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‘Somebody has to help us’: Bay Area residents on the hook for thousands in storm damages

Flooding at iGuey Taqueria in San Carlos on Dec. 31 closed the restaurant for three days. | Courtesy Alejandro Ramirez

After more than two weeks of heavy storms, Bay Area residents are taking stock of damages to their homes and businesses and finding few places to turn for relief.

High-end estimates top $1 billion in damages statewide as insurance claims roll in.

On the border of Berkeley and Oakland, eight homes have been evacuated due to mudslides that have swept down hillsides and closed roads. A home in Belmont was also red-tagged due to a nearby mudslide.

The ongoing damage threatens to leave local business owners, and homeowners and renters, on the hook for thousands in unexpected costs.

Alejandro Ramirez, co-owner of iGuey Taqueria in San Carlos, said the damage to his business over the New Year’s holiday could come with a price tag as high as $50,000. Ramirez and co-owner Ruben Zamora arrived Jan. 1  to find their restaurant under 2 feet of water, which destroyed coolers and freezers and closed the business for three days to drain the water and clean up.

“Almost all of our equipment has damage,” Ramirez said. 

The pair rents the space along El Camino Real, where entire blocks of businesses were swamped as storms ravaged the region. Like many Bay Area home and business owners, they don’t have flood insurance. 

Ramirez said they are waiting to see how much will be covered, and in the meantime, are raising money to cover a deductible in the hopes that the city or county can help cover the rest to keep their business open and eight workers employed. 

“We are a small business, and we don’t have enough money to cover all these things,” Ramirez said. “Somebody has to help us.”

In East Palo Alto, residents of Woodland Park Apartments are without cars and belongings after the San Francisquito Creek flooded during the storms.

Flooding at Woodland Park Apartments in East Palo Alto damaged around two dozen cars. | Courtesy Gleimin Zelaya

Most of the flooding hit the building’s garage, destroying around two dozen cars along with tenants’ laundry and storage facilities. Marisela Ramos, who runs local tenants group El Comite de Vecinos del Lado Oeste, said the majority of tenants don’t even have basic insurance for their cars or belongings, and help from the city has yet to come. 

“No one wants to be responsible for these damages, neither the owner nor the city,” Ramos said in Spanish. “[Residents’ cars] are everything because it’s how they get to work, how they bring in food to the table and pay their rent.”

Now that President Joe Biden declared a major emergency in California, residents in Merced, Sacramento or Santa Cruz counties who need disaster assistance can also apply for grants or loans from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for costs like temporary housing and home repairs. For damages not covered by the federal government, California has its own grant program that automatically enrolls anyone who applies for aid through FEMA.

Flooding at Woodland Park Apartments in East Palo Alto damaged around two dozen cars and residents' belongings. | Courtesy Gleimin Zelaya

Other cities have stepped in to help residents facing massive bills as a result of the storm. San Francisco announced on Tuesday a small business relief fund for grants up to $5,000, and San Mateo’s own mayor even launched a GoFundMe to crowdfund for flooding victims. 

In East Palo Alto, the Palo Alto Community Fund raised $5,000 to help Woodland Park’s tenants replace their lost items and pay for necessities. But Executive Director Lisa Van Dusen said her aim is to stick around for the long haul. 

“Many of these people are more concerned about having a place to live,” Van Dusen said. “It is a year-round, ongoing effort.”