A Lookout View: President Biden, please come to Santa Cruz County and visit those who need help the most

Alex Ortiz in his flooded Soquel mobile home
Alex Ortiz surveys the damage at his Soquel mobile home, which was red-tagged after being flooded on New Year’s Eve.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Editorial: As the governor and the president visit storm-torn California, where they visit is a meaningful act. Beyond scenic photo ops, it’s a sign of where their attention — and funding — might go. Santa Cruz County deserves a stop — but not just in scenic Capitola.

Editor’s note: A Lookout View is the opinion of our Community Voices opinion section, written by Community Voices Editor Jody K. Biehl and Lookout Founder Ken Doctor. Our goal is to connect the dots we see in the news and offer a bigger-picture view — all intended to see Santa Cruz County meet the challenges of the day and to shine a light on issues we believe must be on the public agenda. These views are distinct and independent from the work of our newsroom and its reporting.

We love the attention. It’s wonderful to hear that President Joe Biden will visit the Central Coast, maybe including Santa Cruz, on Thursday. The White House says his visit will allow him to see the storm damage firsthand, as federal help is reportedly on the way.

That kind of national attention would usually be a major plus for a region where tourism vies with agriculture as our leading industry. But that will depend on the pictures people see. Will it be only of a coastline mauled and misshapen, or will it also include less picturesque backdrops of mud and muck and ruined lives?

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When politicians visit during tragedies, they often offer up certain photo ops, including the leader looking to the sea, consumed by wistfulness. We reported on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s visit to Capitola and Rio Del Mar last week, and look forward to the president’s.

But we also have two important questions: Where will Biden visit and what will be the lasting impact?

The governor took in the most scenic of our recent wreckage — but didn’t visit the evacuees escaping the Pajaro River or spend time in flooded mobile home parks or in Watsonville. He also didn’t travel to the Santa Cruz Mountains, where slides and outages have disrupted lives, many of them still not whole since the ravages of 2020’s CZU fires.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom during a visit to storm-ravaged Seacliff State Beach
California Gov. Gavin Newsom during a visit to storm-ravaged Seacliff State Beach.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

That’s more than a concern about optics.

We hope Biden will do better. We hope he will take in more than just our battered landscape, but will also pay attention to the disrupted lives of many of our neediest community members.

As the politicians come and go, the issues of rebuilding — and the funding for it — will take years to play out. Santa Cruz County was glad to win the federal designation as a “major disaster,” along with other California counties, including Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Sacramento and Merced.

But what money will flow to the most affected of our citizens and places? And when? Will South County and the mountains get their fair share of the money — and with the same urgency?

Disaster relief, like about everything else, is about equity. How do those with less power and less money get fair and even-handed treatment? And how will we know? In the third year after the CZU fires, those who lost homes still find a tangle of often impenetrable paperwork. And we don’t have a good sense of the fairness of the process, among those who had the wherewithal to stay the course, and those who didn’t.

Lookout tracked the storms from their inception on New Year’s Eve and their powerful impact. Now, we will watch and track the governmental response to them, at the county, state and federal levels. It’s essential that all of Santa Cruz County’s residents, from far North County to far South County, including the focal points of Mid County, get their due.

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