Padilla says more resources needed to help Pajaro recover from floods

California Senator Alex Padilla visited Watsonville on Wednesday to meet with residents impacted by recent floods and ensure the community that they’re working to improve infrastructure inequities.

Padilla said resources must be dedicated to low-income communities to help them rebuild in a way that prevents future tragedies. He said people in Pajaro have seen far too much devastation.

"Over 30 years there’s been five major floods in the area," Padilla said, speaking at a media conference in Watsonville near a farm field.

Residents were evacuated from their homes when the Pajaro River levee breached on March 10. Repairs to the levee had been needed for years, but construction of the Pajaro River Flood Risk Management Project was always delayed, according to U.S. Representative Jimmy Panetta.

"It’s pressure we have tried to prevent since 1966 since we tried to build this levee," he said.


Aerial view of breached levee on the Pajaro River in Monterey County

Heavy rains over the weekend breached a levee on the Pajaro River on California's Central Coast, flooding out nearly the entire town.

Panetta, Padilla, and Sen. Diane Feinstein helped secure nearly $150 million for improvements in the area in President Biden’s bi-partisan infrastructure law, but mother nature didn’t wait for the 74-year-old levee to be fixed. Biden recently declared a Major Disaster Declaration for the area.

"We’ll continue to make sure the Biden administration expedites construction funding and protects this community the way it deserves," Padilla said.

Padilla said low-income communities like Pajaro take longer to recover and he’s pushing to change the federal government's benefit cost ratio formula to ensure those communities get equal protection.

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Sen. Alex Padilla on Tuesday met with families at the Santa Cruz County fairgrounds still displaced by the Pajaro floods. (Office of Sen. Alex Padilla)

A representative with the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers said they plan to fix all the weak spots in the levee before it rains next season with a long-term goal of starting construction on rehabilitation the entire levee in the summer of 2024.

Panetta said bidding for contractors should begin now and he wants to see permitting for the project streamlined.

"We’re going to keep pressure on to start this project so we can protect the produce and the people of Pajaro valley," Panetta added.