The start of 2023 was far from what anyone expected it to be. Our region was battered by an unprecedented atmospheric river that brought heavy rains, flooding and evacuations for our residents.
While this was unexpected and severely impacted thousands in our community, I was reminded of how resilient Watsonville is and how quickly we come together to help each other. I am incredibly grateful for my fellow council members, volunteers, partner agencies, local non-profits, private partners, City employees and many others who worked tirelessly to help our community weather the back-to-back storms and flooding. While there is still a lot ahead of us as we shift to the recovery phase, please rest assured that we are doing all we can to bring the resources necessary for our residents to recover.
Amid these efforts, our Watsonville Municipal Airport welcomed President Joe Biden, Gov. Gavin Newsom, U.S. Senator Padilla, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, Congressman Jimmy Panetta and the FEMA director. The President and state leaders surveyed and assessed what additional Federal support was needed. I am pleased to report that they are working hard to help those impacted by the recent storms. The FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers in Watsonville and Felton also continue to assist community members. To date, the centers have helped more than 1,800 Santa Cruz County residents apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency benefits and countless more connected with local services.
Although one of the main focuses has been to recover from these winter storms, the City hasn’t lost sight of other important initiatives, such as continuing to build on the work by the Teen Action Council started last year. In January, your City Council had the pleasure of appointing several youth representatives to the Watsonville Library Board of Trustees and the Parks and Recreation Commission. This continues our work to bring forward and incorporate the youth’s voice and perspective into our decisions. Our City Manager is also actively engaging with other youth-led efforts alongside Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance and Pajaro Valley Unified School District.
Thanks in part to the ongoing collaboration between the City and the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, youth in our community will continue to have access to additional educational programming through the district’s Extended Learning Opportunities Program. This renewed three-year agreement will increase the number of students enrolled in various programs.
In an effort to strengthen our collaborative efforts with county, state and federal officials, City leaders held an annual Legislative Breakfast to discuss some of the topics that matter most to our community. Our presentation centered around economic development, affordable housing, homelessness, road and infrastructure improvements, and climate resilience. This annual gathering aims to keep our state and federal officials informed of pressing issues affecting our community and find solutions the legislators can support. We were fortunate and grateful that both Senator Laird and Assemblymember Robert Rivas could join us, as well as key staff members from U.S. Senator Padilla and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren’s office. Santa Cruz County Supervisor Felipe Hernandez was also in attendance.
This week, City staff will begin to present the 2050 General Plan and Housing Element.
Over the upcoming months, I urge you all to be on the lookout for many activities, dates and outreach efforts that will give you the opportunity to have a say in the future of your City. We are committed to working hard to provide what our community deserves.
Finally, I would like to thank three local heroes I hope to formally recognize in the near future. First, Watsonville Police Corporal Isaak Rodriguez, who along with several good Samaritans, lifted a stolen car to save an elderly man pinned underneath. Corporal Rodriguez has been named a top nominee nationwide for an Axon 2023 RISE Award for his quick thinking and actions. Secondly, a heartfelt thanks goes out to two Watsonville residents Miguel Hernandez and off-duty Capitola Police Officer Armando Sanchez, also a former Watsonville Police employee and Watsonville Police Cadet, for their bravery in rescuing an elderly woman from her burning home.
Watsonville is truly fortunate to have such outstanding members living and working in this community.
Until next time, Watsonville.
Mayor’s Update is a recurring column from Watsonville’s mayor.