By Brynn Gibson
Editor in Chief
For three weeks, a seemingly endless succession of atmospheric rivers soaked communities across California; Los Gatos was no exception. From power outages to fallen trees to electrical hazards, Los Gatos residents endured it all.
The deluge of rain began before the new year and lasted on and off through Jan. 16 with varying levels of intensity. The worst of the three-week storm hit on Tuesday, Jan. 10, at approximately 2:00 AM when wind gusts downed dozens of trees across town, taking out multiple power lines and leaving many areas in town without electricity for days. Later that day, the Los Gatos Town Council issued a Proclamation of Local Emergency. For days, PG&E andTree Services worked to restore power and clear roads.
Fallen trees closed a section of Los Gatos Boulevard from Jan. 10 to Jan. 12. One of the trees, positioned across the street from the History Club, landed on an electrical pole. Another tree fell onto a residential property.
Los Gatos resident Dianne Radin witnessed this damage firsthand: “I thought someone was breaking into our house,” she shared, “I ran to get our son up, who is in a wheelchair, and while I was running by his room I saw the tree fall on the house next door through our kitchen window.” Since the downed tree posed severe safety threats, Radkin’s family was blocked from leaving their house and left without power, internet, or cell service for multiple days.
The same night, another Los Gatan Andrew Tucker awoke to howling winds and rattling windows. Shortly after securing patio furniture, he saw, “a series of bright flashes that looked like lightning, but weren’t accompanied by thunder. Our power went out around the same time that the flashes stopped.” With fallen trees blocking his street, Tucker was stuck inside all day on Jan. 10. His power returned a few days later.
The storm damage was widespread, ripping the roof off of resident Randy Pertner’s home and causing severe rain damage to the interior. Noting the extent of the storm’s strength, he asserted, “We have lived in this house for 23 years and have never had winds from the West like this.”
Another resident, June, shared that her antique rooster weathervane took flight from atop a shed in her backyard. Luckily, it was not broken, though she admitted that “I don’t know how it will be placed back on top of the shed after the rains stop.”
The extensive rainfall flooded Los Gatos Creek, and water flowed well above its usual banks for weeks. On Jan. 4 the town of Los Gatos closed all town parks, trails, and open spaces, “due to safety concerns associated with potential trees falling and limbs breaking.” Lexington Reservoir reached full capacity on Jan. 16. While the town reopened many of these public spaces on Jan. 19, Heinz Open Space remains closed until further notice due to extensive trail damage.
For residents with disabilities, uneven roads and rain made life much more difficult. Ryan Threet, who lives with periodic hypokalemic paralysis, shared that the storm was a frustrating experience. “When there a
re storms like this I more or less am almost a shut-in due to the severity of the rains and my limited mobility,” he explained, “and that stands for anyone with disabilities.”
One Los Gatos resident felt much of the damage was entirely preventable. On Villa Avenue, a 70-foot sick and hollowed redwood barely dodged crushing homes, cars, and people. The resident explained that this tree was tagged to be cut, but had sat unattended for months. In fact, many fallen trees around town had bee
n tagged prior to the storm. “The city makes it very difficult,” they explained. To cut down a redwood in Los Gatos “You pay a hefty amount of 2000 and upwards for a permit. Then you have to plant three to five trees… [and] pay for those trees to be planted.” They continued to explain that if a tree falls and “kills your dog, destroys your structure, or does some bodily harm, the person who neglected [to cut down] the sick tree is [legally] not responsible.” With no incentive to remove hollowed and diseased trees, and no punishment when they inevitably fall, many hazardous trees stay standing.
Storm damage was considerably worse for neighborhoods located in the foothills and mountains of Los Gatos. Fallen trees, mudslides, and closed roads prevented many from leaving their homes, and power outages went on for days.
Mark Wialbur, a Los Gatos resident of the Santa Cruz Mountains, expressed how isolating extreme weather events are for his community: “It feels like we are in a war zone. Our extremely fragile infrastructure is destroyed, roads damaged and closed, and the shelling continues.” Wialbur further expressed his frustration at the town’s failure to repair damaged infrastructure, commenting, “When the weather relents, we wait, often years for repairs.” Located in a gray area between both Santa Clara and Santa Cruz County, Wilabur explained mountain residents are too often forgotten: “I often feel like our community is the ‘ugly stepchild’ of the area, neither of the counties or the Town wants anything to do with us other than to collect the taxes and make some hollow promises.” He credited the support of his self-reliant community as a means of getting through the storm: “[if you] need help just ask, our neighbors are there for each other.”
For Prashant Karnik, the storm put things into perspective: “Being out of power for 20 hours felt like the end of the world. However, not all folks are as privileged around the world.… This was a lesson that taught us humility and not to complain –– just cope.”
Cindy Meile expressed a similar sentiment and felt moved to share her gratitude, “Covid really brought to light just how valuable the simple things are like going out to a club or restaurant with friends, or talking to people on the sidewalk.” She continued, “The storm has reminded us further of what is important: a warm, dry place to live with a solid roof over our head.”
(Sources: Town of Los Gatos, Nextdoor)
Photos courtesy Michelle Hamel