When an “atmospheric river” dumped torrents of rain over the Central Valley in January, the small rural town of Planada was devastated.
Hundreds of houses swelled with muddy floodwaters more than a foot deep. Cars were wrecked. Many residents couldn’t work because the fields where they were employed as farmworkers were drenched. Dozens of families lost most of their possessions and had to move into temporary shelters.
And when financial relief was made available, it fell short.
Many of the 4,000 people who live in Planada, an agricultural community nine miles east of Merced, are undocumented, as are most California farmworkers. That meant that 41 percent of the flood-damaged households in Planada were ineligible for federal disaster aid, according to an analysis by the University of California, Merced, Community and Labor Center. And nearly 60 percent of the Planada households in which at least one member lost work were unable to apply for unemployment benefits, the survey found.
For the undocumented low-income workers whom California’s economy relies on, “there’s been just so many different major public emergencies, from Covid to catastrophic wildfires to smoke and drought, and now floods,” said Edward Flores, an associate professor of sociology at U.C. Merced who co-wrote the report. “It’s clear that this is a huge gap in the economic safety net for residents of California.”
As many residents know too well, California’s weather is increasingly tilting toward disaster, with droughts lasting longer and storms growing bigger and more furious because of climate change. The state’s poorer workers tend to live in areas with inferior infrastructure. They are less likely to be able to afford flood and other disaster insurance, and they may be excluded from relief because they lack legal status.
In Planada, in the flatlands about an hour west of Yosemite National Park, many families have been left to scrape together money on their own to pay for expensive repairs from the flooding and to replace the clothes, books and furniture that were damaged beyond repair. Some had to flee their houses in pajamas, carrying just their pets.
“Many of them, still to this day, are waiting for all of the wood to dry out,” said Assemblywoman Esmeralda Soria, who represents Merced. Others who lost the cars they used to get to work and school, she said, are even now “relying on their neighbors and friends to transport them.”
Soria and State Senator Anna Caballero, whose district includes Planada, pushed to secure $20 million for Planada in the state budget, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed late last month. The money will help residents buy vehicles, pay rent or mortgages, and afford home remediation, among other things.
“It really was devastating,” Caballero said of the storm damage in Planada. “It’s still devastating.”
Another $20 million is in the budget for Pajaro, a small farmworkers’ town in Monterey County that also was severely flooded over the winter.
But the budget agreement killed a proposal to create an unemployment insurance program for the more than 1.5 million undocumented workers in California, which advocates said would have helped during future disasters. They point out that many undocumented workers already pay taxes on their wages that finance a system that excludes them.
The state estimated that extending unemployment insurance to Californians without legal status would require a one-time cost of roughly $270 million and annual costs of up to $385 million in benefit payments and administrative expenses.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Lynn Lorenz, who lives in Newport Beach:
“My favorite place of all is the Central Coast because it is less congested than areas to the north and south, and because it offers wonderful small and unique wineries to visit. Most wineries around Sacramento and the Bay Area are much busier and much less laid back than those on the Central Coast.
You can stay in Santa Barbara and drive north to visit the wineries, which are from one to three hours away. Or you can stay in boutique hotels that are beginning to pop up alongside the small wineries, which dot the beautiful, open landscape. Some wineries are just a decade old, while others date back many years. Whatever your pleasure, the Central Coast does not disappoint when it comes to beauty, serenity and culinary pleasures.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
Cuvier’s beaked whales are rarely spotted by whale watchers because they can dive miles below the ocean’s surface and hold their breath for as long as four hours, The Sacramento Bee reports.
But a tour group in Monterey Bay recently caught a glimpse of the creatures. Photos show the tan-colored whales bobbing on the water, and one whale’s pale beak poking above it.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.
Briana Scalia, Sadiba Hasan and Shivani Gonzalez contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.