Some read in the paper that President Joe Biden was coming Thursday to tour storm damage in Santa Cruz County. Others had seen coverage on TV, or heard about it on the radio. A few only learned that something big was up when the two presidential helicopters and trio of military Osprey aircraft thundered over the region.
Hundreds of people crowded into Capitola Village, where Biden was to tour damaged waterfront restaurants and bars, and onto the bluffs above Seacliff State Beach where he was to make a speech in front of a state-owned wharf left broken and sagging by one of several catastrophic storms to hit the region over the past month.
In Capitola, police and U.S. Secret Service agents moved the public and local press to the far end of the Esplanade from the row of bars and eateries the President was expected to examine, and to meet owners and their families. A Coast Guard boat sat offshore.
On the Seacliff bluffs, some people carried binoculars, while others had cameras with telephoto lenses. Down the coast, several dozen other onlookers lined the outflow of Aptos Creek at Rio del Mar beach, as close as they could get to Seacliff because of a broad beach closure, but still a half-mile away.
Biden’s Thursday visit was first to Santa Cruz County by a sitting president since George Bush Sr. visited downtown Santa Cruz in 1989 three days after the Loma Prieta Earthquake. Biden was checking out the damage from the series of atmospheric rivers that hit the area in December and early this month, causing severe damage to Capitola’s waterfront and major flooding in nearby Soquel and in San Lorenzo Valley communities north of Santa Cruz.
In both locations, many onlookers were rewarded by a glimpse of Biden in a ball cap, flanked by California Gov. Gavin Newsom. But on the bluffs, binoculars or a long lens were necessary. Whitney Unruh, 35, a Los Angeles lawyer visiting her aunt in Aptos, had waited for about two hours on the bluffs for a chance to see Biden, and after she successfully photographed him with her telephoto lens, rated her outing a 10 out of 10. “It was exciting,” Unruh said. “Most people don’t see that in a lifetime.”
Yvette Smith of Los Gatos caught sight of Biden from the bluffs using binoculars borrowed from another onlooker. “Is he just the cutest little old man?” she gushed, rhetorically. Smith, 58, had already seen Biden through the window of his black SUV when she was standing near the Seacliff State Beach entrance and his motorcade passed by, she said. “He was just waving and smiling,” Smith said. “I’ve seen him so many times on TV but to see his smile from 15 feet away was just really special.”
A man with a bullhorn walked along the sidewalk on the bluff, past the onlookers, saying, “Go home, Joe,” and was told, “You go home” in response.
Biden’s motorcade had come to Capitola first, around 1:30 p.m., after he landed at the nearby Watsonville airport. Cheers erupted as the vehicles drove by. “It’s such a historic event to have a president visit a small town like this,” said Michael Lavigne, a downtown Capitola real estate broker. “I think it’s fantastic.”
Onlookers pressed up to the barricades as Biden arrived and strained for a view while he toured the stricken businesses. When Biden met one Capitola Village bar owner, the man told him that he wished his father, who is his business partner, could have been there to meet the president, said The Sand Bar co-owner Jeff Lantis. Biden had the man call his dad, then took the phone and told him, “You raised a great son,” Lantis said.
Lantis’ wife and business partner Minna Lantis said she personally appreciated Biden’s visit, and thought it was a positive development for the businesspeople struggling with major storm damage in Capitola Village, a tourist mecca. “It was a really good day for the village,” Minna Lantis said.
Biden arrived around 2:15 p.m. at Seacliff State Beach, with the Coast Guard vessel having moved down from Capitola to patrol offshore. Aptos resident Lisa Murphy, watching for Biden from the bluffs, said she was glad to see the President witnessing the impact of the storms that devastated several areas of Santa Cruz County. “A small town like this, it’s an honor,” said Murphy, who works for the City of Santa Cruz. She said she hoped Biden’s visit will help bring about prompt aid to residents affected by the storms. “I just hope the process is quick and expedited so we don’t have people without housing, or damaged homes, for an extended period of time,” Murphy said.
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Author: Ethan Baron, John Woolfolk