Author: Clay Lambert
Published: February 3, 2023
ALAS founder Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga speaks as part of a panel discussion on the coast's infrastructure travails on Thursday in Princeton. Clay Lambert / Review
A standing-room audience crowded into the Mavericks House in Princeton on Thursday night to hear community leaders discuss recent storms and the coast’s always-tenuous connections to the outside world. More recent traumatic events were also in the air at a special “Brews and Views” event.
The panel included state Sen. Josh Becker and San Mateo County Supervisor Ray Mueller. Social service leaders Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga, the founder of ALAS, and Puente Executive Director Rita Mancera were on hand as well as Half Moon Bay City Manager Matthew Chidester, San Mateo County Emergency Management Coordinator David Cosgrave and Caltrans representative Arnica McCarthy. The event was moderated by Coastsider Lenny Mendonca, who is a member of the board of directors of the Coastside News Group Inc., which owns the Review.
If there was a theme to the evening it was that all Coastsiders struggled over the course of the storms to navigate roads, log on to the internet and heat their homes, and that the burden disproportionately affected those least able to weather hard times. Mancera and Hernandez-Arriaga catalogued some of the difficulties, including flooding at Moonridge homes south of Half Moon Bay that left some destitute.
“We weren’t just talking about infrastructure,” said Mueller, who was about to begin his first term representing the coast when the rains began on New Year’s Eve. “We were talking about lifeline infrastructure.”
He and others on the panel noted that cut power and cellular service, to name just two of several difficulties over more than three weeks in January, may be an inconvenience to some, but a life-or-death situation for people without the means to replace ruined possessions or work from home.
“There were times we got lucky,” Mueller said, noting, for instance, that the Sewer Authority Mid-coastside plant flooded and almost shut down. “And that’s not going to happen again.”
The litany of troubles has been well documented and includes a massive hole that shut Highway 92 for a time, a boulder that crashed to the roadway and temporarily disrupted traffic through the Devil’s Slide tunnels and PG&E’s work to remove a fallen tree along Highway 84 that severed connections to three key service providers. PG&E was not represented on the panel.
Those in attendance, still reeling from the Jan. 23 mass shooting in Half Moon Bay that overshadowed recent weather-related troubles, were anxious to hear how such problems could be avoided in the future.
Mueller suggested there would be greater agency coordination across the region in the months to come so that infrastructure projects were prioritized and efficient.
One encouraging effort mentioned was California’s “Middle-Mile Broadband Initiative.” The $3.25 billion state effort began in 2021 and endeavors to assure internet access to more Californians, regardless of their ability to pay. Chidester noted that current plans call for lines down Highway 1 and across Highway 92 — but not south to Pescadero.
Thursday was not the first time Coastsiders have heard government and private industry leaders promise improved roads and connectivity. Notably, local legislators convened a large gathering in 2019 after a power shutdown closed the Devil’s Slide tunnels. Similar promises to improve the situation were made then, but little came of it. And news reports of downed trees, closed roads and outages creating life-threatening conditions on the coast extend back to the 1800s.
There may have been a greater sense of cooperation this time around. That could be due to the overwhelming communitywide response to the shooting of seven farmworkers in Half Moon Bay on Jan. 23. The event shed light on inequities in the community that are exacerbated even by the weather.
“That was rain, not an earthquake,” Cosgrave noted.
It was also clear that fixing problems with roads, power grids and cable and internet lines will take time and money.
“The events of the last month show us how important it is to invest and reinvest in the infrastructure,” Chidester said.