www.montereycountyweekly.com january 11-17, 2024 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY 13 It was one year ago that all of us got a crash course in learning how to read hydrological tables on river levels. There was the potential for “Monterey Peninsula Island,” with bridge access cut off. There were intermittent evacuation warnings and orders at various points along the Pajaro, Salinas and Carmel rivers. Everyone was on edge, but some of the worst predictions never came to pass, or if they did, they came with plenty of warning. “This is a slow-moving event,” Sheriff Tina Nieto said on Jan. 12, 2023. But the rain continued. Just after midnight on Saturday, March 11, the Pajaro River levee broke 2.9 miles upstream from Pajaro. It was a fast-moving emergency as roads, homes and businesses flooded, and the National Guard was called in, among other agencies, to assist with rescuing people, as staff reporter Celia Jiménez reported. For some evacuees, it was deja vu—they remember floods in 1998 and 1995. The levee system, built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1949, had failed before then, too—its first of repeated failures came just six years after construction, in 1955, as staff writer David Schmalz has reported. That we knew catastrophic flooding was coming for Pajaro again is by now old news. What is different is the question of how much impacted residents, property owners and business owners are entitled to in damages, and who should pay those damages—which are destined to be increasingly present questions in this era of climate crisis. As the Weekly reported in July, some 800 Pajaro Valley plaintiffs are seeking legal recourse. They filed a claim in June, and followed up with a lawsuit filed on Dec. 22 in Monterey County Superior Court against seven government agencies: the counties of Monterey and Santa Cruz; the State of California; the City of Watsonville; Caltrans; the Pajaro Regional Flood Management Agency; and Santa Cruz County Flood Control and Water Conservation District. (The lawsuit also addresses flooding on the north side of the river, in Santa Cruz County.) The suit focuses not on the Army Corps’ failure to build a new project—that was authorized 58 years ago, in 1966—but alleges failures to maintain existing infrastructure. “It’s a product of California having a decentralized system of regulating water channels. We have an aging water infrastructure,” says Shant Karnikian, an attorney with the Los Angelesbased firm Kabateck LLP, which is representing the plaintiffs, and also has similar cases in Merced and Tulare counties. “There is a lack of clarity as to who’s responsible for what.” The lawsuit alleges specific failures by agencies, claiming negligence for things like improperly designed culverts, drains and roads. The lawsuit also argues that ineffective vegetation clearing in the riverbed contributed to flooding. This is a message I’ve heard elsewhere—and it raises broader questions about how a river should be treated. Is it a river that changes course depending on the flow, or a channel we can control? I asked Miles Reiter, the former CEO of Driscoll’s, about the 2023 flooding, which he said was a repeat of 1995. The big difference this time, he says, was the outpouring of public concern: “In ’95 it got totally ignored,” he says. “It was dramatically different this time. But the real issue is a battle that’s been going on for at least 40 years, on how the river bed should be managed. I don’t think it needs to be scorched earth, but it’s a mess.” That idea, that a riverbed thick with willow trees and wildlife is “a mess,” is a common framing among advocates of rigorous channel maintenance—and channel maintenance is often a euphemism for cutting down trees. There are obvious tradeoffs there. In November, Schmalz reported on a momentous signing of agreements to get the Army Corps project finally moving along. But meanwhile, more immediate repair needs remain unfinished. In December, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors and Monterey County Water Resources Agency sent a letter to federal officials urging the Army Corps to speed up repairs to segments of the levee impacted in 2023: “Any storm system this winter that elevates river water levels…jeopardizes the protection of life and property adjacent to the Pajaro River in those locations.” Sara Rubin is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at sara@mcweekly.com. After the Flood Hundreds of residents and business owners sue over Pajaro flooding. By Sara Rubin Shot in the Dark…Squid thinks of Squid’s gelatinous, translucent body less as a temple than as a biological organism. Squid’s beak, mantle and each tentacle are perfectly adapted to make Squid happy as a clam (can we change that to happy as a cephalopod?) in Squid’s aquatic lair. Some current and former employees of Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula see their bodies as temples quite literally. In a 2021 lawsuit, 33 plaintiffs argued CHOMP’s requirement for staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19 was a violation of their religious liberty. “Their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and that to inject medical products that have any connection whatsoever to aborted fetal cell lines would be defiling the temple of the Holy Spirit,” according to the suit. (Even Pope Francis gave the OK for vaccines.) CHOMP seemed to think the bodies of its many other staff members, not to mention its patients, should also be treated as temples, or at least organisms that could suffer greatly if exposed to Covid. So they held firm, and instead offered those employees to take an unpaid leave of absence from Sept. 15, 2021-Sept. 27, 2022. Per court filings, only 11 of the 33 plaintiffs chose to return—and argue they are entitled to anywhere from $250,000 to $2.9 million. On Jan. 9, Monterey County Superior Court Judge Tom Wills set a trial date of May 12, 2025. By then, the plaintiffs’ bodies will have generated all new cells at least three times over. Just the Facts…Periodically, Squid likes to update the lair. A few new rocks and clam shells here, a new throw pillow there, helps Squid feel safe and cozy. Unfortunately Carmelites have not done the same for the Carmel Police Station on Junipero Avenue, which has undergone no updates since it was built in 1967. “It’s in awful condition to be truthful,” Fred Meurer, the former Monterey city manager hired by Carmel as project manager for a police station remodel, told the Carmel City Council on Monday, Jan. 8. “You’ve squeezed all the life you’ll be able to squeeze out of it.” Meurer’s news about the station’s condition was not a surprise to residents. What was a surprise was that Meurer and a council subcommittee of Mayor Dave Potter and Councilmember Jeff Baron were recommending that the city consider abandoning a remodel plan to instead build a new station in Vista Lobos Park, up the street. The cost of a remodel— which in 2018 was estimated at $750,000 and $1.4 million in 2020—is now at least $10 million to meet modern codes and police standards. A new station might cost $20 million or more. At this point Squid says the council better hurry before the price jumps up another several million clams. the local spin SQUID FRY THE MISSION OF MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY IS TO INSPIRE INDEPENDENT THINKING AND CONSCIOUS ACTION, ETC. “We have an aging water infrastructure.” Send Squid a tip: squid@mcweekly.com