Merced County Times Newspaper
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We Must Bring Our City Together To Help Those Impacted By Floods

Shane Smith


Sometime soon, the flood waters racing down Bear Creek will subside, and life will return to normal for many of us living in Merced. That will not be true for everyone. Our neighbors who were already struggling to maintain a safe place to live may be left further behind when receding flood waters reveal homes that have been damaged, or worse, rendered uninhabitable.

I prefer to look at this tenuous moment as an opportunity for our City to come together. And just maybe, start building common ground around the issue of housing.

The point was brought home to me when I delivered board games and helped serve dinner at the Merced County Fairgrounds Evacuation Center. I volunteered the night after Bear Creek overflowed its banks. Several thousand City residents received evacuation orders, and yet only a few hundred people sought refuge at the Fairgrounds. Was it that these were the residents who did not have the resources to stay elsewhere? I have to think the answer is “yes.”

Thanks to the City, County Human Services Agency, Red Cross, United Way, and other partners, all who needed a safe place to stay got one that night. Now we need to obtain funding and implement policies that enable everyone to return home (or obtain shelter if previously unhoused).

Our City must secure temporary housing assistance from federal and state agencies for those displaced by the floods. Merced already faced an insufficient housing supply. We cannot expect underserved residents whose homes are now unlivable to turn to the open market for alternate housing. That will only mean more families on the street. Unacceptable.

Many of us (myself included) did not have flood insurance when the rain started. My house escaped injury, but financial assistance will be crucial to ensure all homeowners and landlords can make needed repairs. The City must prioritize permitting and inspection of home repairs and remodels made necessary by the floods. We should also consider City tax incentives for landlords who fully restore damaged multi-family units within 120 days.

The structural integrity of our creek ways and levees must improve. Every agency having jurisdiction should stop turf-guarding and collaborate to frequently monitor, repair, and maintain Bear Creek and other local waterways. If federal and state agencies are slow to respond, our representatives in Washington D.C. and Sacramento need to lean in.

We must also be unwavering in our gratitude for Merced’s heroes. City Public Works employees have worked around the clock to address flood impacts as quickly as possible. Countless volunteers aided neighbors and strangers alike at the Evacuation Center and elsewhere. Our police officers and firefighters put themselves in harm’s way (on national Law Enforcement Day no less) to make sure everyone who needed to evacuate had a chance to do so. And City Manager Stephanie Dietz and her team ably positioned staff to be successful so that we could all navigate this crisis. To each of you I say “thank you.”

Shane Smith represents District 4 on the Merced City Council.

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