The soggy remains of people’s lives lie in towering heaps along the streets of Pajaro, waiting to be hauled to the landfill in Marina.
Crews on Monday began the arduous process of loading and hauling it all—refrigerators and stoves, family photos and electronics, mattresses, piles of clothes and children’s toys. Almost all of these items are contaminated with river muck, making hazardous waste.
“People are gutting their entire homes,” says Brittnee Russo, who has lived in her Cayetano Street home for five years.
Monterey County Communications Director Nicholas Pasculli says the debris collection could last for weeks.
While the destruction is striking—Russo has heard it could be more than a month before it is cleaned up—she has a message for the hordes of people driving through the neighborhoods to take video and photos: please stop, or better yet, stop to help.
“People are driving through our community looking at the devastating ruins of people’s lives,” Russo says. “We need help, not photos.”
She says people can bring work gloves and boots and be ready to work alongside the affected residents if they want to come.
Nearby, Adam Garcia and Lisa Yniguez hauled a mountain of their possessions to the curb in front of their home of 17 years.
“It was a lot of work, and we’re just not getting answers about how and when it all gets taken away,” Garcia says.
Yniguez expressed frustration at a lack of information about when their pile would be removed and the lack of trash collection services provided by local officials.
“We just want our lives back, but we don’t see that coming any time soon,” she says.
Pasculli says that County officials have been working “tirelessly” to organize the debris removal process and help residents recover. This includes opening two “hubs” where evacuees can access showers, laundry services, food and bottled water.
In addition, the Monterey County Department of Emergency Management on Wednesday will open the Local Assistance Center in the Veterans Memorial Hall at 215 East Beach St. in Watsonville, where storm victims can access several dozen services.
These include local and state health departments, rebuilding services, financial aid, insurance, tax and record replacement, DMV, Department of Public Health, Watsonville Law Center and the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office.
The center will remain open through at least April 7.
“The county has been working 24 hours a day, seven days a week since this started, and we’re not going to sleep until we get through this,” Pasculli says.
Supervisors Approve Eviction Moratorium
Another measure of hope on Tuesday occurred when the Monterey County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an eviction moratorium that protects renters, small businesses and mobile homeowners from eviction through the end of August 2023.
The new rule was crafted to help people affected by the flood in Pajaro.
The moratorium does not relieve renters of their obligation to pay rent and does not stop the eviction process, which is protected by the state. But it can prevent eviction from occurring.
Federal Lawmakers Push For Levee Repair
Senator Alex Padilla co-authored a letter with Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Jimmy Panetta, urging Michael Connor of the Army Corps of Engineers to “take immediate steps to provide emergency relief” to the areas of Pajaro and Watsonville that were hit by the flood.
The March 27 letter also asks Connor to accelerate the upcoming upgrade to the Pajaro River levee, a $400 million project that will bring 100-year flood protection to the people near it.
That would mean expediting the required engineering reviews and other aspects of the massive construction project.
In addition, the quartet of elected officials asked Connor to free up $149 million for the project, which is the federal government’s share.
Lofgren also says she is advocating for an additional $100 million for the federal government to accelerate the levee upgrades.
“The breach made clear that this project must be prioritized,” she says.
Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Jimmy Panetta, urging Michael Connor of the Army Corps of Engineers to “take immediate steps to provide emergency relief” to the areas of Pajaro and Watsonville that were hit by the flood.The March 27 letter also asks