CAPITOLA - The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday denied the state's request for a major disaster declaration - and accompanying financial assistance - in connection with storms that pelted California in March, causing $17 million in flooding, mudslides and road repairs countywide.
In a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown, FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate said the agency determined, based on National Weather Service reports, that three separate storms occurred between March 15-27, impacting different portions of California at different times. The letter says the storms "were not severe, continuous and were not beyond the combined capabilities of the state and affected local governments."
Local officials couldn't disagree more.
"That is going to be devastating in our budget to try and fix it," said County Supervisor Mark Stone, whose own district in Scotts Valley was hit by a major rockslide March 21 that cost $2.5 million alone. "Especially the Nelson Road issue. I don't know where we will get the money if we don't get state and federal help."
A federal disaster declaration would have meant funding to cover 75 percent of the storm damage. State and local governments would split the rest.
Kelly Huston, a spokesman for California Emergency Management Agency, said the governor would decide whether to appeal the ruling, which must take place within 30 days.
"We still stand by the emergency request for a federal declaration even though FEMA said that they believe it was three separate storms and three separate events that don't rise to the level of a federal disaster declaration," Huston said. "We do believe it was one storm series."
Capitola experienced flash floods March 24 and March 26 when heavy storms led to the rupture of a drainpipe.
The city estimates the cost of damage from the deluge that ran through the Pacific Cove Mobile Home Park and Capitola Village at $1.5 million. The city depleted its emergency reserves and a portion of its contingency reserve to pay for repairs, and is still waiting to hear about its insurance claims.
Since California was banged up by storms, severe tornadoes ripped across parts of the Midwest and South, killing more than 300 people.
"It's pretty hard to argue with FEMA's rationale for denying the claim," said Capitola Councilman Kirby Nicol. "We are not Tuscaloosa. We are not Joplin. Our disaster was relatively small compared to those. FEMA has budgets and limitations, as well."
California must document $44 million in damage during a disaster to apply for federal aid. The state's application as a result of the March storms was $44.5 million.
"I am disappointed that FEMA has denied the request for financial assistance to fund the recovery and repairs necessary due to the damage from the severe storms this past March," Assemblymember Bill Monning, D-Carmel, said in a statement. "With extremely limited fiscal resources, impacted local communities and local governments are struggling to address the damage."
The application is separate from the state's federal aid request for the March 11 tsunami, which was granted by President Obama in April. The Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor sustained $28 million in damage during the surge caused by a massive underwater earthquake in Japan.