Housing / Land Use

Flood victims share stories, ask San Benito County agencies for help

While they are being housed at the Migrant Center until Feb. 28, families say they don’t have anywhere to go after that. 

What started out as reports on the January flooding in the Lovers Lane area from the Office of Emergency Services, Resource Management Agency, and Community Services and Workforce Development to the San Benito County Board of Supervisors on Feb. 7 turned into an emotional outpouring from people who experienced the flooding firsthand.

Sixteen residents spoke, and most said they were frightened of what would become of them. Some, however, were angry at the perceived poor response by the county during and after the floods.

Citing the number of people who wanted to share their stories during public comments, Chairwoman Mindy Sotelo limited their times to two minutes, down from the normal three minutes, which did not sit well with more than a few of the speakers or Supervisor Bea Gonzales.

But two minutes proved long enough to convey their anguish and pain. Several broke down crying as they spoke.

Rosalinda Hernandez was crying from the moment she reached the lectern and told the supervisors, “A lot of people don’t know what happened.”

She told of how she was working at one of the outlet stores in Gilroy when her neighbor called.

“She told me to go home because the river is going down to your house,” Hernandez said, adding that her 6-year-old daughter was in the home with her 86-year-old mother. By the time she was able to gather up her mother and daughter the house was surrounded by water. She said rescuers found them and told her she wouldn’t make it out in her car.

“I was hysterical, and I say ‘yes, I’m gonna make it.’ I say ‘God, please help me,’ she said.

Hernandez said one rescuer carried her mother out on his back through the rushing water as she carried her daughter. They are now staying at the Migrant Center on Southside Road until Feb. 28. 

“I need help and we need a place to stay,” Hernandez said.

Enrique Arreola, deputy director of Community Services and Workforce Development, said families were given housing until the end of the month because of other scheduled obligations for the center’s use.

Arreola told the supervisors the county had received a $2.2 million grant to refurbish the Migrant Center and work had to begin soon. He also said 50 migrant workers would be arriving in April, so the 15 families could not stay.

Ana Karina Hurtado and her four children have lived in an RV along Lovers Lane for three years. As she came to understand after the flood, the landowner did not have a permit for her RV to be on his land.

I lost my RV and I don’t have a place to go back [to] because, unfortunately, we can’t go back to his land,” she said. She and her children are also staying at the Migrant Center.

“After the 28th I don’t know where me and my kids are gonna go,” she said.

Maribel Rendon first told her story in Spanish, which was then translated to English by Abraham Prado, the Resource Management Agency’s director of planning and building. She said after evacuating she and her family stayed in a hotel for two days.

“Then they did not have any more money to continue paying for the hotel room, and so they had to live in their vehicle,” Prado translated. “They were able to get assistance and lived at the Veterans Hall for some time until they were transferred over to the Migrant Center where they currently are.”

Prado said Rendon is “petitioning” the board for assistance.

Mary Lou Lopez said she has family and friends who live in the Lovers Lane area and claimed on the 10th day of flooding when she went out to see them, “Nobody had gone out to see what was happening and that people were still living in the flooded homes and people [were] still living in the cars.”

She continued: “My sister and I put up a family in a hotel because we couldn’t bear to know that at night they were sleeping in 30-degree weather.” 

She said the county was wrong when they said only 15 families needed help. 

“I’ve met over 32 families,” she said. “I’ve hosted donation drives on Lovers Lane and some are saying nobody’s helping them. These residents are living in fear. What’s going to happen when the storm comes again? There’s no solution to this problem.”

Lopez said it is difficult for Spanish-speakers to find information on the county website. She said that though she speaks English and knows how to use the web, she could not find information on what the county has done for the Lovers Lane community.

Schare Edmondson lives in Hollister and volunteered to help at the Veterans Memorial Building, which she said was not equipped to deal with the emergency. She said while there were cots, there were no showers and no laundry facilities. The Officer of Emergency made available starting Jan. 16 mobile showers and were located behind the building on East Street. Veterans Memorial Building was first designated as an evacuation center Jan. 9

“I ended up opening my home to anyone that wanted to come and bring their kids just so they could clean up and feel human,” she said.

Kylie Gillio, who is the chair for the Community FoodBank of San Benito County, scolded the supervisors and applied some math to the hearing.

“I don’t know what happened in 2017 with the floods that affected Lovers Lane, but what I do know is that you’ve had six years to figure this out,” she said. “I did some math. That’s 3,153,600 minutes. That is how many minutes the county has had to have a better response to this. These families who were affected by the flood had two minutes to speak. The Food Bank has stepped in and has supported these families and the difference is we’ve acknowledged what they’re going through and Sarah [Nordwick, CEO/Director, Community Food Bank of San Benito County] has been feet-on-the-ground acknowledging what they’re going through, hearing them out, and understanding how this affects their lives.”

Irma Gonzalez, a Gavilan Joint Community College District trustee, told the supervisors she was extremely disappointed at the county’s response to the flooding.

“These families deserve more,” she said. “I feel the animals that were evacuated were treated much better than they [families] are currently being treated. I volunteered to help, and I was told that my help was not needed, and that’s not acceptable. These individuals need your help, and they need your help now. We need action. We don’t need words. Something is broken and some individuals need to seriously reevaluate their career choices.”

During the presentation to the supervisors, Resource Management Agency Director Steve Loupe said the estimate of damages to public infrastructure is $3.6 million. He added that the county has spent about $600,000 for debris cleanup and emergency repairs in public right of ways. 

After the speakers’ comments, Supervisor Kollin Kosmicki proposed the county establish a fund of at least $250,000 to provide housing assistance for the 15 families or anyone else who was affected by the floods. The board will discuss his proposal at its annual retreat Feb. 21-22. Day One will be at the Epicenter, 440 San Benito Street. The Day Two location is to be determined. The retreat is open to the public. 

Related BenitoLink stories:

San Benito County farmer struggles after flooding | BenitoLink

State and federal agencies to assess storm damages | BenitoLink

Veterans and community step up to help Hollister evacuees | BenitoLink

Pacheco Creek crests near San Felipe Road | BenitoLink

Residents and pets rescued along Lovers Lane | BenitoLink




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John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]