Our community got hit hard, some say harder than expected. Meteorologists say harder than we’ve been hit in decades. All we have to do is look around. It seems folks in South County got more government resources to take the sting out of the crisis, while some in our community got hit with less help.
Fourth District Supervisor Bob Nelson expressed passion for his North County community at the Jan. 10 Board of Supervisors meeting. He asked the sheriff directly about the county’s preparations for the record-breaking storms that hit the area just the day before.
Specifically, his question for Sheriff Bill Brown was why North County riverbeds weren’t included in the Sheriff’s Office’s evacuation areas.
“It seems that those people are the most vulnerable in our county; they actually live in a watercourse, and they should have been included and evacuated,” Nelson said. “Could you help me with that?”
In response, Brown said that his department was “extensively engaged in South County preparations, but reached out to Lompoc and Santa Maria police departments to work with that population.”
He assured the supervisor that advocates went with the police to speak to the people living in the riverbeds. A fly-over later revealed that the majority of the population had “self-evacuated.”
“Some [people were] still under the bridges; they were notified and chose not to leave,” the sheriff said. “We don’t typically evacuate areas that are not habitable areas; we typically evacuate communities.”
Nelson was having none of it. He lambasted the sheriff and highlighted the discrepancies between the north and the south. These are longstanding divides down geographical and socioeconomic lines that too often widen during crises.
“We obviously did have people living there. We had a child born in the riverbed while flooding was going on,” he said, calling out the “juxtaposition of all the staff and resources to go door-to-door in one community versus another location.”
He then admonished the sheriff to conduct North County riverbed evacuations even now because the storms weren’t over “for those people living in our community.”
Our leaders need to help the community prepare as we deal with at what the “atmospheric river” wrought: The county received more than 400 calls for service—100 of which were water rescues—as of about 9 a.m. Jan. 10. The rains caused a sinkhole in Orcutt at Union Valley Parkway and Bradley; schools were closed; five highways were impacted and closed.
In addition to the newborn and parents who were rescued from the riverbed in Lompoc, three people and a dog were spotted on a newly formed island east of Riverbend Park. One person accepted the swift water rescue team’s aid; the other two wanted to stay there. There are no doubt people still living in such places, people who should be evacuated—or rescued.
I wish I could chirp about a silver lining, but there isn’t much of one. Cachuma Lake Reservoir is at capacity and planning for a downstream release for the first time since 2011. Yet it’s going to take more than one wet year to regain balance.
As for being situated downstream from South County and its resources, will it really have to take more crises to shift that balance?
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