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The levee, a Lakeview crosswalk and fighting crime

Greg Caput, Register Pajaronian

In the first months of my new job, I was extremely distressed as I saw the Pajaro River rise from 27 feet to 31 feet in a matter of minutes. Fearing the levee would bust, I immediately telephoned our public works director, who confirmed that cranes were on hand to undo log jams and, more importantly, informed me the storm would soon be over. Nonetheless, the sheer power of what three days of furious rain could unleash was firmly imprinted on my mind.

Despite the planned bench excavation to happen in 2012, the county has taken extra measures to ensure sufficient upkeep for our river is provided. County workers have cut down and removed a number of trees along the Pajaro River in that stretch of bench extending from Walker Street to Highway 1. Weve also completed the removing of willows within the Salsipuedes Creek, and upstream in the Corralitos Creek weve removed a number of log jams impeding flow. Additionally, cranes and constant monitoring will be ready and vigilant. Removing vegetation in these waterways is a very sensitive matter needing all kinds of permits and the like, but I can assure you that the remaining vegetation is not the deciding matter on the security of our levees. Scorching the earth is environmentally reckless and using tractors in the creeks is illegal.

As many well know, we cannot count on the Army Corps of Engineers to immediately begin work on the greater levee reconstruction, and the corps in turn cant count on a dysfunctional Capitol Hill to give it money. What we can count on is for our county officials to perform necessary upkeep and to make the bench excavation happen, which will provide us some 20-year flood protection. Im very grateful to county staff for their continued heartfelt diligence in attending to our Pajaro River and navigating federal bureaucracies and environmental and traffic reports while winning state grants of $6.2 million from Proposition 50 and $5 million from Proposition 1E.

The No. 1 priority of my office is to see the bench excavation happen in 2012 and we have worked diligently in that regard, lobbying Monterey County to contribute funds and will even urge the city of Watsonville. City officials have expressed doubt that the federal project will ever happen, and if thats the case we need even more help on local projects such as the bench excavation. Having their representatives attend and participate in meetings would only serve to help our common goals. We simply cannot abandon determination on the smaller projects or advocacy on the larger project because of doubt and frustration. Perhaps the city could use funds towards local projects from its probable legal fees on continuing to pursue the misguided General Plan 2030. Local agencies must ensure the safety of our residents and must continue to pressure federal officials and the Army Corps of Engineers to prioritize our levee reconstruction project.

Another important development I wanted to personally communicate is the action by Caltrans to provide an interim crosswalk for the students of Lakeview and St. Francis at theHighway 152 and Holohan/College Road intersection, a state jurisdiction, where students dangerously scramble across. Many a bureaucrat could tell you that I brought this item up at any and every avenue these past 10 months and was often told that it was neither the time nor place nor protocol to follow, but I am absolutely proud to say that the interim project will provide immediate relief to administrators and parents alike as we now have enhanced crosswalks, push-button crossing lights and sidewalk landings.

Lastly, I wanted to alert folks to the Smart on Crime series, an upcoming event in early 2012 where county officials and local experts will speak to how we will respond locally to the prison realignment and transfer of lower-level offenders fromprisons to local jails. The county will now be asked to house an additional 120 persons per year, 25 percent of our current capacity.

Whereas this can be seen as a burden, we at the county view it as a progressive opportunity to improve and make more effective our criminal justice system. Increasing electronic monitoring, work-release programs and a host of other features will better rehabilitate offenders and reduce the chance of their re-offending, improving overall public safety in the community while saving tax dollars.

This summer in Watsonville was perhaps the most troublesome I have witnessed in my many years of living here. The combination of gang violence, robberies, and unexpected tragedies stunned us all. Under the leadership of Chief Solano, Sheriff Wowak and Probation Director Scott MacDonald, we hope to better inform the public on these changes, answer questions, and collectively brainstorm on how to better our community.

Greg Caput is the Santa Cruz County supervisor for the 4th District.

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