.Flood Victims Sue

South County flood victims claim Santa Cruz and Monterey counties and local agencies were negligent during winter storms.

On Dec. 31, heavy rains overwhelmed Corralitos and Salsipuedes creeks and sent floodwaters cascading into several neighborhoods in Watsonville and unincorporated South County.

Sonia Corrales was among hundreds whose lives were upended.

She is also one of the roughly 500 people joining a mass-action lawsuit against several agencies and governmental organizations, alleging they did not do enough to prevent the flooding from occurring.

Corrales said because of the December storms, her home in the College Lake area was rendered uninhabitable, forcing her family—three children, two parents and younger siblings—to flee. 

Corrales reckons that she spent $40,000, the amount her insurance company did not cover. Then, her home flooded again in March when the Pajaro River Levee breached.

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“They had time to prevent this from occurring,” she said. “The county could have done something to clean up the creeks and levees to prevent this from happening, and yet they didn’t. I’m saying it was negligence on their part.”

On June 28, Corrales joined the some 500 other people to file a claim in the Monterey County Superior Court. The suit names eight defendants: Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, Pajaro Regional Flood Management Agency PRFMA), Santa Cruz County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, Monterey County Water Resources Agency, Caltrans, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the city of Watsonville.

Santa Cruz County spokesman Jason Hoppin declined to comment, PRFMA Director Mark Strudley and Board Chair Zach Friend did not respond to an email. 

Watsonville spokeswoman Michelle Pulido said the city has received the claim and is reviewing it.

CalTrans spokesman Kevin Drabinski said the agency cannot comment on pending litigation.

Monterey County officials had not yet seen the claim as of Thursday, but said the county is committed to response and long-term recovery for the community of Pajaro following this disaster. 

“We continue to advocate for more resources, such as the recent $20 million in assistance now in the state budget, maintaining the presence of our FEMA partners in Pajaro to support community needs and continuing to support sheltering,” county spokesman Nick Pasculli said. 

It is too early to put a dollar amount on the total losses, lead plaintiff attorney Brian Kabateck said. But costs include damage to dwellings and personal property, expenses incurred for living outside of their homes and damage to businesses that either closed temporarily or permanently.

Flood control officials have previously stated that the unexpected ferociousness of the storms put the flooding beyond the control of public officials, an assertion Kabateck rejects.

“Yes there was a massive storm, no question about it,” he said. “But, had they properly taken action, had they done the things they needed to do, this wouldn’t have happened, or at least it wouldn’t have happened to the extent it happened.”


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