Quick Take:

Several residents of Soquel Wharf Road told Lookout they had no warning from local officials that Soquel Creek would flood in last weekend’s storms, leaving them without time to protect their homes. “It’s kind of like the wild wild west out here right now,” one resident said. Santa Cruz County Supervisor Manu Koenig said the National Weather Service assured the county three times that the creek was not at risk of flooding.

Toppled sheds. Mounds of mud three feet high. The smell of sewage. And, a lot of uncertainty.

Residents of homes on Soquel Wharf Road had up to four feet of flood water in their backyards, first floor units, garages, driveways, and in some cases, their cars. They say they received no warning from local officials that their homes were at risk of flooding in the recent storms and don’t know where to start when it comes to recovery.

These homes, located between Robertson Street/Wharf Road and Porter Street/Bay Avenue, have the Soquel Creek in their backyards. Unlike the homes just north of them that are elevated on a hill, about six homes are accessed by a road that declines toward the creek. This pocket of low-lying homes, and the ones located closer to Porter Street, got hit hard by the New Year’s Eve storm.

Several residents told Lookout they had no warning last weekend that the creek would flood, leaving them without time to protect their homes. “It’s kind of like the wild wild west out here right now, we have backhoes [digging equipment] and people shoveling,” said resident Ashley Harper.

Neighbors Letysia and Shawn Moresco, and their one-year-old, haven’t been able to stay at their home because their sewage system was jammed with floodwater and mud. Their first-floor was also flooded several feet, but their second floor living area wasn’t damaged.

Letysia recalled how last Saturday morning she watched the creek rising and realized they were going to have to get out. Her husband Shawn ran to Central Fire stations to look for sandbags but was only able to find a pile of sand at the last station he went to on 17th Avenue. Letysia called the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office to tell them their home was flooding.

As a City of Campbell communications coordinator, Letysia said she understands that government officials can’t solve every problem. But she also felt like residents of the neighborhood were left with little support.

“We understand that weather is unpredictable and having your resources spread thinly is the result of a county wide emergency,” she said. “But we also felt just the lack of transparency, accountability and communications left us fending for ourselves in a time where we thought we’d have a little bit more resources, or a little bit more accountability as to what’s going on in our area.”

Molly Welch at her home in Soquel, on Jan. 6, 2022.
Molly Welch looks at the water line of the New Year’s Eve storm’s floodwater on the first floor of her home in Soquel, on Jan. 6, 2022. Credit: Hillary Ojeda/Lookout Local

Santa Cruz County Supervisor Manu Koenig, whose district includes Soquel Wharf Road, said the county was also caught off guard by last weekend’s storm. County officials were assured three times by the National Weather Service on New Year’s Eve that Soquel Creek wouldn’t be in harm’s way based on the amount of rainfall projected, he said.

“Our best guess is that this occurred due to several blockages that our drone flyovers later identified: one at the Paper Mill Rd footbridge, another behind the Old Mill Mobile Home Park and a third by the Soquel Valero,” he said. “Our crews worked hard to remove these early in the week so that we didn’t see a repeat.”

He said on New Year’s Eve the sheriff’s office was informed of flooding by residents on Soquel Wharf Road and following their calls, deputies helped alert the rest of the area.

Ashley Harper and her husband Derek bought the house, where they live with their daughter, about 7 years ago. Like their neighbors, their home is two stories and has a long backyard leading into the creek.

“We’re kind of in this little no man’s land down here where people don’t really know about us,” said Harper. “There’s a lot of people on the creek that had problems.”

Their first floor has a garage, a studio and a workshop space while their second floor is their primary living unit. The first floor had several feet of floodwater – which they’re not sure how long will take to clean out.

Luckily for the Harpers and several other neighbors Lookout spoke to, their electrical, gas and water systems are holding up now – but because of a concern about a gas leakage and mold the Harpers didn’t stay at the house until Thursday night.

Molly Welch and Shandara Gill watch the Soquel Creek flow days after it flooded their home.
Molly Welch and Shandara Gill watch the Soquel Creek flow days after it flooded the first floor of their home on New Year’s Eve, in Soquel. Credit: Hillary Ojeda/Lookout Local

Their neighbors, Shandara Gill and Molly Welch, were on their engagement-moon when their first floor tenants started to call and text them on Saturday morning about concerns of flooding. Gill and Welch bought the house in August 2021.

“We’re in a floodplain, so we always knew that this could happen,” said Gill. “But our neighbors have said that this hasn’t happened in like 20 years, or over 20 years.”

So while Gill and Welch were in Las Vegas, their tenants texted them and asked them if they should be worried about the flooding.

“We didn’t know how bad it was going to get,” said Welch, adding that at about noon the tenants realized they had to get out.

Their tenants put as many belongings as they could on their bed and couch and left to stay at a friend’s house. When they came back Sunday morning they found up to two feet of floodwater had entered the unit in some areas. On Friday, a layer of mud still covered the entire floor.

Because of the first-floor unit’s damage to the electrical system, insulation and the sheetrock, according to a County of Santa Cruz planning department placard on their home, the unit is “potentially unsafe.” The county declared it is under “restricted use” so the tenants won’t be returning any time soon. Gill and Welch found another place for the tenants to stay in the meantime.

Gill and Welch, like their neighbors, have since been cleaning out their garage and wondering how to move forward. One bright spot in the ordeal is that it has helped bring out the camaraderie of the micro-community: people helping vacationing neighbors move parked cars out of the flooding and how they spent the following days shoveling piles of mud out of driveways together.

“We’ve been relying on the community and friends with tractors to help us with pushing this mud so that we could get cars back down here,” said Gill. She and Welch added that while they don’t know what could have been done to really reduce the impact of the flooding, they would have liked a warning for the severe weather before the New Year’s Eve storm.

Harper added: “We were all in it together and able to help each other out as much as possible. That was a bright point — and I got to know my neighbors a lot better.”

After three years of reporting on public safety in Iowa, Hillary joins Lookout Santa Cruz with a curious eye toward the county’s education beat. At the Iowa City Press-Citizen, she focused on how local...