With few options for those evacuating their debris flow-threatened homes, local hotel rooms were fortunately still in plentiful supply as of Monday afternoon. But the pace of bookings was speeding up.
And with COVID-19 restrictions and cold weather limiting what Santa Cruz County could offer in terms of lodging at community centers and other locations, the phone lines at local hotels were lighting up during what is normally a sluggish month.
Alondra Mendoza, a front desk clerk at Best Western Plus Inn Scotts Valley, said she had received about 20 calls on Monday alone. Just a few of the hotel’s 58 rooms were available, she told Lookout.
“It’s mostly people trying to evacuate because of everything that’s going to happen later on in the week,” she said.
Hotels throughout Santa Cruz experienced a similar uptick. At Ocean Pacific Lodge, 301 Pacific Ave., front desk receptionist Ana Luna said she’d received a lot of inquiries on Monday, but that there were still “plenty of rooms available” because it’s the slow season. Receptionists at the Seaway Inn, 176 West Cliff Drive; Beach Street Inn & Suites, 125 Beach St.; and Casablanca Inn, 101 Main St., also said they had seen an increase in calls.
Santa Cruz County spokesperson Jason Hoppin said that because the actual ramifications of this weather event can’t be predicted, there are no advance shelter provisions — including hotel vouchers — provided by the county. He advised evacuees to look for family in the area that could help and said sleeping in vehicles would be allowed at the three sites set up for evacuees to check in at.
The American Red Cross has preexisting relationships with local hotel owners because of the fires last fall, spokesperson Jim Burns said. That option is on the county’s radar, should the need arise for additional shelters. Congregate shelters that might have been erected during previous emergencies are not “the first option” due to COVID-19 concerns.
“It may be the case that we end up standing one up, but a decision hasn’t been made at this point,” Burns said on Monday afternoon.
However, three evacuation points set up around Santa Cruz County can at least give evacuees space to park, a place to get food, use the restroom and connect with services they need, Burns said.
The Red Cross, which is staffing the evacuation points for the county, will keep track of how much traffic the evacuation sites get, and determine if there’s a need for indoor shelter options.
In other emergency scenarios, people have been able to sleep in their vehicles at evacuation points, but the weather — unseasonably cold — “creates an extra challenge,” Burns said.
“We’re on really the front-end of this but we’re scrambling” to prepare, he said.
At the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Santa Cruz, 1410 Ocean St., familiar faces from the last major evacuation — during the CZU Lightning Complex Fires — were reappearing.
“We’ve definitely had people come back that were evacuees during the last fires,” said front desk agent Jordan Bean. “Someone from Brookdale up there, and Ben Lomond.”
Bean said the Holiday Inn Express still had many rooms open, as there had only been five to 10 bookings over the weekend. Most hotels contacted by Lookout reported availability, though the Hotel Paradox, 611 Ocean St., was “filling up quickly,” a receptionist said.
Some hotels are also offering lower nightly room rates to evacuees due to the emergency. At Beach Street Inn & Suites, there is a discounted rate for evacuees, and the hotel is temporarily allowing dogs and cats. Evacuees can book two queen-sized beds for $129 per night. For pets, owners pay a $100 flat fee for the whole stay.
Continental Inn, 414 Ocean St., had about half of its 50 rooms available on Monday afternoon. It is offering a 20% discount for evacuees or essential workers who reserve at least three nights. The hotel also allows pets, front desk agent Soloman Walker said.