Residents of Pajaro in Monterey County should see curbside debris removal begin this week and are being advised not to haul flood debris to locations other than their immediate curb.

Waste Management crews will be moving through the area over the next few weeks and will revisit residential streets multiple times. Even if debris piles are large, county officials said in a news release that curbside is the place to leave them and they will be picked up by contracted crews. Hauling debris to other locations can slow the overall process.

An emergency shelter at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds will remain open as the recovery continues, but three other emergency shelters closed Monday. Transportation was provided to the fairgrounds, which had 349 evacuees still staying there as of Monday night.

Crews use a skip loader to transfer debris into a trailer on Cayetano Street in Pajaro on March 25, 2023. The cleanup was part of a dry run by the county that cleared sidewalks so residents could begin putting out their own debris starting Monday. (Monterey County/Twitter)

Meanwhile, a coalition of federal lawmakers from California is pressing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up extensive repair work on the Pajaro River levee system that has taken decades to begin despite multiple breaches of the levee, most recently on the night of March 10, when the entire community of Pajaro was evacuated because of flooding.

In a letter to the Corps dated Monday, U.S. Sens. Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein and U.S. Reps. Jimmy Panetta and Zoe Lofgren asked the Corps to use emergency funding to expedite technical and direct assistance with the flood control work, speed up the review process and expedite the release of $149 million that was already approved for the levee project in late 2021 as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“In advance of your upcoming trip to tour the Pajaro River Flood Risk Management Project (Pajaro) in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties in California, we ask that you take immediate steps to provide emergency relief to the towns of Pajaro and Watsonville and to accelerate construction of the federally authorized levee project,” the letter reads.

“This idea that poor communities don’t deserve the same flood control protection as those with higher value in houses is just patently unfair, so I’m sorry we got there too late.”

Shalanda Young, Office of Management and Budget director

The lawmakers also urged more federal funding to be earmarked to complete the project and to use more collaborative “design-build” methods to speed up the comprehensive work.

In a Senate Budget Committee hearing with Office of Management and Budget director Shalanda Young the week after the levee broke, Padilla said the way the Army Corps of Engineers had neglected needed repairs for years because of a cost-benefit analysis, which essentially said it wasn’t worth the cost to protect low-value property, contributed to long-term neglect of underserved communities.

“Their rigid cost-benefit ratio formula systemically disadvantages projects that would protect communities like this one,” Padilla said.

Young said lasting changes were needed in how the agency evaluated and prioritized flood control projects and that communities are more than just a cost-benefit analysis.

“This idea that poor communities don’t deserve the same flood control protection as those with higher value in houses is just patently unfair, so I’m sorry we got there too late,” Young said.

Still, she said costs would always have to be considered.

“There’s never enough money, even with the infrastructure law. Lots of communities have flood control projects that we can’t get to,” Young said.