The start of the New Year greeted all of us with more water than any of us, including meteorologists, had anticipated. And again, this past week our neighbors in Pajaro were devastatingly flooded. Although Pajaro isn’t technically a part of Watsonville or Santa Cruz County, they are a part of us, and their pain and struggle is ours too.
When I first assumed office, the plan was to become acquainted with the various departments and their responsibilities, as well as to see how the vision of a more prosperous District 4 fit into the bigger picture of Santa Cruz County. However, the atmospheric rains caused the entire region to pivot and respond to the unprecedented natural disaster.
My staff and I took proactive steps to mitigate potential damage and loss of lives by going door to door to inform people living in evacuation areas to be prepared. We filled sandbags to ensure residents were able to prevent flooding and minimize damage to property. After the January storms we organized neighborhood cleanups and picked up countless sandbags. Special thanks to Public Works who made sure garbage bins were accessible to residents who needed to dispose of damaged belongings. We also mobilized efforts to expedite the declaration of the storms as a national emergency to help open federal resources.
Then again last Friday my staff, along with Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo, walked Pajaro with CalFire, informing residents of the coming rain and flood. Thankfully, we are receiving funding to pay for a 100-year flood protection; however, it did not come soon enough. Our county is working diligently to expedite this project at both the state and national level.
Some of the Interlaken Community of College Road has flooded multiple times. These folks live near Salsipuedes and Corralitos Creek right outside of Watsonville. These areas include College Road, Laken Road, Orchard Park, Drew Lake Road, Fairhaven Court, Lower Cutter Drive, Taylor Court, Anderson Drive, Dogwood Drive and Blossom Drive. Some streets and homes are still under water. We are working with the neighborhoods, County Public Works, and private contractors to pump water from the streets away from the homes to nearby Salsipuedes Creek. The people and neighborhoods have been devastated.
Property owners affected by the 2022-23 winter storms may still qualify for calamity property tax relief. A minimum of $10,000 in physical damage to taxable property is required for eligibility, with personal belongings excluded. Eligibility criteria vary by jurisdiction, and detailed records are necessary to support the claim. Residents may go to the basement at 701 Ocean St., Santa Cruz for more information. Pajaro residents who need support, regardless of immigration status, may go to Raices y Cariño at 1205 Freedom Blvd. to obtain personal necessities and support. Community Bridges is also providing relief.
In light of the flooding in the Pajaro Valley, the California Apartment Association is reminding rental property owners that, under California law, no rent can be collected when a property is subject to a government-mandated evacuation—as it renders the property “uninhabitable.” In times of crisis, such as the flooding that has devastated the Pajaro Valley, it is even more important for rental housing providers to understand and follow the law. In addition, rents in the affected areas cannot be increased by more than 10% over pre-emergency levels while the declaration is in effect. We are asking all rental housing providers to not only follow the law but to act with compassion when dealing with renters who have been forced out of their homes due to flooding.
Despite the storms we know there are other issues as a community we need to address such as transportation. Transit Equity Day occurred on Feb. 4 where we were able to highlight the importance of public transportation once again. Accessibility, economic opportunity, environmental sustainability, and social equity are some of the many reasons why transit equity is important to the Pajaro Valley. Driving on Highway 1 has been unsustainable, and we are acting on it now.
Highway 1/Auxiliary Lanes
After years of advocating for relief of gridlock on Highway 1 as a councilmember and RTC commissioner, I am proud to announce the $772 million in state and federal funds that will go toward construction support for the Highway 1 Auxiliary Lane and Bus-on-Shoulder project from Porter/Bay Street to State Park Drive. This project is a part of the Watsonville to Santa Cruz Multimodal Corridor program that is composed of innovative projects on the three main north to south routes through Santa Cruz County (Highway 1, Soquel Avenue/Soquel Drive/Freedom Boulevard, and the Santa Cruz Branch Line) that will address vital transportation needs of South County.
We are also in the design process of installing new sidewalks and bike lanes on Holohan Road and sections of Highway 152 to provide safer pathways for pedestrians and cyclists commuting to and from the schools. There will be new pedestrian crosswalks at all approaches to the new traffic signal, Holohan Road will be widened to include dual left turn lanes, and an exclusive right turn lane (a portion of Highway 152) will also be widened to accommodate the dual left turn lanes.
During the 6th housing element cycle we would like to have input from Spanish speakers, seniors and youth. Watsonville has a large youth and Spanish-speaking population and it is important for them to be a part of this process. The county is going to have two groups to provide input for the housing element: a stakeholder group of nonprofit housing developers, employers, nonprofits, housing advocates, and a community panel group which will comprise of 25 people, five from each district. If you live in Santa Cruz County District 4 outside of the City of Watsonville limits and are interested in applying, please reach out to my office at 763.4712. My hope is that we can have a diverse group of voices that represent the unique qualities and perspectives that make up the Pajaro Valley.
Lastly, I am grateful for the collaboration between the Santa Cruz County, Monterey County, Sheriff’s Office, CalFire, City of Watsonville, local nonprofits and businesses who responded quickly and effectively to ensure those who had to evacuate had a safe place to stay. I’d like to extend my gratitude to Team Rubicon, the countless volunteers and the community who have continued to show their support for the people who have had to evacuate multiple times and had their homes flooded. As the water recedes, we need to keep Pajaro in mind and continue to provide mutual aid in their clean-up effort.
Together we are a stronger Pajaro Valley.
Supervisor’s Update is a recurring column from Santa Cruz County Supervisor Felipe Hernandez’s Office.