Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 17, 2012

Pooling their resources

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

by Maytal Mark

Pesky ponding after a heavy rain may become a problem of the past for the 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 and must first be approved by residents, 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.

One money-saving aspect of the plan is to have residents irrigate the plantings. The city proposes to give up to $1,000 to residents who invest in rain barrels to collect falling water and disconnect their rain gutter drains to allow water to flow into the ground and the plantings.

That arrangement would allow the city to avoid installing water lines and meters to irrigate, reducing capital costs by half. The residential system would cost between $27,500 and $50,000.

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 will be funded by a 2005 ballot measure approved by a majority of property owners in the area, which allocated $1 million for the project. Other funding will come from the utility fees that Southgate homeowners pay to the city.

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.

Editorial Intern Maytal Mark can be emailed at mmark@paweekly.com.

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