The people of Felton Grove, a neighborhood along the San Lorenzo River in Felton, have seen two floods hit their community since the start of the new year, leaving feet of mud in the streets and debris scattered across properties. Some residents are thinking of leaving for good, while others see the floods as a way of life.
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For the people of Felton Grove, a small neighborhood along the San Lorenzo River in Felton, the first 10 days of 2023 have already brought two major floods and a soggy, overwhelming mess of muck in their wake.
As residents began in earnest Tuesday to clean up after Mother Nature’s weeklong bender, they set out on a neighborhood transformed into mire. Ankle-deep mud hid any semblance of asphalt streets or landscaping, and a subtle yet inescapable stench of sewage hung in the air. Stand in the muck for too long without the right shoes and the bottom of one’s feet begin to tingle uncomfortably.
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Walking along the streets of Felton Grove on Tuesday was a balancing act between slipping in the mud and getting stuck in it. Front yards were filled with debris, from mattresses, headboards and coolers, to tree limbs and logs swept in from who knows where. A loose rooster pecked around in the mud, a stray cat cautiously navigated the swamplands, and dogs looked on from the windows of their humans’ houses. Residents handled shovels, worked power washers and swept the water out of their garages. All of them looked up to wave at passersby, offering a knowing nod to the work that lay ahead.
Wearing a lime-green rain coat covered in brown smears, André Duurvoort tossed shovelful after shovelful of mud from his front steps.
“It’s important to clear the walkways. The mud is contaminated with all sorts of junk that the water picked up on its way from the mountains. You know, septic systems, leach fields,” Duurvoort said, his chin leaning on the handle of his shovel. Duurvoort, who works in Cupertino and is originally from Ben Lomond, bought his home just in March. “We had a choice. Affordable homes were either here or (in a wildfire zone). We felt a flood was probably a little easier to manage than a fire.”
Looking out at his damp and dirtied neighborhood, and the mess ahead, Duurvoort said he feels justified in his choice, thanks in large part to Santa Cruz County’s early 2000s effort to raise most homes in Felton Grove 6 feet or more off the ground. However, the thin line of mud, 4 feet from the ground, remains a daunting reminder of how high the waters reached during the latest flood.
In early December, the San Lorenzo River, which runs along Felton Grove, was regularly flowing at a height under 4 feet. The New Year’s Eve deluge pumped the river up to 22 feet, pushing it into a major flood stage. Although the river receded back under 6 feet in the following days, it was put under immense pressure only a week later. The storm that hit Sunday night into Monday morning sent the river surging to a height of 24.5 feet, putting Felton Grove under 4 feet of flood water.
When Ron Oliveira checked his garage Monday, he could only see the handlebars of his two Harley Davidson motorcycles — the rest was submerged under flood water. On Tuesday, Oliveira and his son, Antonio, were picking up the pieces of their toppled storage shed. The family has called Felton Grove home for 20 years and four damaging floods. However, this most recent series of storms might have been Mother Nature’s finishing move on the Oliveiras’ time in the riverside mountain neighborhood.
“I try to find the light in everything. This has inspired me to clean this place up and, probably in the spring or summer, put it on the market,” Ron Oliveira said. “I love this place, I love the neighborhood. In the summer, the water is crystal clear and it’s a magical place to be. But, man, there is a total flip side.
“Brother, after 20 years and four floods, it’s just, like, enough.”
Theron Miller, who lives a few doors down from Duurvoort, tried to comfort a neighbor who seemed shellshocked by the damage.
“I’ve just been walking around in circles, not knowing what to do,” the neighbor told Miller.
“Ah, well I know what to do — I’m just walking around in circles because I don’t want to do it,” Miller said, chuckling to himself.
Miller and his wife, Cassie, have lived in Felton Grove for 14 years. As they stood in front of a backyard covered in mud that rose to 3 feet in some areas, they seemed relatively at ease, but admitted that the 2023 storms have been particularly difficult.
“I’d say 98% of the time, this is the best neighborhood. But this has been a lot,” Cassie said. Cassie works at Zelda’s on the Beach in Capitola, which last Thursday suffered significant damage and will likely be closed for a while. “The New Year’s Eve flood, I lost the restaurant. This second flood, now we’ve got a mess at home.”
The Millers have weathered storms in the past, however, and say they know what it takes to stay steady and get back to some sense of normalcy.
“Just keep on trucking, and don’t take it personally, either. It’s Mother Nature, you can’t control her,” Theron said. “It’s going to be a good year. It’s just hard to see that right now.”