.Watsonville and Pajaro flood victims file lawsuit

More than 500 plaintiffs named

A group of people affected by the storms and floods that occurred in the area between Dec. 31, 2022 and March 11, 2023 have filed two lawsuits against various government entities alleging they did not take the proper measures to stop the damages caused by those disasters. 

The lawsuits, filed on Dec. 22, 2023, was brought against Santa Cruz County, Monterey County, the City of Watsonville and the California Department of Transportation

The plaintiffs allege that the defendants allowed the flood control systems of the lower Pajaro River watershed to remain in a “state of complete disrepair,” even after 10 flood events that occurred in the decades after the levee system was built in 1949.

More than 500 plaintiffs are named in the lawsuits, from both Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. This includes property owners, renters and business owners. The suits were filed by Los Angeles-based Kabatek LLP, and El Segundo-based Greenberg and Ruby Injury Attorneys.

“One of the most tragic parts about this is that the same thing happened decades ago, should have been fixed, should have been prevented, this was absolutely foreseeable and preventable,” says attorney Emily Ruby, whose family lives in the Royal Oaks area.

The lawsuits took shape after the March 11 flood, during an informal community meeting–during which no more than 15 people were expected–which instead drew more than 70, Ruby says.

“We just realized there was a huge need for help in that area,” she says.

Governmental officials and agencies typically do not comment on pending litigation. As of press time Thursday, none had responded to requests for comment.

Ruby says the attorneys are seeking financial compensation for their clients that includes their losses, and for emotional damages.

“We want to obtain justice for our clients, and for the community as a whole,” she says. “We want to have them compensated financially for all their damages and all their losses.”

The trouble began on New Year’s Eve 2023, when an atmospheric river storm swept through the Central Coast, swelling rivers and streams. 

The Corralitos and Salsipuedes creeks overtopped their banks, sending flood water into several Watsonville neighborhoods, and filling many homes with mud,  leaving residents with unlivable houses and hefty repair bills.

The rains continued, and the situation came to a head on March 11, when the Pajaro River levee failed,  flooding the town of Pajaro. Hundreds were displaced, and numerous businesses and homes were damaged or destroyed.

“The community was completely shell-shocked and obviously devastated by what happened,” Ruby says. “And there was no immediate response or support for them by the government entities who were responsible for this, and should have been jumping to be proactive about taking care of them.”

At the heart of the lawsuit is the claim that after 10 flood events spanning from 1955 to 2018–with a major one in 1995–state and local officials should have been prepared to lessen or prevent the 2023 flood.

By the early 1990’s, the lawsuit alleges, the Pajaro Flood Control Project reached an “unprecedented state of disrepair,” which heightened flood risks.

“This never should have happened in 1995, and it never should have happened after 1995,” Ruby says. “We really want to make sure that this never happens again, that this community is never victimized again.”


  1. Please let me know if my name is on the lawsuit.
    If not, I want to be included as I live at 567 Bridge Street.

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