Congressman Panetta Urges President Biden to Prioritize Projects that Protect Disadvantaged Communities in Infrastructure Plan

February 19, 2021
Press Release

Today, Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging consideration of the Pajaro River Flood Risk Management Project as the administration develops its infrastructure recovery package.  Congressman Panetta is calling on the President to include funding for projects, like the Pajaro River, that will greatly benefit economically disadvantaged communities, such as Pajaro and Watsonville.  Congressman Panetta wants to highlight this project and its benefits, especially after the administration signaled its commitment to prioritizing these types of communities in any future infrastructure plan.


“Although we’ve been able to secure significant federal financial assistance for the Pajaro River Flood Risk Management Project, a lot more needs to be done for its completion and the protection of Pajaro and Watsonville” said Congressman Panetta.  “Now that the Biden Administration is focused on elevating the needs of economically disadvantaged communities, I wanted to highlight our towns and this project for the administration so that they are included in any future infrastructure investment.  This letter is just a small part of our long fight to ensure that this project is funded and completed so that our communities are safe.”  


The Pajaro River Flood Risk Management Project was authorized by the federal Flood Control Act of 1966, and local leaders have been working with the Army Corps since then to secure the authority for construction.  In 2019, Congressman Panetta secured a final feasibility report for the Project, which was over 50 years in the making.  The Director’s Report was the milestone that finally allowed the Project to enter into its preconstruction, engineering, and design (PED) phase, which made it eligible for federal funding. In 2020, Congressman Panetta secured $1,800,000 for the Project and has been actively engaged in tracking the usage of these funds.  Congressman Panetta’s efforts to secure a historic investment of over $2,800,000 this year will allow the project to continue on its current path to complete its PED phase and ultimately move into construction.


The full text of the letter can be read below:


Dear Mr. President:


I write about the importance of local infrastructure projects as a way to address issues of inequality in our communities.  I am heartened that you and your team have chosen to elevate the needs of disadvantaged communities as you work to develop an infrastructure stimulus plan.  In that regard, I wanted to offer a real-world example from my district on the central coast of California that highlights the importance of addressing issues of equity in infrastructure funding.


The Pajaro River Flood Risk Management Project was designed by the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) in the 1940s to protect the City of Watsonville and the Town of Pajaro from flooding. Unfortunately, the original construction failed not long after its completion, and subsequently, several storms followed that have caused loss of life and economic hardship.


When I began my first term in Congress, efforts to repair the levee system on the Pajaro River had been stalled for fifty years.  Thankfully, as a result of persistence and partnership at all levels of government, I have been able to make substantial progress on the process, securing a final feasibility report in 2019 and federal funding in 2020 and 2021 that will cover the cost of Pre-Construction, Engineering and Design.  Nevertheless, the project continues to face an uphill battle due to longstanding Corps policy.  Specifically, Corps funding decisions are driven by benefit-to-cost-ratios that do not properly take into consideration the impacts of inaction on disadvantaged communities.


Today, the communities of Watsonville and Pajaro can be considered disadvantaged based on several metrics.  Each town has populations that are over 80 percent Hispanic with per capita incomes that are well below the state and national averages.  Many of their residents are employed as agricultural workers and are vital contributors to a $750 billion annual industry in the area, where none of the fruit and vegetable crops are federally-subsidized and floods can result in the loss of two to three growing seasons. 


Being a disadvantaged community, unfortunately, contributes to low benefit-to-cost ratios for the project, making it very difficult to secure federal funding.  While the project sponsors and the Corps have taken critical steps forward in the past few years, the project will require a much more significant infusion of federal assistance as it nears construction.  Only then will we be able to secure 100-year flood protection to the communities on the Pajaro River that have had to bear an outsized burden of vulnerability for decades.


Thank you, again, for prioritizing infrastructure investment and equality and your appreciation for how interwoven those priorities are for certain communities.  Based on how difficult it can be to fund projects in disadvantaged communities, like the Pajaro River project in Watsonville and Pajaro, I encourage your administration to be creative and compassionate when funding meaningful infrastructure efforts.  That type of investment, if done equitably and expeditiously, will not only protect our communities, but also perpetuate and enhance the values of our country.                      

Jimmy Panetta                                                           

Member of Congress