Storm damage tops $36 million across Santa Cruz County, but local officials warn estimates could double

Flooding in a neighborhood off East Lake Avenue in Watsonville on Monday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Santa Cruz County and its four cities sustained more than $36 million in damages to public infrastructure in storms that also damaged at least 200 homes. Local officials say they expect that figure to grow dramatically in the weeks to come as they continue to assess the devastation wrought by storm surges, floods and landslides. And more rain is on the way.

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Note: This story was updated Thursday with the latest damage estimates from city and county officials.

Santa Cruz County and its four cities sustained more than $36 million in damages to publicly owned infrastructure during a series of storms that hit the Central Coast starting on New Year’s Eve. Local officials say they expect that figure to grow dramatically in the weeks to come as they continue to assess the devastation wrought by storm surges, floods and landslides.

In some cases, those preliminary assessments include only the New Year’s Eve storm. And although nearly 200 residential and commercial buildings sustained damage, a financial tally of the destruction of privately owned property remains unknown.

Highway 9 was closed just past the Tannery heading north on Monday, Jan., 9, 2023.
Highway 9 was closed just past the Tannery heading north due to flooding from the San Lorenzo River on Monday, January, 9, 2023.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Santa Cruz County

Roads maintained by the County of Santa Cruz have sustained more than $23 million in damages, while parks have sustained $7 million, Assistant County Administrative Office Nicole Coburn said Thursday afternoon during a Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce meeting.

“I expect that number is going to grow,” she said. “I would not be surprised if that number doubles by the time we are done.”

County staff have been focused on addressing safety issues and emergencies, but expect soon to shift to recovery efforts, Coburn said. She added that the county is working with the state government to request a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster center be set up in Santa Cruz County.

“The breadth of this emergency is so broad,” she said. “It is staggering. It has touched so many people in so many ways.”

In total, officials have inspected 534 buildings damaged by flooding in areas under the county’s jurisdiction. They had issued 162 yellow tags for commercial and residential properties as of Thursday, signifying a property is damaged but inhabitable, along with and eight red tags, signifying a property is unsafe for occupancy.

One house in Rio Del Mar was moved 30 feet after being hit by the ocean swells. The house can’t be saved and will have to be demolished, Coburn said.

The county’s jurisdiction includes communities that don’t have their own local governments, such as Rio Del Mar, Corralitos, Aptos, Boulder Creek, Bonny Doon and Soquel. The cities of Scotts Valley, Santa Cruz, Watsonville and Capitola track their own damages separately.


The initial damage assessment for Capitola comes to about $2 million, carried largely by the $1 million of damage sustained by the city’s wharf. Capitola Public Works Director Jessica Kahn said the city planned on starting a $7 million upgrade to the wharf this year.

Piles of debris lie outside My Thai Beach on the Esplanade in the Capitola Village on Friday, Jan. 6.
(Kevin Painchaud // Lookout Santa Cruz)

She said the storm’s damage didn’t negatively affect those plans, but it has expanded the scope of work ahead. The Riverview Pathway also saw $175,000 in damage. The Stockton Bridge sustained $100,000 in damage, but the damage did not harm the bridge’s structural integrity, Khan said.

Santa Cruz

At least two dozen businesses in the city of Santa Cruz have reported physical disruptions and damage due to the storms, costing at least $500,000, said Bonnie Lipscomb, head of the city’s economic development office, during the chamber of commerce meeting.

The city is working to collect details on damage to local businesses to help coordinate small business assistance. It sent out a survey to local businesses on Wednesday, and by Thursday at 11 a.m. officials had received 53 responses. Lipscomb is expecting to receive more.

Santa Cruz had taken on an estimated $4.8 million in damage to public infrastructure through Jan. 9 — the largest bruise coming from the storm surge that pounded West Cliff Drive, causing roughly $4.3 million alone.

Portions of West Cliff Drive were closed this week.
Portions of West Cliff Drive were closed this week after huge waves pounded the Santa Cruz shoreline, sending large rocks tumbling onto the walking path and roadway.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

The city already had a capital improvement project on West Cliff, but now needs even more support, Lipscomb said. She described the idea of turning West Cliff Drive into a one-way street as “part of the ongoing discussion,” but said that sort of talk is premature as the city is still assessing the damage. Any such discussions would “need community outreach,” she said.

The Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf suffered “somewhat minimal” damage — far less than the pier in Capitola, Lipscomb said. City officials had previously received grant money for a project to reinforce pilings at the pier and are doing an assessment to see if it can get FEMA assistance to supplement that work.

A pump station near the Tannery Arts Center, which serves as a main diversion source for the San Lorenzo River, flooded, said Kevin Crossley, senior engineer with the city’s water department. But staff succeeded in getting the flood under control.

The Loch Lomond reservoir is full and spilling, Crossley said. But the “whiplash” of swinging from years of drought to heavy rains is creating its own issues.

Rosemary Menard, water director for the city of Santa Cruz, said intense storms like the ones we have had are great for filling the reservoir, but also cause difficulties. “It is really a big challenge to adapt facilities and operating strategy to handle wet conditions … and then dry conditions,” she said. Officials will need to work to “armor” facilities for both wet and dry times, she added.


Watsonville was still working on getting specific numbers for its initial damage assessments, according to city spokesperson Michelle Pulido. Pulido was able to offer only that the city saw $1.5 million in damage after the New Year’s Eve storm — and said that number is expected to rise considerably.

Scotts Valley

Scotts Valley did not sustain any significant damage during the storms, much of which occurred just outside the city limits, said city manager Mali LaGoe. But LaGoe added that several city employees live in areas of the San Lorenzo Valley affected by a massive landslide that has closed Highway 9, as well as major problems on Graham Hill Road and a sinkhole on Granite Creek Road.

The Pajaro River, which had neared flood stage amid the ongoing wave of storms, measured at under 26 feet in Watsonville...

Damage to homes and businesses

In Capitola, officials counted 12 yellow tags and one red tag for residential structures and 10 yellow tags for commercial structures. Lookout was still trying to confirm the number of tagged structures in Scotts Valley, Santa Cruz and Watsonville.

Structures that have had significant damage but can still be safely accessed by owners are yellow-tagged. An engineer has to provide clearance for yellow-tagged structures to be reopened completely. Structures that have more significant damage are red-tagged and owners are prohibited from accessing their property. Red-tagged structures can’t be safely accessed without an engineer.

Anastacia Burns has lived in her Felton Grove home for 15 years.
Anastacia Burns has lived in her Felton Grove home for 15 years.
(Christopher Neely / Lookout Santa Cruz)

County spokesperson Jason Hoppin said that some areas such as San Lorenzo Valley, which saw significant damage from the most recent storm, will likely see the number of tagged properties go up in the coming days as assessments continue.

As of Tuesday, the following areas under County of Santa Cruz jurisdiction were tagged:

  • Soquel: 15 yellow tags, mostly residential.
  • Paradise Park: 15 yellow tags, all residential.
  • Felton Grove: three yellow tags, all residential.
  • East Cliff Drive: one red tag.
  • Rio Del Mar/Beach Drive: 46 yellow tags, one red tag, mostly residential.
  • Potbelly Beach: seven yellow tags, likely all residential.
  • College Road/Holohan Road: 51 yellow tags, mostly residential.
  • Lompico: three red tags, all residential.
  • San Lorenzo Valley: three red tags, all residential.

The majority of the sites are residential and experienced flooding, though some commercial properties did as well. Some damage was due to mudslides and other properties were damaged by large waves, according to Hoppin. He added that these structures were damaged from storms at different times — and some multiple times — since New Year’s Eve.

For Lompico and San Lorenzo Valley structures, Hoppin said those residences were impacted by mudslides. The county doesn’t track damages to state roads (like Highway 9) and other government entities like water or state parks.


Jim Monreal, assistant superintendent for Santa Cruz City Schools, said a handful of local schools suffered storm damage, including uprooted trees and flooded basements. He said the worst hit were Branciforte Small Schools Campus, along with Gault and DeLaveaga elementary schools.

Neither UC Santa Cruz nor Cabrillo College sustained significant damage to their campuses in the storms, officials told the chamber of commerce on Thursday.

Hotels and lodgings

More than 20 hotels offered special rates to evacuees, said representatives from Visit Santa Cruz, the tourism agency for the county; find a list of participating hotels and motels here. The agency isn’t aware of any local hotels that have suffered damage, but tourist lodgings in Capitola are beginning to see cancellations for spring and summer stays.

— Jody K. Biehl contributed to this report


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