East Palo Alto officials are seeking an estimated $2.6 million in government aid after pre-Christmas storms extensively damaged the levee that prevents San Francisquito Creek from overflowing into the city's homes and businesses.
City officials declared a local emergency on Wednesday, Jan. 2, stating that the flood damage to the creek's banks and the levee on Dec. 23 and 24 caused "conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property" within the city.
The declaration, which the city sent to state officials through a proclamation, allows the city to ask for an estimated $2.6 million from the state for emergency measures to correct the damage. That total could run higher after additional engineering studies are conducted.
Stabilizing the levee just after the December rains has exhausted East Palo Alto's available reserves and its local and regional financial resources, city staff said Wednesday. The proclamation was signed by Magda Gonzalez, city manager and director of emergency services, Mayor Ruben Abrica and City Attorney Kathleen Kane.
Seven homes along Daphne Way near the creek were flooded with about 2 feet of water, and about 40 people evacuated to a nearby American Red Cross shelter, Gonzalez said.
City staff and volunteers added more than 2,000 sandbags along the levee to stabilize it immediately after the flooding.
Abrica said there is no immediate danger to residents now that the sandbags are in place. But officials are worried the levee might not hold and the creek could overflow if more heavy rains hit the area this winter. About 49 percent of city residents live in the flood plain, Gonzalez said.
A total of 12 problems requiring immediate work to protect the city from flooding were identified, including a large crack in the levee that threatens a business near U.S. Highway 101; damage to the O'Connor pump station; the undermining of the historic University Avenue bridge abutment, over which thousands travel into and from Palo Alto each day; and significant portions of creek bank along Woodland Avenue that could undermine the roadway.
"Our uppermost concern is the safety of residents on both sides of the creek," Abrica told reporters Wednesday afternoon, referring to Palo Alto and Menlo Park residents who also reside along the creek and could be affected by creek overflow and erosion.
Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman, who surveyed the length of the creek from Alpine Road to the O'Connor pump station, said a recently installed rain gauge at Huddart Park in Woodside helped determine that the creek would flood. First responders had three hours rather than a few minutes to call for the evacuation before the creek overflowed.
A catastrophic failure of the levee would cause a "(Hurricane) Katrina-style problem," he said. The levee height is at the level of the tops of the homes, and a break would mean the neighborhood could be flooded to the roof lines.
Abrica said the city has contacted the California Office of Emergency Services, and state and federal representatives.
The East Palo Alto City Council was scheduled to review the proclamation for ratification on Thursday, Jan. 3. A copy of the proclamation was forwarded to California Governor Jerry Brown with a request that he declare a state of emergency in East Palo Alto.
A call to Brown's office was not immediately returned.