President Joe Biden touched down in Watsonville on Thursday, Jan. 19—the last time a president visited Santa Cruz County was in 1989, when President George H.W. Bush visited following the Loma Prieta earthquake.
Nearly 35 years after Loma Prieta, President Biden visited following another natural disaster that caused widespread destruction, and led to his his Jan. 9 emergency declaration, allowing businesses and residents that suffered damage and loss in the recent spate of storms to receive federal aid.
After touring Capitola Village and Seacliff State Beach—and a helicopter flight over parts of Watsonville to survey the damage—Biden predicted it will take years to rebuild, but said he is committed to helping California do so.
“I want to say what I said then, and I’ll say again,” Biden said. “The federal government is not leaving its responsibility until it’s all fixed. Done.”
People and reporters gathered in throngs to watch the president’s arrival from a roped-off stretch of Aviation Way across the street from Watsonville Municipal Airport. An airborne armada that included three gargantuan MV-22 Osprey helicopters and two Marine Sikorsky VH-3D Sea King helicopters circled in the sky.
Local, state and federal officers, including 30 from the California Highway Patrol and military snipers on the Airport administration rooftop, escorted the president’s arrival at the Watsonville airport.
After being whisked away in a dark SUV to a nearby hangar, Biden spent about a half-hour meeting several local and state elected officials. His motorcade then made its way to Capitola, where he toured the damage to the Esplanade restaurants from the recent storms and the tidal surge.
Biden apologized to the contractors repairing the floor inside the Paradise Beach Grille.
“Sorry man, we’re slowing up your work,” he said.
The tour ended at Seacliff State Beach.
Biden says he is utilizing “every element of the federal government” in his drive to help the state.
The Army Corps of Engineers, he says, is monitoring seven reservoirs in the Central Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is helping farmers with disaster aid and grants.
“To the people of California, I say again: the country is here for you and with you,” Biden said. “We are not leaving until things are built back, and built back better than they were before. We’ll be with you every step of the way, and I mean that sincerely.”
Watsonville resident Paul Lego, a pilot who uses the airport, said he came out “to see the spectacle” of the President’s visit. A set of temporary flight restrictions, and an additional provision that no pilot was allowed inside the airport for the duration of the visit kept him outside the airport gates.
“It really gives you a feeling for the fact that it’s the Commander in Chief,” Lego said. “It’s a big deal.”
Julie Garcia took a break from work at Central Coast Energy Services to see the spectacle.
“Having the President visit our small town is something very big for us,” she said. “We are a town that is made up of minority groups for the most part, and having him actually come shows us that he sees us and we matter and he is aware of the tragedies that occurred with the flood.”