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Capitola Looks Forward

news_floodFrom begonias to possible FEMA relief, the city moves on from the floods

Capitola has a couple different things to look forward to these days, including both the 59th Annual Begonia Festival, as well as the possibility of receiving federal relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help repair damages it suffered from flooding in March.

The damage done in Capitola was due to a series of storms that raged throughout California, altogether causing about $44.5 million in needed repairs—just above FEMA’s $44 million requirement for damage caused by any one event. However, FEMA soon determined that the storms were isolated incidents rather than one larger disaster, and announced in June that they would not be giving relief. This left Santa Cruz County with an estimated $17 million in damages.

“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- 27th District) said in a press release following FEMA’s decision. “I will continue to assist our local communities as they rebuild and will work with the Governor's Office to explore all of the options available to the state.”

And after some work from Monning and others, a lucky break could be on the horizon. On Thursday, July 14, California Emergency Management Agency (CalEMA) Secretary Mike Dayton visited Capitola to survey the damages. After witnessing what the city experienced, Dayton agreed that the California government would protest FEMA’s decision, and ask them to reconsider.

“I want to thank Gov. Brown for appealing FEMA’s initial denial of California’s request for federal assistance to fund the recovery and repairs associated with damage sustained from the severe winter storms this past March,” said Monning in a July 14 press release.

What will happen next with the relief request is unclear—although officials think Capitola has a strong case, FEMA’s Dayton warned that track record with similar cases does not bode well for the city. However, the Capitola Begonia Festival is still a sure thing—and comes at just the right time, according to Monning.

“Any time a disaster happens, events like the Begonia Festival are very important to a community,” he tells GT.

The festival, a four-day event that will take place Sept. 2 through 5, began in 1951 as a time when people were allowed to pick Pacific begonias, which were hybridized in Capitola. The second event, in 1952, was the first year with floats, and the celebration grew from there.

Although she says the preparations “haven’t really been different as of yet” in spite of the flooding, Capitola Begonia Festival president Lin Banks did note a few ways in which the storm’s aftermath will affect the festival.

“A lot of the businesses that support the Begonia Festival have been affected by the flooding, so our support is down a bit, but people are doing the best that they can,” she says. “We’re going to have to navigate around some new water hazards, but I’ve talked with veteran float builders who say that’s not a problem.”

And speaking of floats, Banks says she hopes to have 10 this year—the same number present at last year’s festival.

After a difficult few months, Banks hopes the festival will improve morale in Capitola—and maybe the economy as well. The temporary population of Capitola grows to around 40,000 the weekend of the festival (up from around 10,000, according to the 2010 census), says Banks, and although there is no admission charge, all of those people have to eat and might want to shop, as well.

“The Begonia Festival has traditionally not invited outside vendors because we think that Capitola is awesome, and we have some wonderful shops and dining,” she says. “People will have a wonderful opportunity to get to know Capitola better.”

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