Emergency declared over damaged East Palo Alto levee | January 4, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 4, 2013

Emergency declared over damaged East Palo Alto levee

Officials worry more winter storms could cause creek to flood neighborhoods

by Sue Dremann

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.

This story contains 538 words.

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Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.


Posted by No-Way-To-Run-A-Railroad, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 2, 2013 at 9:05 pm

> The proclamation allows the city to ask for an estimated $2.6
> million from the state and federal governments for emergency
> measures to correct the damage

Why? This creek has been running through East Palo Alto for a long time. Why hasn't East Palo Alto taken the prudent action of creating a reserve for emergencies like this one. Sure, it's OK to ask for money if the reserve isn't big enough, as long as the loan is repaid. But that doesn't seem to be the case here.

Americans have become a nation of takers. They don't seem to have the slightest idea what self-government means in terms of living within their means, and planning for the future.

While the amount request by East Palo Alto isn't that great--it is, however, downstream from the $100+M needed to fix the San Francisquito Creek "problem"--for which no money has been put aside by the larger, and richer, jurisdictions that surround this small waterway.

The best thing for East Palo Alto is to disenfranchise and return to the stewardship of San Mateo County.

Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on Jan 3, 2013 at 9:31 am

trying again -
Previous reports about flood, evacuation in EPA during the recent Holiday triggered very little interest, no to mention empathy.
All is quiet in Palo Alto.

Posted by No-Way-To-Run-A-Railroad, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 3, 2013 at 10:26 am

> 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.

Clearly, these homes should never have been approved for construction in those low-lying areas. It's a shame that most government records disappear, and we can't find out who made the decisions that end up being so costly, for the public at large.

It would, in the long run, just be cheaper to buy these properties, and raze the houses, so that human life is no longer at risk from a levee failure. As long as there are homes in this flood plain, there will always be a need for spending vast sums of public dollars to make a very small amount of land available for housing that really doesn't generate much in terms of benefits to the public, at large.

Posted by handout city, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 3, 2013 at 10:38 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by j99, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 3, 2013 at 11:19 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Emily Renzel, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 3, 2013 at 11:45 am

A couple of weeks ago the Palo Alto News was FULL of rising water at Chaucer Bridge with the implication that Palo Altans might be flooded. Those stories were not followed by nasty comments about building in the wrong place, failure to set up a reserve, selling drugs, etc. Palo Alto is becoming very mean spirited.

It's a sad fact that many cities, including Palo Alto, have allowed developers to build in flood plains, sell the homes, and then take their money and run. The unfortunate people who bought the homes are not to blame. But city governments should be paying more attention to the future impacts of projects they approve.

I don't know if San Mateo County has a Flood Control District, but Santa Clara Valley Water District is responsible for levee repair in our county. The fact that East Palo Alto made some emergency repairs should be commended.

I hope that some of the earlier mean spirited comments are not representative of the greater community, which I hope has a little more heart.

Posted by registered user, the_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 3, 2013 at 12:19 pm

The City DID NOTHING to keep flooding from the various salvage yards located near Cooley Landing on Bay Road/Tara Road.

As a former employee of C& C Auto Wreckers, EVERY TIME we had a very high tide, the back of the property was flooded and the dismantled vehicles set there were not available.

Where was the East Palo Alto government then? They still collected property taxes on the often submerged property. The ROMIC plant had a high concrete pad they put in.

To be blunt: EPA resented us "whiteys " located there but still collected taxes from us.....

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 3, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Thank you, Ms. Renzel. My cynical jaw dropped while reading some of these nasty comments. We are ALL on the flood plain if we're in the PA/EPA/Menlo flatlands.

EPA is part of the JPA. A huge amount of work was done on that section of levee post-1998 flood. IIrc, it was done in a couple of phases. I don't know what their subsequent testing method was, but we've had near flooding since & I don't recall hearing about any problems like this east of 101 until this last storm.

Posted by Mike Alexander, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 3, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Little known history: San Francisquito Ck originally ran through where the golf course is now and out to the bay via the slough in what is now Byxbee Park, and was re-routed to build the golf course and airport (on what was marshland). It has a much longer, more constricted path through EPA to open water than it used to have. This, together with increased street runoff from relentless upstream development (Stanford), means that surges like the rain event on 12/23 cause flooding more quickly than before. It's a regional issue that now impacts many people, businesses, and public resources.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 3, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Stanford is too easy of a target --- how about that we agree that every town in the area is guilty of upstream development. However - most of these developments have storm drains that empty into the SF Bay, not into the creek...

Posted by Debbie Mytels, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 3, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Thank you to former Palo Alto Councilmember Emily Renzel for repudiating the mean-spirited comments by "No-way-to-run-a-railroad." It's really shocking to read that someone has the chutzpah to criticize the city of East Palo Alto for "not setting aside enough money" to anticipate creek repair costs -- and to wag a finger that "any loan must be repaid."

Until the recent development of the Home Depot shopping center, EPA had barely enough funds to repair its streets or provide police protection -- in part because residents there were spending their sales tax dollars in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, etc.

Now that EPA is starting to keep its head above water (literally in this case!), it's hit with the need for levee repairs that are long overdue -- and exacerbated, as Mike Alexander notes above, by excessive pavement of upland areas outside its jurisdiction that force more runoff water into the creek.

It's time we realize that ALL residents of a watershed are responsible for what happens downstream -- and we all have to work on solutions together.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 3, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Alexander's point is about the literal runoff from Stanford development into the creek.
I'd forgotten about PA's redirecting of the creek not factoring in future development & future problems. Seems like PA should BR hat a tad more sympathetic than some of these commenters, at the very least.

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 3, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Instructive San Francisquito Creek Watershed map available at -- Web Link

Shows where the water naturally wanted to go ("Alluvial Fan"). Also the "Abandoned channel" and the "Modern engineered channel".

Not being an hydrologist, it's unclear to me why the current channel would cause any more upstream flooding than the pre-1930s channel.

Posted by Chicago transplant, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 3, 2013 at 4:19 pm

I moved to the Peninsula for the warm climate and progressive culture and all I got were bigoted, overprivileged suburbanites on Palo Alto Online spewing hatred and exercising "I-got-mine-and-you-don't-get-yours" class warfare.

Perhaps instead of EPA being "return(ed) to the stewardship of San Mateo County" the poster's Palo Alto neighborhood should secede from the consolidated municipality and exist as its historic, independent municipality or revert to Santa Clara County control. Or is that an intolerable, outrageous idea because whiter, wealthier people reside there?

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 3, 2013 at 5:25 pm

Chicago transplant - you've obviously been introduced to Palo Alto's ever increasing smug brand of "hospitality." It's very sad because the bad stuff seems to stick w/us more than the good stuff that they say & do. It's been w/the rise of Sili Valley that has brought so many "newcomers" here who think that they know EPA well enough to give carte blanche criticism. Among other things, it's a great way to see prejudice & ignorance in action.

I've lived by the creek most of my life - in Menlo, EPA & PA. I've experienced more flood danger in recent years than all of my previous years. I now anticipate flood watch in winter the way I used to anticipate the potential for my car being stolen when I lived in a large city. Climate change & an increase in growth on the flood plain - especially close to the creek - are largely responsible.

I hope you're enjoying EPA & Happy New Year!

Posted by Rational, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 3, 2013 at 9:47 pm

Sort of a "pile on" comment but it is so good to see that there are more people being outspoken about Palo Altan smug-ness today. It's gotten really a bit like the Indian caste system, really. I would really like to start a humility movement here ...

Re: the history of creek rerouting sounds to me like we caused them unforeseen grief so we could fly recreationally and play golf?

Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on Jan 3, 2013 at 11:00 pm

@Hmmm - Nice to meet again. Sorry it has to do with these issues. Unfortunately, seems that those issues are not going away.
Caste - Rational mentioned, not the first one to use this word to describe the local culture and atmosphere.
Levees/flood/evacuations - I want to repeat a comment I have posted on a previous thread when flood and EPA residents evacuation were reported:
Seems that some lessons were learned from the 1998 floods impacting the whole area, including Palo Alto - By the end of the day, recent Holiday evacuations impacted only EPA residents.
I'm so sorry.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 3, 2013 at 11:09 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Chicago transplant, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 3, 2013 at 11:24 pm

@Hmmm, I am enjoying living in EPA. I live near the creek, and this most recent episode was the first real introduction to flooding and Bay Area winter storms. (I lived through the 2011 Groundhog Day Blizzard in Chicago, my former definition of nasty winter storm, completely burying my car under a six foot snow drift a few blocks away from Lake Michigan. At least water moves out quicker here than a February snow melt. Sour consolation to people still cleaning out from flooding.) Happy New Year to you, as well.

But as you point out -- the flooding issue is certainly not going away with all of the development in the flood plain only increasing. And the creeks don't care about our political boundaries. As a new resident it's interesting to learn more about EPA and its history, and, of course, optimistically promising to see city leaders trying to address long-neglected infrastructure issues -- even if it's in a crisis reactionary context like this.

All of the peninsula municipalities are affected not only by this development (the good and the bad), but a certain level of deferred maintenance that is going to be exacerbated by climate change and growth. I hope that cooperation on the inter-municipal, regional, county, and state levels on this front starts to emerge more often than the normal parochial silos.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 3, 2013 at 11:27 pm

None of the people that live in that older area of EPA adjacent to the creek are responsible for the building upstream that has contributed to flooding, but they're paying the price as the rest of us might in the near future. I'm not sure what the fix plan is for that area, or how this recent eye-opening issue impacted the current plans to fix that area (if any). They've already done so much work east of 101 that I think authorities may have been caught by surprise. While I consider it inexcusable, I am really hoping the temporary fix holds until more work is done.

Can you imagine what it'd really cost Calif. taxpayers if they'd been badly flooded there?

Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Jan 4, 2013 at 12:45 am

There is a "Green" group that is trying to remove Searsville Dam:

Web Link

Looks like they will be successful. If so, that will have significant consequences for everyone downstream.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 4, 2013 at 6:59 am

Thread lock coming in 5, 4, 3...

Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on Jan 4, 2013 at 8:39 am

@Hmmm, Rational and other like minded -
Having expressed my frustrations/observations regarding several issues that all seem to be very connected, trying to think about a potential/possible next step, I thought of the possibility of getting together and trying to brainstorm. There may be some power, even in small numbers.
I'm pretty sure that each of us have reasons/experiences having us respond the way do. Possibly, we can come up with some action items.
My first new year experiment: please feel free to contact me - email address, below (created for this purpose).
Thinking that if I'll get few responses we could meet somewhere, and discuss - Baylands park on a nice weekend day?
Nothing to lose, I hope. Worst case scenario-I have just wasted few minutes creating the following email address:

Posted by No-Way-To-Run-A-Railroad, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 4, 2013 at 10:26 am

> Emily Renzel for repudiating the mean-spirited comments
> by "No-way-to-run-a-railroad." It's really shocking to read
> that someone has the chutzpah to criticize the city of East
> Palo Alto

Emily Renzel did not “repudiate” the comments about East Palo Alto’s not being well-managed as a City. All she managed to do is show how poorly prepared she is to understand the basic issues of City management.

In one of the other local paper’s article on this flooding problem, the Mayor of East Palo Alto claimed that “East Palo Alto has run out of resources”. So far, none of the papers have asked him whether or not he (meaning East Palo Alto) has developed an Emergency Plan that deals with levee breaks, including the costs to repair those breaks? It would be surprising to find out that the East Palo Alto Mayor had the slightest idea what was being asked of him!

It would not have been hard for East Palo Alto to have made some preparations for levee breaks (which happen from time-to-time) by keeping records of the locations, and costs, of repairing previous breaks. The costs are going to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, to millions. So—what about creating a reserve fund, and putting money away each year to prepare for this sort of eventuality?

There are about 8,000 homes in East Palo Alto. It the City were to pass a parcel tax that would charge each parcel a very small amount of money each year, over a period of time, the reserve fund would accumulate a sum that would be about the size of any small levee break. If the parcel tax were $30/year, this would generate about $250K per year. Over a decade, the fund would grow to between $3M and $4M—which would be enough to pay for this particular break.

While it’s doubtful that the Emily Renzel’s of the world would be inclined to promote this sort of responsible self-governance for East Palo Alto, there are people who believe that East Palo Alto could provide for itself far better than it has, to date.

But given East Palo Alto’s inabilities to find, and elect, competent leaders—the point about disenfranchising and returning to unincorporated San Mateo County status remains!

Posted by registered user, Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 4, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Interesting that the critical comments above, which really are biased and uninformed, seem to be based on the belief that EPA is solely responsible for the levee.

Posted by registered user, Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 8, 2013 at 8:55 pm

Hostile, anti=bridge crowd at the meeting tonight.