California Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas on Tuesday introduced legislation intended to speed up the $400 million rebuild of the Pajaro River Levee.
Assembly Bill 876 would expedite the work by exempting certain aspects of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). If passed, construction could begin as soon as next year, rather than the current timeframe that has repairs slated to start in 2025.
The urgency law would take effect immediately upon being signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Its the latest in a series of actions to speed up repairs, and comes on the heels of Governor Gavin Newsom’s recent executive order to expedite emergency repairs before next winter’s storms, as well as the provision of $20 million in state funds to help rebuild the community of Pajaro.
Winter storms during the first three months of the year caused the levee to break in places and overtop its banks in others. The town of Pajaro was flooded, as were surrounding agricultural fields. Thousands of people were evacuated.
That was the latest in decades of floods that have devastated the area since the levee was built in 1949, including during the 1990s, which killed multiple people and caused over $100 million in damage.
“The historic storms and flooding this past March were devastating to the Pajaro community,” Rivas stated in a press release. “These levees need to be upgraded now, urgently, and this allows us to perform critical work on a much faster timeline.”
The upcoming levee upgrade would provide 100-year flood protection to communities along the river could.
Without AB 876, state approval requirements would push back the start of construction to 2025 at the earliest and extend the duration of the project by years, Rivas’ staff said.
County officials gathered in October 2022 along with state and federal lawmakers to celebrate the funding of the levee rebuild, a process that took decades of wrangling.
The final step in that process was Senate Bill 489, authored by Sen. John Laird to authorize the Department of Water Resources to advance funds to the Pajaro River Flood Risk Management Project.
Laird said he supports efforts to expedite the review process.
“In 2022, we worked hard to secure levee modernization funding to protect the community of Pajaro,” Laird stated in a press release. “Unfortunately our extreme climate spoke before the project started.”