Lookout columnist Claudia Sternbach is horrified by the mud, water and sludge oozing into her husband’s longtime Pajaro tractor business. But she is furious at the human impact of the floods. “People with low incomes and lesser means, who have so much stacked against them, continue to lose out in our society,” she writes. “Someone took a good look at the price of creating a levee that was much less likely to fail and weighed that against actual human lives and decided money was more important than the lives of those living right across the county line.”
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“It was pretty much recognized by the early ‘60s that the levees were probably not adequate for the water that that system gets,” Stu Townsley, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ deputy district engineer for project management for the San Francisco region, told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday.
And despite having studied it on and off for years, in terms of “benefit-cost ratios,” it never penciled out, he said. “It’s a low-income area. It’s largely farmworkers that live in the town of Pajaro,” Townsley said. “Therefore, you get basically Bay Area construction costs but the value of property isn’t all that high.”
I’m sorry (not), but is anyone else as disturbed by this information as I am?
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It feels as if someone at the “top” looked at the demographics of Pajaro and decided that the hard-working people who live there, who work in the mom-and-pop stores, or in the fields picking our spectacular produce, or working long hours as restaurant employees, don’t really matter. Like they looked at people simply trying to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table with little left over at the end of the month for luxuries like insurance, and said to themselves, “Well, let them eat cake.”
HOW TO HELP
Local organizations taking donations to help those affected by the flooding in Pajaro and recent storms:
• Community Foundation Santa Cruz County
• Community Foundation for Monterey County
• Bulk items can be delivered to Second Harvest Food Bank at 800 Ohlone Parkway in Watsonville between 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.; call 831-722-7110 or visit Second Harvest’s website here for more information.
• Raices y Cariño is also collecting physical donations such as water, diapers, toilet paper, clothing that is new or gently used, and blankets between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. at 1205 Freedom Blvd., Unit 3B, in the back of the parking lot.
My husband, Michael, has worked in Pajaro for almost 40 years. He and his two business partners own a tractor dealership in that tiny town. It is now, just like it was in the floods of 1995, under water.
It is devastating to see the filthy sludge filled with bacteria flowing through the building. It will be a long time before the building will be functional again.
Michael is one year from retiring, and having to deal with another levee break is not how he wanted to spend his last year.
But as bad as that is, we have a home that is dry and warm. We have insurance for the business. We are terribly inconvenienced, but we are not seeking shelter at the Watsonville fairgrounds like so many residents of Pajaro have.
Because we are lucky.
We live on the side of the levee deemed more valuable. Worth protecting.
Our problems, large at the moment, will be dealt with. And with the feelings of relief in that knowledge come waves of guilt.
People with low incomes and lesser means, who have so much stacked against them, continue to lose out in our society. Someone took a good look at the price of creating a levee that was much less likely to fail and weighed that against actual human lives and decided money was more important than the lives of those living right across the county line.
Our neighbors. Men and women who contribute to our community in so many ways. And what message does this send to their children? That they are disposable? That they simply don’t matter?
Because “it never penciled out.”
Picture these families. Then imagine being in the room as people looked at the figures and just said, “It’s not worth the cost to ensure their safety.”
The flooding of the community of Pajaro has left many families without incomes and potentially without homes to return...
Pajaro residents who have had to leave their homes might not be able to return to them for months, if ever. And with the average price of a house here in our county topping $1 million dollars, where would those in the power positions suggest they live?
In Spanish, the word “pajaro” means bird. A small creature with hollow bones and beautiful plumage. We prize them. We watch them as they migrate and against all odds travel hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles and then thrill when we find one has claimed a spot right in our own backyard to build a nest. To raise a family.
We worry about them when the storms come and the winds howl. We celebrate when a delicate egg hatches. We honor them.
If only we treated the residents of Pajaro with the same respect.