Santa Cruz County has taken a battering over the past 10 days, and Gov. Gavin Newsom visited Capitola on Tuesday, witnessing the damage. To the questions of state aid, he acknowledged that small businesses might have to wade through a number of different resources to find disaster relief, but said his office will put together “a sheet” with more streamlined information on resources.
By Gov. Gavin Newsom’s count, California has endured six “atmospheric rivers” since New Year’s Eve, with another three still to come.
“We are soaked,” Newsom told a news conference on Tuesday on the denuded deck of Zelda’s on the Beach on the Capitola Esplanade. “This place is soaked. Now, just a more modest amount of precipitation can have an equal or greater impact on the conditions on the ground.”
Newsom visited Capitola Village with 2nd District Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend, Capitola Mayor Margaux Keiser and others to see first-hand the storm damage along the Esplanade, especially at the Paradise Beach Grille and Zelda’s. When asked about the damage to the Capitola Wharf, Newsom gestured toward Zelda’s. “Part of the wharf is inside the business right there, quite literally,” he said. “Went right through the window.”
Before the assembled local media, in a stiff wind from the roiling Pacific Ocean over his shoulder, Newsom announced that the Biden administration has committed federal emergency funds to California in the wake of the many storms of the past two weeks. He also visited nearby Seacliff State Beach, surveying its damage.
Parks officials said Tuesday that Seacliff remained closed to the public after suffering “catastrophic damage” that destroyed a seawall, collapsed the pier and wiped out the campground.
“Usually (in disaster situations),” said Newsom, “we have to knock on the door and make phone calls to the White House and FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency]. (This time), I got a call from [White House Chief of Staff] Ron Klain, saying, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘But I haven’t even asked the question.’ And he said, ‘Yes, we’re there for you.’”
As for whether the state will fund the repair of the Capitola Wharf, and of the wharf at Seacliff State Beach, which Newsom visited later in the day, the governor said, “All that’s being assessed. All that will be determined.” Once damage assessments have been made, and federal and state funds have been collected, “then we’ll be able to make a much sounder judgment and assessment of what we actually will deliver.”
Newsom struck a somber tone recounting the lives lost and damage sustained by communities up and down California, noting “we’re not out of the woods yet,” and pointing to the forecast that California can expect wet weather until at least Jan. 18.
Newsom confirmed the toll:
- 17 deaths statewide due to the January storms.
- 34,000 people under evacuation orders.
- 31 counties in California have been declared eligible for disaster relief. The governor stressed that people should be extremely careful driving and traveling — and especially to not take any chances driving through standing water.
Sounding an alarm of continuing climate change, Newsom compared three years of incomparable drought with this unprecedented succession of storms. “The hots are getting a lot hotter. The dries a lot drier, and the wets a lot wetter. This weather whiplash is that new reality.”
Newsom met with local small business owners in Capitola and though he pledged that the state — with substantial help from the feds — will commit to help Santa Cruz County businesses rebuild, he was circumspect when it came to details.
“We’re not walking away,” he said. “We’ll do our best. I don’t want to overpromise, leaving people wanting and angry. But all this will be assessed, but obviously the state’s intention is to help in the short term and the long term.”
Newsom acknowledged that small businesses might have to wade through a number of different resources to find disaster relief, from state and federal emergency declarations, FEMA and others. He said that his office will put together “a sheet” with more streamlined information on resources.
In his comments, he referenced the federal infrastructure bill passed more than a year ago and took a dig at newly installed House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield. “Not to be partisan,” said Newsom, “but I’ll remind you that the Speaker of the House opposed that bill and his state will be the biggest beneficiary as it relates to disaster recovery.”
Newsom touted longer-term understanding of the weather phenomena, including state funding for University of California research into “atmospheric rivers” and for C-130 military planes sent out over the ocean to gather more precise information about the incoming storms.
When asked if he had ever visited Capitola before, Newsom said, “Yes, many years ago. Remember, I was a Santa Clara University kid so, I don’t want to say what I did here.” Then, he added. “I love this community. I mean, c’mon. Eat your heart out, Texas. It’s California. The Central Coast, there’s nothing like it. These communities matter to us. It’s part of the pride and spirit of the state. I came down here because of the love for this region.”