Palo Alto's ambitious plan to renovate the city-owned golf course in the Baylands will be delayed at least until next spring because of an ongoing permitting dispute relating to a nearby flood-control project.
The City Council is preparing to reject on Monday night the construction bids that it solicited for the $9 million redesign of the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course, a long-planned project that would relocate 15 of the course's 18 holes, replace turf with native vegetation, upgrade aged irrigation systems and give the course what officials refer to as the "Wow!" factor. The revamp would also accommodate a long-planned flood-control project, which includes as one of its components the construction of a new levee on the golf course.
The council unanimously approved the golf course revamp project in June 2012 and authorized City Manager James Keene in July to award a construction contract to Duininck Inc. for the work. But with the flood-control project now on hold because of permitting issues, staff had determined that it is no longer feasible to pursue construction this year.
Both the city and the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority, the agency behind the flood-control project, had hoped to launch the respective projects this year. Now, however, it looks like the contract and the work will have to wait at least until next spring. The flood-control project, which includes new floodwalls, a widened creek channel and reconstructed levees, remains mired in bureaucratic limbo, with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board refusing to grant the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority the needed permit to commence the work. At the same time, the water board has declined to give the city a permit for the golf course renovation until the flood-control issues are resolved.
The resolution, however, is no longer expected to happen any time soon. The water board last week notified the creek authority that despite more than a year of negotiations, thousands of pages of newly supplied information and a revised application with a modified design, the application remains incomplete. Some of the information it requests in the latest letter includes details about the settlement rates of levees; documentation that proves that the levee height is sufficient to protect both East Palo Alto and Palo Alto; and information that proves that the project does not preclude future flood-control projects upstream of Highway 101.
The Aug. 29 letter from water board Executive Officer Bruce Wolfe also requests information relating to (among many other things) the creek authority's "mitigation and monitoring plan," the impacts of removing trees on Baylands habitat and a more detailed "operation and maintenance plan." The board also recommends splitting the project into two phases so that the first phase could be approved "expediently" while the creek authority continues to work on resolving concerns about the second phase.
Wolfe's letter was put together about two weeks after dozens of East Palo Alto, Palo Alto and Menlo Park residents attended a public hearing on the flood-control project in Oakland to urge the water board to issue the permit. Many wore "Permit our Project" stickers and testified about the massive flood damage their homes suffered in February 1998. After hours of testimony, members of the water board said they expect the project to be approved soon. Board Member Jim McGrath said he has an interest in "a resolution as quick as possible" and predicted that the project will "eventually" be approved.
"I think we all sense the urgency," McGrath said.
Yet the latest letter from Wolfe suggests that it will be at least another six months before either the golf reconfiguration or the flood-control project moves forward. In a staff report, Palo Alto's Public Works officials acknowledged that the latest letter from the water board creates "even greater uncertainty regarding the timing of the Water Board certification" of the flood-control project. Because of this delay, staff has determined that "it is no longer feasible to begin construction of the (golf course reconfiguration) project in the current construction season, and that construction must be postponed until at least Spring 2015." Staff proposes to reject the construction bids it has received in June and to request new proposals in the fall.
"In spite of repeated efforts to provide supplementary information and justification to help resolve the Water Board staff's outstanding issues and the City Manager's personal entreaties to the executive officer of the Water Board, requesting his personal intervention to expedite the permitting process, the Water Board has still not deemed the City's application to be complete, and the Water Board will not provide us with a clear road map and timeline," the Public Works report states.
The latest delay is expected to add to the city's and the creek authority's considerable frustrations with the prolonged permitting process. Len Materman, executive director of the creek authority, told the Weekly that his agency is considering its response to Wolfe's latest letter and acknowledged that staff is far from certain whether simply providing more information will suffice. Materman said his agency had already received assurances from Wolfe that the flood-control project is the least environmentally damaging and practicable alternative and that it has already answered countless letters, only to be confronted with new questions. Some of the issues now being raised, he said, do not even relate to water quality and are not in the purview of the water board.
"It's not their purview, for example, to say our application has to demonstrate that it will not preclude any flood-control options upstream," Materman said.
He also had concerns about the water board's proposal to split the project into phases, noting that creating protections for just one side of the creek would place the other side at greater danger. If the creek authority were to focus the flood-prone residential area of East Palo Alto in the short term, it would further imperil the section of Palo Alto that includes the regional water-treatment plant, the golf course and Palo Alto Airport. The phasing approach would also require the creek authority to conduct new environmental analyses and commission new studies, creating many more months of delays.
"We'd be delaying the necessary work to protect East Palo Alto by making such drastic and unnecessary changes to the project," Materman said. "The quickest thing to do is to protect both sides. The slowest thing is to make drastic changes that, again, aren't necessary."
While flood protection remains the top goal, the delays in the golf-course reconstruction carry their own consequences. So much of the construction season has already been lost that it is unlikely that the project can be completed before Aug. 1, 2015, as initially scheduled, Public Works staff wrote in a report. Now, if things go as planned, the renovated golf course would open in the summer of 2016. Even that, however, is a "best-case scenario," according to Public Works staff.
"Continued delays in permitting for both the JPA flood protection project and the (golf course) Project would significantly jeopardize our ability to begin work in March 2015," the report states.
Because of the expected delays in starting construction, the city plans to keep the golf course open for the next six months. Staff also calculates that the delay will result in a loss of $645,000 over the next three years. City officials also believe re-bidding the project may result in higher price bids.
"Prices of irrigation equipment have increased over the past year and the improving economy has increased the number of golf course projects in construction, which has in turn driven up bid prices," the Public Works report states.
Staff estimates that bids may increase by up to 10 percent, or about $957,000.
Golf course, flood projects on hold (March 2014)
Despite financial risks, gold course revamp moves ahead (February 2014)