When an « atmospheric river » dumped torrents of rain over the Central Valley in January, the small rural town of Planada was devastated.
Hundreds of homes swollen with muddy waters more than a foot deep. The cars were destroyed. Many residents were unable to work because the fields where they worked as laborers were waterlogged. Dozens of families lost most of their belongings and had to move to temporary shelters.
And when financial relief was made available, it fell short.
Many of the 4,000 people who live in Planada, a farming community nine miles east of Merced, are undocumented, as are most California farmers. This meant that 41 percent of families damaged by flooding in Planada were ineligible for federal disaster relief, according to an analysis by the University of California, Merced, Community and Labor Center. And nearly 60 percent of Planada families in which at least one member lost their job could not claim unemployment benefits, the survey found.
For the low-wage undocumented workers California’s economy relies on, « there have been so many different major public emergencies, from Covid to catastrophic fires, to smoke and drought, and now flooding, » he said Edward Flores, an associate professor of sociology at UC Merced who co-wrote the report. « It’s clear that this is a huge gap in the economic safety net for California residents. »
As many residents know all too well, California’s climate is increasingly prone to disaster, with droughts lasting longer and storms getting bigger and more furious as a result of climate change. The state’s poorest working people tend to live in areas with less infrastructure. They are less likely to be able to afford insurance against floods and other disasters, and may be barred from relief because they lack legal status.
In Planada, in the plains about an hour west of Yosemite National Park, many families have been left to scrape together the money to pay for expensive flood repairs and to replace clothing, books and furniture that had been irreparably damaged. Some have had to flee their homes in their pajamas, taking only their pets.
« Many of them, even today, are waiting for all the wood to dry, » said Congresswoman Esmeralda Soria, who represents Merced. Others who have lost the cars they used to get to work and school, she said, even now « rely on their neighbors and friends for transportation. »
Soria and state Senator Anna Caballero, whose district includes Planada, have been pushing to secure $20 million for Planada in the state budget, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law late last month. The money will help residents purchase vehicles, pay rent or mortgages, and afford home repairs, among other things.
“It was really devastating,” Caballero said of the storm damage to Planada. « It’s still devastating. »
Another $20 million is in the budget for Pajaro, a small farming town in Monterey County that was also badly flooded during the winter.
But the budget deal killed a proposal to create an unemployment insurance program for the more than 1.5 million undocumented workers in California, which proponents say would help during future disasters. They point out that many undocumented workers already pay taxes on their wages that fund a system that excludes them.
The state estimated that extending unemployment insurance to Californians without legal status would require a one-time cost of approximately $270 million and annual costs of up to $385 million in benefit payments and administrative expenses.
Where are we travelling
Today’s tip comes from Lynn Lorenz, who lives in Newport Beach:
“My all time favorite place is the central coast because it is less congested than the north and south areas and because it offers wonderful small and unique wineries to visit. Most of the wineries around Sacramento and in the Bay Area are much busier and much less relaxed than those on the central coast.
You can stay in Santa Barbara and drive north to visit the wineries, which are one to three hours away. Or you can stay in the boutique hotels that are starting to crop up alongside the small wineries, which dot the beautiful open landscape. Some wineries are only a decade old, while others are many years old. Whatever your pleasure, the Central Coast doesn’t disappoint when it comes to beauty, serenity and culinary delights.
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We will share more in future editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
Cuvier’s beaked whales are rarely sighted by whale watchers because they can dive miles below the ocean’s surface and hold their breath for up to four hours. The bee of Sacramento reports it.
But a group of tourists in Monterey Bay recently got a glimpse of the creatures. Photos it shows tan colored whales floating on the water and the pale beak of a whale peeking above it.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. —Soumya
PS Here Today’s mini crossword.
Briana Scalia, Sadiba Hasan and Shivani Gonzalez contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.
Sign up here to receive this newsletter in your inbox.