Pajaro since South County Housing constructed the Nuevo Amanecer 63-apartment complex in 2007. 

Our county partners will also conduct the next Point In Time (PIT) homelessness count on Jan. 31, which is used in a formula to determine how much state and federal homelessness dollars comes to our county. If you would like to volunteer in the count, you can call 877.728.4545. 

I look forward to making additional progress on these important priorities this year in collaboration with my board colleagues, other local governments and legislative leaders. 

Luis A. Alejo is a Monterey County Supervisor representing District 1, which includes most of the city limits of Salinas, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Pajaro Regional Flood Management Agency. His opinions are his own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.

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