Board seeks cash for creek flood prevention project

December 14, 2011 6:49:41 PM PST
Thousands of residents on the Peninsula are constantly worried that a creek will jump its banks, but there is some encouraging news.

There is new progress and a new strategy to finally get construction work under way to protect people near the San Francisquito Creek that runs from El Camino Real to Highway 101 to the Bay.

Local leaders have found it will be more effective to tackle their big flood control project in stages, and that could mean going to the homeowners themselves for financial help.

A video from the Santa Clara Valley Water District, filmed in February 1998, showed the San Francisquito Creek overflowing its banks, causing tens of millions of dollars in property damage to Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park.

After waiting more than a decade for federal money to fix the threat, the San Francisquito Creek Joint Power Authorities is getting impatient.

"In trying to get a grand solution to the whole creek flooding and the entire watershed, it's taking forever," said Pat Burt, vice chair of the Joint Powers Authority. "We don't have real progress being made with shovels on the ground."

One option now being discussed is a bond measure: The Authority would create a special finance district for about 5,400 parcels near the creek, with 3,600 of them in Palo Alto. If those residents pass a bond measure, it would cost each parcel owner about $600-$700 annually.

"I'm willing to help, that way we can fix the creek," said flood plain resident Sifa Auka. "Make it happen so that way (there's) no more (problems) in the future."

Asking homeowners to tax themselves, especially in the lower income community of East Palo Alto, will be a challenge, but the financial upside is that the bond money would eventually eliminate the need for flood insurance, which costs an average of $1,300 per year.

"It's better than paying the insurance," said resident Yevette Brookter. "That sounds like a good idea, plan, but I still prefer the government pay for it."

Local agencies say they do expect to get some state and federal money eventually, but are earmarking what they can now to break ground by the end of next year on what they consider critical improvements.

"We began by identifying this downstream of (Highway) 101 which is the area that we have to do first," said Burt. "And frankly it's the area that has the most acute risk toward human life in East Palo Alto."

The first phase of the construction on the lower level of the creek will cost about $26 million. Some of that money is coming from an already-approved water district bond, but more money may be needed to move that work upstream.

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