Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday signed legislation that will expedite the reconstruction of the Pajaro River Levee, moving construction start date and completion time years earlier than anticipated.
Assembly Bill 876 fast-tracks the work by exempting the project from certain local environmental laws and regulations under the California Environmental Quality Act through construction.
The $400 million upgrade to the levee, which local, state and federal officials celebrated last year, was years in the making. The communities surrounding the levee have suffered numerous floods since the levee was built in 1949, which also flooded in 1955, 1958 and 1998. An upgrade authorized in 1966 by the Federal Flood Control Act never occurred.
A breach during winter storms in March forced the evacuation of hundreds of Pajaro residents and damaged homes and businesses.
“For far too long, Pajaro Valley residents have demanded investments in infrastructure to keep their river levee safe during extreme weather and storms,” Assemblymember Robert Rivas stated in a press release. “And today, we are answering that call and taking urgent action.”
Work to repair the damaged portions in advance of the winter rains is already underway. Newsom signed an executive order earlier this year to expedite the emergency repairs and also approved $20 million in state funds to help rebuild the community of Pajaro.
Monterey County Supervisor Board Chair Luis Alejo said the bill is the first of its kind, and shows that Pajaro and Watsonville are a priority in Sacramento.
“Getting the work done as soon as possible to improve the flood protection level on the Pajaro River is a top priority,” Alejo said. “We are thankful the Governor has signed the legislation by Speaker Rivas and our other state legislators to exempt the project from state environmental laws for the duration of the project.”