Neighborhood story: Pooling their resources

One neighborhood's storm drains could include planters to absorb, filter water

Pesky ponding after a heavy rain may become a problem of the past for residents of the Southgate neighborhood. The City of Palo Alto plans to install roadside flower planters and porous crosswalks to drain and absorb extra water along neighborhood streets, preventing flooding.

The strategy, which carries a capital cost of $750,000, has never been implemented in Palo Alto. It has seen success elsewhere in the state, however, according to city consultants RBF Consulting and Gates and Associates.

The most recent version of the plan includes adding 20 planted "bioretention" areas, porous crosswalks for two intersections, and a rock swale to the neighborhood, which lies between Churchill Avenue, El Camino Real and the Caltrain tracks.

In recent years, tree roots have lifted the streets, leading to the pooling and runoff of water that contains pollutants.

The so-called bioretention areas allow excess water to be absorbed into the ground and also purified before it enters the city's drainage system.

The porous crosswalks act as another way for water to exit the street.

At one of three recent neighborhood meetings, however, locals voiced concern over a loss of parking spaces due to the planters, which extend into the narrow streets.

But the consultants said at a July meeting that planters would be located on corners, to minimize the loss of parking spaces.

The consultants will present the plan to the city's Architectural Review Board this fall and hope to have the project design completed by the end of the year. Construction could begin in the summer of 2013.

The project is funded by utility fees that Palo Alto homeowners pay to the city. Those fees were approved by a 2005 ballot measure.

RBF Consulting and Gates and Associates also applied for $1.5 million from the Storm Water Grant Program (Proposition 84), but that funding was not approved.

This story has been updated to reflect the following corrections:

Corrections: The project does not need the approval of residents. The city is no longer considering paying residents to irrigate new bioretention planters. And the storm-drain project is funded by just one source: the citywide storm-drainage fee.==


 +   Like this comment
Posted by randy albin
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 19, 2012 at 2:00 pm

back in the 1970s there was a drought in the bay area. the annual rainfall in the bay area is quite low compared to oregon, for example. if these researchers can come up with ways to conserve and supply water, then wish them well. just utilize low-cost ideas for this. the cost of living is already so incredibly high that these environmental applications need to be cost effective

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2012 at 2:18 pm

I don't quite understand about these planters at street corners. I imagine that unless the planters and contents remain at less than 2' high, they will be a danger to visibility for drivers. Please don't make it impossible for drivers, pedestrians, children, and other road users to see each other at the places where it is most important to be visible and to see.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Searing-For-Those-Pesky-Ponds
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2012 at 8:27 pm

It doesn't rain much here in Palo Alto, so "heavy rains", more-often-than-not, occur only a few times a decade. So, where are the "pesky ponds" in the Southgate area, how wide an area do they occupy, and how long does it take for the water to drain away via the current storm drain system? You'd think that a local paper like the Weekly would ask at least these basic questions before running an article like this one.

As the comments about the utility fees paid by the Southgate property owners being used to fund this project seems a little odd, since these fees go into the general fund, and aren't generally segregated by neighborhood. The Utility could provide a list of addresses, with the UUT (Utility Users Tax) called out for each property/account, but that approach has not been used in the past. Is that really what the City is proposing this time, or did the Weekly just not understand what they were told?

It would be really nice if the City actually provided the residents of Palo Alto with some before/after metrics that would prove the value of this approach to storm water handling. Since it doesn't rain much, that is going to be a bit of a problem. But with so many digital cameras around, perhaps some of the Southgate residents might take some pictures this winter if ponding actually occurs during the winter rains, and post those pictures/videos to Youtube, so we might have some sort of baseline to compare with how storm runoff is handled once these "improvements" are completed.

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