www.montereycountyweekly.com february 29-march 6, 2024 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY 17 while others moved to nearby cities, including Watsonville and Hollister. Felicitas Mendoza, a longtime Pajaro resident who runs a daycare in her house, says in Spanish she thought about moving, but home prices outside of Pajaro—$750,000 or higher—weren’t in her budget. She didn’t work for five months; first because of the evacuation, and later because the water seeped into her garage where she stored a refrigerator, daycare furniture and toys she used for her business. Maria Antonia Contreras, a farmworker who works in the Pajaro Valley, lives on the second floor of the Nuevo Amanecer apartments in Pajaro and was among those who refused to evacuate last year. Despite their stay, she and her family—including her husband and three children—are currently surviving on unemployment benefits and credit cards while they wait for the upcoming strawberry season. “We are getting into debt,” Contreras says in Spanish. Contreras and her family live in a two-bedroom apartment and pay $1,000 a month in rent. Last year, they worked for less than five months, some days less than five hours, and only saved for two months of rent. “We hope this year is going to be better,” Contreras says. The aftermath of the flood also brought to light the unsafe conditions many residents, mostly undocumented farmworkers, lived in. About 80 people residing in apartments at 29 San Juan Road were forced to move after receiving a 60-day eviction notice in October from landlord Rose Rentals LLC. The apartments these multigenerational families lived in had non-operational windows, roach infestations and lacked smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. The property owners (Joseph, Maria de Luz and Edward J. Nunez) received an administrative citation from the Monterey County Department of Housing and Community Development for these and other issues on Sept. 28. One unit, Apartment P, was red-tagged. Residents received help from different organizations, including Community Bridges, Raices y Cariño and Casa de la Cultura. Community Bridges gathered $81,956 to help the tenants with rent, deposits or hotels. That included $50,000 in grants from the Community Foundation for Monterey County and $10,000 from the United Way of Santa Cruz County, respectively, as well as donations from over 130 individuals ranging from $5 to $5,000. Each household also received a $250 Walmart gift card donated by the Monterey Peninsula Foundation. Ray Cancino, CEO of nonprofit Community Bridges, says residents who moved out are continuing to struggle despite the financial support they received, as rent in neighboring cities is at least $1,000 more than Pajaro. The result is that some tenants, both those evicted from San Juan Road and others, have moved out of the area. “They don’t have another option except for displacement to other, more affordable communities across the state,” Cancino says. The flood demanded an urgent response, but it also shined a light on many longstanding issues in Pajaro. County officials have sought to transform the devastation of the floods into an opportunity for planning for long-term resilience in this rural community of about 3,000 people, located on the south bank of the Pajaro River which forms the Monterey-Santa Cruz County line. That process officially began on Aug. 30, when dozens of people— including residents and business owners, first responders, county officials and more—met at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Pajaro to discuss the long-term recovery plan. With markers and papers, people wrote down in English and Spanish the services and improvements they wanted in their town, from financial relief for residents and business owners, removing trash and abandoned cars and ensuring the town would be protected from future flooding. The Monterey County Department of Emergency Management held several meetings and created a community-led task force, with six committees focusing on housing, public safety, Feeling Maria Colin Paniagua is shown at her restaurant, Mi Rancho, in Pajaro. The restaurant was empty on a recent Saturday afternoon, a day and time it used to bustle with customers before flooding in March 2023. Business has not rebounded. Frank Chavez, owner of Chaz Design, says he lost thousands of dollars and hasn’t received any financial aid for his losses. Chavez says he filed a claim with his insurance but it was denied because his coverage didn’t include flooding. daniel dreifuss celia jiménez “We all suffer one way or another.”