East Palo Alto seeks disaster help from Sacramento

January 2, 2013 8:44:26 PM PST
Leaders in East Palo Alto are hoping they can convince the state to help solve a flooding problem. All the rain we had around Christmas, pushed the San Francisquito Creek over its banks and into homes.

Cash-strapped East Palo Alto is worried that it can't afford to wait to repair the levee and other facilities that were damaged in last month's storm. If they do nothing, the next storm could cause a lot more damage.

Christmas Eve, East Palo Alto residents got a gift they didn't want. The waters of San Francisquito Creek rose to the third highest level in recorded history, flooding seven homes and damaging levees, streets and other property. City leaders peg damage to public property at $2.7 million, but it doesn't have the money to do repairs before the next big storm strikes.

"There is a threat for the remaining rainy season because of the gradual erosion that we have seen that is now affecting the road, it's affecting the bridge, and so it has the potential to break at some point," said East Palo Alto Mayor Ruben Abrica.

The city council will vote on Thursday on an emergency proclamation. That's the first step to request disaster funds from the state. East Palo Alto's current budget is operating at a $372,000 deficit. State aid would cover 75 percent of the cost, while the city would pick up the remaining 25 percent, but there's no indication whether the governor will agree to help.

"Money is tight, but we will, of course, have to prioritize our budget and dip into our reserves in order to make these repairs. We have to make sure that our infrastructure and the life of our residents is safe," said East Palo Alto City Manager Magda Gonzalez.

An estimated 40 to 50 percent of the city's 28,000 residents live in the creek's flood plain.

"We are prepared to evacuate people, working closely with the school district and their buses and with the American Red Cross for shelters. Hopefully that won't happen, but either way, we want to be prepared," said Abrica.

The city has done its homework, documenting the damage to levees, a pump station, roads and other facilities. There is a long-range plan to address flooding by a joint powers authority, but short-term repairs are also needed.

"They're in the same areas that we're working and so it's something that we were conscious of and working with them on to make sure that anything that's done in the short-term complements the long-term activity," said Len Materman from the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority.

The East Palo Alto City Council meets at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and it will also vote on a companion measure to extend a moratorium on new construction in the flood zone.