By Erica Crawford, president/CEO, Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce
To be fair, the start of this new year is not as any of us expected. Buckets of rainfall, ferocious winds, and flooded creeks wreaked havoc on this community’s activities of daily living. Business owners all over town experienced an added layer of stress over top of recent baseline concerns about the rising cost of goods, a scarce labor pool, and the post-holiday winter “shoulder season.”
On Monday, January 9, business owners were also coordinating accommodation for stranded employees when flooded highways, county roads and local surface streets made central Morro Bay an island, cut off even from parts of itself with the flooding at Morro Creek. Restaurants and markets gave away inventories of perishable food items when the power cut off and restoration time was unclear given the partial flooding of the PG&E substation that was, thankfully, quickly addressed and resolved. Employees in the professional services industry were answering panicked client calls about insurance, SBA loans, and Red Cross vouchers. The business community was on overdrive.
The businesses along Main Street between Radcliff and Highway 41, carrying the baseline and extra stress detailed above, were pushed into fight or flight. Water, mud and debris flowed into and against their properties, fast. They did all they could to keep the flooding out, but water finds a way. Over two feet of water permeated some structures including storefronts, business inventory storage units, and homes. For some, damage and inventory loss estimates are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
A city Emergency Operations Center, or EOC, was activated to coordinate emergency resources and response right away, and the city issued an emergency declaration that was certified by the City Council at a public meeting the next day, Tuesday, January 10. Morro Bay’s EOC coordinates with SLO County and State of California emergency centers, and various agencies including Caltrans, State Parks, and California Coastal Commission. The Morro Bay Chamber closely coordinated with the EOC to share on the ground information from businesses and to broaden the reach of EOC communications using our social media channels and direct email database.
City, County, State and Federal elected officials also rapidly spurred into action by communicating with community members directly to understand immediate needs, then translating those needs into actions. Elected representatives at every level continued to fight on our behalf and achieved a FEMA disaster declaration that unlocks funding for Individual Assistance (IA) recovery that includes support for businesses.
The City of Morro Bay provides essential public services and infrastructure to maintain a safe, clean and healthy community. City staff and elected leaders spurred into action to deliver on their mission. The Morro Bay Chamber catalyzes business growth and convenes community leaders and we, too, put on our raincoats and our rubber boots. Communication on January 9 was limited by power and internet outages. We leveraged our social media to share road closure and emergency information in as real-time as possible. We coordinated with the city’s EOC and we contacted insurance professionals, bankers, and local, state and federal elected officials for recovery resources. At a time of crisis, the Chamber does not look to see who is a member or who isn’t. We serve the community first and sent direct emails to every contact in our database, member or not. We walked our economic centers to find out what businesses needed.
The mirror is up in front of our community. We could use this opportunity to see only the good. There is, to be sure, so much good to see. Neighbors and strangers coming together to clean mud and debris, to open their homes to people unable to get back home, and dropping lunches off to cleanup crews. Numerous Go Fund Me and spontaneous fundraisers to help flood victims. Elected and city staff leaders engaged with victims and fought hard to unlock federal disaster funds for individuals and businesses. These parts of our community’s reflection in a mirror shine brightly.
However, focusing solely on these bright spots is sure to discount our chance to see that we want to change, and then take steps to actually change it. It’s been said, “Never waste a good crisis.” As superficially callous as this sounds, it could not ring truer. These atmospheric river and bomb cyclone storm events have exposed the vulnerability of our infrastructure. Decades-old storm drains, narrow culverts, a highway overpass that sits feet lower than the height of a flooded creek, and roads with new or larger potholes plus degraded docks on the harbor and crumbling revetments are among the reflections of our community in the storms’ rear-view mirror.
It’s critical for decision and policy makers to invest in resiliency moving forward. From the business perspective, these investments ought to be made from dividends of increased property, sales, employee and bed tax earned by finding a way to say “yes” to new and renewed investments by the private sector. There is a direct link between cash registers ringing and the pothole in front of your house getting filled; it’s called Measure Q. There is a direct link between cash registers ringing and a public safety officer coming to your home in an emergency; it’s called Measure E (and Q). And, there is a direct link between cash registers ringing and more people living in our community year-round; it’s called housing.
One of the Chamber’s core tenants is to fix problems and not assign blame. This approach removes emotion from reaction and shifts effort from finger pointing to rolling up your sleeves and getting into issues to find solutions. With a newly seated city council comes an opportunity to revisit community goals and objectives for the next two years. The Chamber has created a three-month limited series called “Roadmap to Impact’’ that gives attendees an inside look at three city departments: Public Works, Community Development, and City Administration. The series features moderated panel discussions with staff leadership and advisory and elected officials in these departments. Our intention is to provide facts and information about how these departments work to encourage fact-based civic engagement during the goal setting process. We are taking a good look at our community’s reflection in the storm’s mirror, and we invite the community to join us. Go to morrochamber.org/events to register for the series.