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Planada residents in temporary housing have to make room for migrant farmworkers

Esther Quintanilla
A group of Planada residents rally in front of the Merced County Board of Supervisors to demand a pause on rent and evictions.

PLANADA, Calif. – After nearly two months, Planada residents continue to feel the effects of flooding from heavy January rainstorms. Some say they’ve been unable to re-enter their homes as a result of severe damage.

“[We] had to completely gut the floors and the walls all the way up to the ceilings,” says Maria Nava, a lifelong Planada resident. “Bathtubs, toilets, sinks – everything had to be disposed of because there was sewer water that went up through all of the appliances.”

The record breaking rainfall at the start of the year flooded the streets of the farmworking community in Merced County. Residents were ordered to evacuate their homes on Jan. 9 while county officials assessed the emergency.

“This has crushed my entire family,” Nava says. “[My husband and I] are exhausting our retirement. We're exhausting our savings. The hardest part is having to explain to my child why her entire world is upside down.”

Federal and state resources were sent to the county to help in its recovery efforts. But some residents are saying it wasn’t enough.

Making way for migrant workers

Residents rallied this week outside the Merced County Board of Supervisors to call for a pause on rents and evictions.

Nava and 42 other families are currently temporarily sheltered at the Felix Torres Housing Center in Planada. But in a few weeks, they will have to leave to make room for migrant farmworkers arriving for the harvest season.

Mark Hendrickson, director of the Community and Economic Development in Merced County, said nearly 30 families currently in the temporary shelter may be able to return to their homes by March 15.

But residents say their homes remain flooded and contaminated with black mold.

Resident Daniela Ceja-Arceo addressed the board during the opening public comment period. The moment grew tense as she read a prepared statement.

“This is a destruction of an entire community,” Ceja-Arceo said. “The people of my town are living in a warzone.”

Supervisors walk out of meeting

Supervisor Scott Silveira acknowledged Ceja-Arceo’s allotted three minutes were up, but she continued to speak. After a few seconds, the board motioned for a five-minute recess.

Four out of five members walked out. Supervisor Rodrigo Espinosa, who represents Planada, was the only one who remained.

County sheriff’s deputies escorted the public out of the chamber.

“This just shows what their priorities are,” Ceja-Arceo said to the crowd in the lobby. “[The supervisors] are not doing what they need to do.”

A group led by the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability also sent a formal letter addressed to state officials detailing various complaints.

Some of those include substandard home inspections, lack of services for undocumented residents and failure to prioritize families most impacted by flood damages.

“We are residents of Planada that wish nothing else but to go home,” Nava says.

This story is part of the Central Valley News Collaborative, which is supported by the Central Valley Community Foundation with technology and training support by Microsoft Corp.

Esther Quintanilla reports on diverse communities for KVPR through the Central Valley News Collaborative, which includes The Fresno Bee, Vida en el Valle, KVPR and Radio Bilingüe.