The waters of Pacheco Creek rose slowly with steady rains throughout the week, then rapidly engulfed homes on Lovers Lane as a Jan. 9 downpour prompted authorities to issue an evacuation order. Photo: Chris Mora

San Benito County held a town hall meeting Sept. 5 on storm cleanup to inform local homeowners of a new executive order signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom that grants emergency permissions to accelerate debris removal related to the atmospheric river storms earlier this year.

The event, dubbed “Let’s Talk about Storm Clean-Up,” was led by San Benito County Public Works administrator Steve Loupe and brought together the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CAL-OES); the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) and the California State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board). Spanish translation was provided by San Benito County planning director Abraham Prado.

Executive order N-10-23 was signed by the governor on Aug. 4 and it “suspends several statutes, regulations and permitting criteria for certain activities to mitigate ongoing flood risk in several regions of the state.” The order gives residents throughout the state the ability to repair or replace existing levees and flood-control infrastructure; remove debris; remove sediment and manage vegetation. Homeowners must notify the Water Board about their proposed projects and complete these by Nov. 1.

The order was drafted to allow property owners to prepare for the upcoming winter and mitigate the possibility of a disastrous storm season as was seen in late 2022 and early 2023. In San Benito County, the focus will be on properties adjacent to creeks or streams that feed into the Pajaro River. 

Additionally, the county is working with the Pacheco Storm Water District to help with debris removal. The Lovers Lane area was severely impacted by flooding earlier this year and there is still a large amount of debris around bridges, according to residents that attended the town hall. 

Loupe walked the attendees through the executive order and explained the scope of work that is permitted by the state.

“They do want to know what your activities are and that you’re performing those activities within the executive order. And that you’re not doing other random things that are not within those activities,” Loupe said.

The town hall also informed the public about potential weather phenomena that can affect the type of winter the area will experience.

Brian Garcia, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s San Francisco Bay Area/Monterey region, made a presentation via teleconference to inform attendees about the upcoming winter and possible El Niño conditions that may affect the region.

“So, we are in an El Niño advisory right now and we’re going to continue in El Niño conditions right on into winter and into early spring, if not even into summer of next year,” Garcia said.

While the event mainly focused on the winter ahead, California is currently in the midst of fire season and San Benito County agricultural commissioner Ken Griffin was on hand to inform about a new initiative to help ranchers during a disaster.

The Agricultural Livestock Pass Program will give livestock owners special permission to travel through roads closed during disasters such as wildfires in order to save their animals, Griffin said. Program representatives will hold training sessions for residents on Sept. 25 with Cal Fire personnel at a yet-undetermined location.

San Benito County resident Efren Garcia attended the Sept. 5 town hall about recent storm cleanup assistance directives. Garcia’s property flooded due to heavy rains in 2017 and 2023. Photo: Josué Monroy

Bilingual outreach and the Spanish translation during the town hall incentivized some residents to attend when they otherwise would not have.

Efren Garcia got a Spanish-language flier in the mail and decided to attend to see if he could get help with applying for a disaster clean-up loan. He owns 70 acres on the northern edge of Hollister and was affected by flooding earlier this year.

“There were streams of water running through the property,” Garcia said, holding one of the weather alert radios distributed for free at the town hall.

He has previously hired workers to help him remove debris left behind by the rushing waters, but is now seeking help from the state. Garcia alleged that he sought help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to no avail. A representative missed their appointment with him and never rescheduled, Garcia said. He hopes to connect with a Spanish-speaking county representative to help him with his situation.

“I wanted to ask questions, but I got shy,” Garcia said about the town hall.

For information on the executive order and to obtain a copy of the town hall presentation, contact Steve Loupe at [email protected] or 831.902.2271.

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