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July 25, 2021

County further delays levee decision

The San Benito County Board of Supervisors Tuesday further delayed a decision to repair the damaged Pacheco Creek levee system to an October meeting.

Rainfall during last winter’s storms overwhelmed the levee system, which runs across multiple private properties, and created chaos across Lovers Lane, as well as parts of Shore Road and San Felipe Road.

“There’s no question that myself and this board, we’ve let all of you down,” Supervisor Robert Rivas said. “All of you property owners. We absolutely were not prepared for the rains.”

Last meeting, Rivas led a successful vote to contact impacted residents about indemnification to exclude the county from potential liability instead of deciding on a funding option. He said he was vilified on social media and told to ‘go back where he came from,’ which happens to be San Juan Bautista.

But at Tuesday’s meeting, supervisors learned a majority of the landowners affected by the flooding didn’t agree to sign the indemnification requirement and a general release of all claims, citing issues of liability and the future maintenance and repair of the levee.

Maintenance and repair of the levee would be handled by the currently inactive Pacheco Stormwater District, a landowner district that oversaw the private levee system years ago.

It could cost the county an estimated $10,000 to $15,000 if they were to take over the operation and maintenance of the levee and its district.

“We’re not experts about levees,” said Mahassa Altafi of Dara Farms, which was affected by the flooding. “There should be more county involvement in getting that maintained.”

On January 12, county inspection teams discovered a 104-foot long breach in the Pacheco Creek levee on Dara Farms’ property. Another significant, 80-foot breach occurred elsewhere in the levee system during a subsequent storm.

“As an individual landowner, taking on an uncapped indemnity to the county represents too much of a liability for us,” Altafi said. “My family and I appreciate you authorizing staff to move forward with the idea of repairs to the levee system.”

It would cost an estimated $491,500 for the county to fix the levee system on it’s own. A cheaper option is also possible through a United States Department of Agriculture partnership, but the bureaucratic process would mean a longer timeline in an already delayed process.

District Attorney Candice Hooper, speaking as a Lovers Lane resident, called the agreement unilateral.

“If the agreement was signed, the county could’ve gone out and slapped on a 2×4 and satisfied their part of the agreement and we would have had no recourse,” Hooper said. “That was my major objection.”

She urged the board to allocate money for levee repairs versus having to make annual emergency repairs, which she also stated at the last meeting.

“What’s the old saying, ‘you can spend a penny now to save a dime.’ That’s in essence what I’m saying. Spend it now so you’re not having to spend it each and every year. You know how much it costs with this emergency. We’re running out of time. The rains are coming.”

Supervisor Mark Medina laid out the plan for an evening town hall in the board chambers at 481 Fourth Street on Monday, October 9 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., which will cater to commuters who can’t make the regular morning meetings.

“I want to be the change agent and fix what’s wrong out there,” Medina said. “First we need to fix the levee, second we need to reactivate the water district and third we need help on how to form all this.”

He worried about the turnaround time and asked his colleagues on the dais for a time-bound decision on October 10.

“I want to be clear: we need to make a decision on October 10. We need to commit to something. We can’t just say we’ll wait. We’re paid up here to do a job.”

Supervisor Anthony Botelho recused himself from the discussion.

Nicholas Preciado
Addicted to coffee and politics.

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