Governor Newsom Signs Legislation to Provide Flood Protection for Communities in Need

Contact: Richard Stapler


SACRAMENTO, CA- Governor Gavin Newsom has signed Senate Bill 489 authored by Senator John Laird (D – Santa Cruz) to authorize the Department of Water Resources (DWR) to advance funds to the Pajaro River Flood Risk Management Project to protect the communities of Watsonville and Pajaro. These communities have faced repeated floods due to inadequate levels of flood protection along the Pajaro River system.

“The current configuration of flood protection, a levee system constructed in 1949, provides only 5-year flood protection along the Pajaro River and 7-year flood protection along Salsipuedes Creek. Since its construction, the region has experienced six major floods - the 1995 event caused over $95 million in damages and two people lost their lives,” said Senator Laird. “SB 489 is my commitment to prevent disaster in the communities surrounding the Pajaro before it strikes again.”

The Pajaro Project will soon be fully funded with the recent passage of the voter-approved benefit assessment in South Santa Cruz County, in addition to the assistance provided by the state and federal governments.

Last year, in recognition of the critical need for a multi-benefit flood control project, and given the financial needs of the Pajaro and Watsonville communities, Governor Newsom signed Senate Bill 496 (Laird, Chapter 310, Statutes of 2021) that authorizes the state to pay up to 100% of the non-federal costs of the Pajaro River Project from the Flood Control Subventions Program.

Newsom’s signature of SB 489 serves as the final piece to fully fund the project, ensuring the state may advance funding to the Pajaro Regional Flood Management Agency for the initial stages of activity.

“Senator Laird’s tireless work on behalf of the communities this project serves has been crucial in making flood risk reduction a reality for the people of the Pajaro Valley,” said Dr. Mark Strudley, Executive Director of the Pajaro Regional Flood Management Agency.  “It was Senator Laird’s vision and leadership nearly 20 years ago, during his tenure in the Assembly, that ushered the partnership with the State on this project. His continued tenacity, embodied by SB 489, is what will put this project in the ground.”

Senate Bill 489 takes effect January 1, 2023 and clearly directs DWR to advance funds from the Flood Control Subventions Program to the Pajaro Project to acquire lands, easements, rights-of-way, utility relocations, disposal sites, borrow areas, and required mitigation.


Senator John Laird represents the 17th State Senate District, which includes all of Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Luis Obispo counties, as well as parts of Santa Clara County. He previously served as the Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, member of the State Integrated Waste Management Board, a member of the State Assembly, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Aids Project, and two terms as Santa Cruz Mayor. His lifetime of public service and social justice advocacy saw him become one of the first openly gay mayors to serve in the United States. Senator Laird has been a long-time resident of Santa Cruz with his spouse John Flores.