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San Diego County supervisors formally OK emergency declaration after Hilary storm

Two people walking on rocks at Imperial Beach near Palm Avenue just before Tropical storm Hilary hits on Aug. 20, 2023
Erik Anderson
Two people walking on rocks at Imperial Beach near Palm Avenue just before Tropical Storm Hilary hit on Aug. 20, 2023

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Friday to ratify a countywide local emergency in the wake of Tropical Storm Hilary.

The board is required to ratify a local proclamation within seven days of an emergency's being declared. In turn, that action will allow county officials to continue the emergency declaration until it is no longer needed.

Along with allowing the county to seek state and federal disaster assistance, ratification also provides legal immunity for government and disaster service workers, allows flexibility in awarding contracting awards, and lets the county "take the necessary steps to protect and preserve public health and safety," according to a board presentation on Friday.


Jeff Toney, county emergency services director, presented an overview of how the county handled the storm response, including sending out alerts to residents, sandbag distribution and the opening of shelters in Chula Vista and San Marcos by the Red Cross.

County crews ultimately distributed more than 100,000 sandbags at central locations throughout municipalities and received a shipment of 100,000 more from the state before the storm hit.

Officials are now focused on recovery, Toney said. Countywide, the initial damage is estimated at $3.9 million, with damage in the unincorporated areas estimated at $1.65 million.

Toney said that amount fell below the Federal Emergency Management Agency per capita threshold of $14.6 million, but the county may be eligible for California Disaster Assistance Act money, and will pursue other funding sources.

Toney said a local emergency was also declared by the cities of Chula Vista and San Marcos, along with the La Jolla Band of Luiseño Indians and Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeño Indians.


Supervisors thanked county departments for their response to the weekend storm. Vice Chair Terra Lawson-Remer credited residents for being prepared, and said the county was fortunate "that we didn't experience the worst (of the storm)."

Lawson-Remer said it was extraordinary that more than 100,000 residents opened up a county email informing them of emergency conditions. Supervisor Jim Desmond said preparation efforts were solid overall.

"I guess we need more sandbags next time, but lessons learned and we'll move on," he added.

His colleague Joel Anderson said: "What a contrast between what we did here and unfortunately what happened in Hawaii" — in reference to criticism of how Maui County officials handled the recent devastating wildfire that killed more than 100 people and wiped out the town of Lahaina.

In another matter, Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Nora Vargas mentioned the boil-water advisory for California American Water customers in the city of Imperial Beach, Coronado, south of Fiddlers Cove, and portions of San Diego and Chula Vista. On Thursday, officials issued an advisory because of E. coli found in drinking water.

Vargas said the county was working closely with the state in response to the boil-water advisory, which could be tied to the recent tropical storm.

She said it was critical for the county receive accurate and timely information from California American and the state Water Resources Control Board on the situation, especially when it comes to public health or economic concerns.

"This is impacting a community that has already been impacted by so many other things," Vargas said.

On Saturday, before the storm made landfall, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a state of emergency, with San Diego city and county officials doing the same.

Newsom met with San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria on Saturday at the San Diego Emergency Operations Center to discuss preparations.

The region saw no loss of life caused by the weather. County employees on Tuesday cleaned up after weekend pounding it took from the tropical storm — but no major damage was reported from the record-setting rainfall.

Three climate stations in San Diego received record rainfall for the month of August on Sunday, according to the National Weather Service:

  • Escondido, 2.66 inches, breaking the prior record of 2.2, set in August 1945.
  • Vista, 2.12 inches, breaking the record of 1.78, set in August 1977.
  • Cuyamaca, 4.11 inches, breaking the record of 4.1, also set in August 1977.

Winds gusts of up to 50 miles per hour swept through San Diego, and were up to 70 mph in the mountains.

Hilary weakened from hurricane strength to a tropical storm early Sunday off the coast of Baja California.

During a Monday press conference, city and county leaders — including Gloria and Vargas — thanked San Diegans for taking precautions and staying at home during the storm.

"The way we worked together reflects who we are as a community and as a county," Vargas said. "It shows we are prepared and are ready to take on the biggest challenges."

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