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Residents near creek may be asked to tax themselves

Original post made on Dec 13, 2011

With federal funding up in the air, Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park officials may look to residents who live near the volatile San Francisquito Creek to tax themselves in order to pay for flood protection.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, December 12, 2011, 11:40 PM

Comments (31)

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Posted by Paul
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 13, 2011 at 10:56 am

This is an excellent idea - get those most directly affected and currently paying flood insurance to invest to improve the situation.

Does anyone know if flood insurance requirements are all or nothing? i.e., needed if you are in a 100 year zone, otherwise not needed?

For instance, can we improve our situation from a 100 year zone to a 200 year zone (or some such designation) and thereby reduce flood insurance needs?


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Posted by JT
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 13, 2011 at 11:02 am

I'm one of the homeowners who would be affected by this and I'll support it if it removes us from the flood control zone and eliminates the requirement for flood insurance. Anything short doesn't make economic sense for me.

I won't support anything the Santa Clara Valley Water District puts on the ballot. They impress me as a bloated bureaucracy, rife with corruption and cronyism, starting with their dysfunctional board on down. Even their newest director, Brian Schmidt, had to step down from his day job recently after it was revealed that it posed a conflict of interest with the water district. The corruption there never stops, and they won't get my vote.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2011 at 11:08 am

At the point that the homes in the flood plain are no longer required to purchase FEMA mortgage insurance, that will probably be a bigger savings for those homes than the cost of the tax. However, there are other options.

The Palo Alto golf course occupies 180 acres of prime Palo Alto land that would have a nominal value of about $900M on the open market. Very few Palo Alto residents actually use this facility, as past use data released by the City has shown non-resident use in the 70+ percent range. Based on the high capital costs of the land, the golf course's ROI (Return On Investment) is zero.

So, rational people ask: "Is this the best use of this land?"

Suppose that some/all of the land could be sold for $500M. Investing this money, the City would receive $5M for 1% return on investment. A modest 4% return rate would yield $20M a year in revenue, which could be used to pay for the massive $500B-$1B in infrastructure maintenance/refurbishment/building that sooner-or-later will most like be paid for its property tax payers, while this $1B in land value will not benefit the taxpayers very much.

The City should hire a consultant to develop a future land use plan that would focus on land use that would generate the maximum revenue for the City, and at the same time consider the minimum impact on the City in terms of support costs, lost opportunity costs, and future population growth.


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Posted by Mary
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 13, 2011 at 11:12 am

I had a flood control project next to my house. It took me off the flood map for about 15 years - however I got put back on it and now have to carry flood insurance again. So do not believe that this will solve you problems. The project took years, runined all landscaping and finally I still cannot put up anything permanent like a fence along the creek side of the house.


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Posted by all that sparkles
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 13, 2011 at 11:20 am

"This is an excellent idea - get those most directly affected and currently paying flood insurance to invest to improve the situation."

And if there is damage to the curb outside your house, the homeowner should be responsible for the cost of fixing it.


"Does anyone know if flood insurance requirements are all or nothing? i.e., needed if you are in a 100 year zone, otherwise not needed?"


If you don't have a mortgage, you aren't required to buy flood insurance.


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Posted by all that sparkles
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 13, 2011 at 11:22 am

In addition, if your house is in a flood zone but surveyed to be the required number of feet above the flood level, you don't require flood insurance.
Taxing everyone in a flood zone's going to be a hard-sell since they aren't all affected or even, if affected, aren't all affected the same.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 13, 2011 at 11:51 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Wayne, you neglect to factor in that the golf course is dedicated parkland so the "Highest and best" use for it would still have to be parkland. I question whether you could get 900M for another parkland venture. Come back with a realistic use.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 13, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Walter, you neglect to factor in that the golf course is dedicated parkland and can be undedicated with a vote--as the Measure E vote just did.

This is a realistic proposal in the hands of real estate people, and a plan with a vision which is more realistic than giving away billions of tax payer resources (past, current and future) on a hand full of local users.\


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Posted by land, safe, green!
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 13, 2011 at 1:36 pm

I agree with Wayne Martin. I love green VERY much, but we also need safety.


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Posted by Sandy
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 13, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Palo Alto should get out of FEMA completely. We have flood insurance due to refinancing our mortgage and we just paid $1,540.00 to FEMA. Would someone please tell me why we have to pay that much money, when we never have made a claim and if it flooded in our culdesac the other houses there would be under water. We are paying for someone else's problems and it is not fair. And what you get for that amount of money is absolutely nothing. FEMA should be audited and we all should find out where the money is going.


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Posted by Flood / FEMA
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 13, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Sandy,

The City of Palo Alto (staff) got us into the FEMA program! Read up on the history of it - google it. The staff actually made it happen. Hurray!!




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Posted by all that sparkles
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 13, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Apart from the insurance cost, the main benefit in getting out of FEMA would be the ability to remodel without having to bring your house up to flood code.
This alone would make a local parcel tax seem reasonable. At present, a simple kitchen remodel can trigger the requirement to upgrade your entire house. Forget adding a second story.
It may not be that hard a sell.


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Posted by INFO4U (flooded in 1998)
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 13, 2011 at 4:01 pm

There are several issues here of importance for homeowners, which I have learned from hard experience, which I share here.

1) We live in the flood plain. We had 15" of water in our backyard, and knee-deep water in gutter in the street in front of the house. The first 4" of the water was 'clear': representing backup from the storm sewers. This backup will not recur, because the City has upgraded the storm sewers. The other 11-12" was brown water from San Francisquito Creek.
1a) The water did not reach our floor joists. So, our insurance gave us a few thousand dollars, to chemically treat the floor of our crawlspace (we have no basement). The house was basically intact, although we had a lot of uninsurable damage to possessions in the detached garage.
2) Because we have a mortgage, and had one in 1998, our mortgage lender requires us to carry flood insurance. If we had no mortgage, we would not carry it (just as we carry no earthquake insurance; for risk-assessment reason, but that's another story).
3) Until 4 years ago, we were paying over $1000/yr for flood insurance. At that time, it went to $1300. I mentioned this to a neighbor, also in the flood plain, and learned the neighbor was paying $200-300/yr in insurance.
4) I discovered there are several reasons why/how a lower rate can be obtained:
4a) First, the number of square inches of vent area into the crawlspace, must exceed the number of square feet of floor space enclosed by the first floor foundation. Don't count slab area, because there is no crawlspace under slab. Meeting this criteria, ensures that water can flow into the crawlspace rapidly enough to equilibrate pressure on both sides of the wall.
4b) Second, most crawlspaces are 'basements', under the definition used by FEMA. A basement has all four sides of the floor, at the point where the floor (usually dirt) meets the foundation, *below* grade (ground level on the outside of the foundation). IF one side of the crawlspace floor is at least 4" ABOVE GRADE, then the crawlspace qualifies as a crawlspace, not a basement, and a much lower insurance rates accrues. Why? The presumption is that, if there is a slant to the floor, then water can flow out of the crawlspace after a flood event, rather than pool (which it would do if it were a true basement).
4c) If you want to re-do your flood papers to get the lower rate, make sure you get someone who knows how to fill out the papers, to help you. If you fill them out 'wrong', you won't change your rate. The goal is to be truthful, but to also make sure you understand the significance of each question on the form (which is not obvious to the unexperienced, as I found out).
4d) If you do make the change, you can get a rebate for the year of the change, plus one more year back, but no further.

Hope that helps somebody.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by INFO4U (flooded in 1998)
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 13, 2011 at 4:04 pm

BTW, the person who helped me fill out the form worked for our flood insurance company.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 13, 2011 at 5:33 pm

I think the best use of our money is to fund a suit against the city for building and keeping the Chaucer Bridge.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 13, 2011 at 6:40 pm

@ Mike: I take it you haven't lived here that long - otherwise you wouldn't make such a uninformed statement about the Chaucer Bridge.

The bridge was built long before the flood zone was established.

And everyone knows that the city cannot simply remove the bridge because the Federal government will not allow it - due to the impact on all structures down stream.

That's why they are looking at developing a solution that starts at the bay end of the creek and work up towards the bridge and beyond.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Wayne Martin said

"The Palo Alto golf course occupies 180 acres of prime Palo Alto land that would have a nominal value of about $900M on the open market. Very few Palo Alto residents actually use this facility, as past use data released by the City has shown non-resident use in the 70+ percent range. Based on the high capital costs of the land, the golf course's ROI (Return On Investment) is zero.

So, rational people ask: "Is this the best use of this land?"

Thank you Peter Dreikmeier for initiating the undedication of our parklands. Next up.. Arastradero and Rinconnada

Suppose that some/all of the land could be sold for $500M. Investing this money, the City would receive $5M for 1% return on investment. A modest 4% return rate would yield $20M a year in revenue, which could be used to pay for the massive $500B-$1B in infrastructure maintenance/refurbishment/building that sooner-or-later will most like be paid for its property tax payers, while this $1B in land value will not benefit the taxpayers very much."


 +   Like this comment
Posted by anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2011 at 7:01 pm

That was supposed to be

Wayne Martin said

"The Palo Alto golf course occupies 180 acres of prime Palo Alto land that would have a nominal value of about $900M on the open market. Very few Palo Alto residents actually use this facility, as past use data released by the City has shown non-resident use in the 70+ percent range. Based on the high capital costs of the land, the golf course's ROI (Return On Investment) is zero.

So, rational people ask: "Is this the best use of this land?"

Suppose that some/all of the land could be sold for $500M. Investing this money, the City would receive $5M for 1% return on investment. A modest 4% return rate would yield $20M a year in revenue, which could be used to pay for the massive $500B-$1B in infrastructure maintenance/refurbishment/building that sooner-or-later will most like be paid for its property tax payers, while this $1B in land value will not benefit the taxpayers very much."


Thank you Peter Dreikmeier for initiating the undedication of our parklands. Next up.. Arastradero and Rinconnada


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Other
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2011 at 10:01 pm

Hey Mike - why do you even think the Chaucer St. Bridge is your city's to tear down? Sheesh, typical egocentric thinking.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Brian Schmidt
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 13, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Answering a question about flood insurance, you're not required to have it if you're out of the floodplain or have less than one foot of inundation according to FEMA maps. And of course as someone else said, it doesn't apply if you don't have a mortgage.

-Brian Schmidt
Director, District 7, Santa Clara Valley Water District


(And in answer to someone else's comment, I voluntarily decided to leave my day job after being there for nearly nine years, and I disclosed both potential conflicts of interest and my plan for avoiding them during my campaign for office last year, including in the interview I did with the Palo Alto Weekly.)


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Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2011 at 11:03 pm

come to think of it, I NEVER use 101, never, so I would like my contribution reduced for that and also the Airport operation. It's a good idea to let the san francisquito floods affect most palo alto when we have a policy of " can't pay, won't pay. It's going to be beautiful....

I don't need police to answer my house, my neighbors and I can resolve any problems....
The retail view of taxes is a stupid and irrational one.
welcome to the third world


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Posted by guest
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 13, 2011 at 11:18 pm

I'll sue the City of Palo Alto if my property floods. The theory is reverse condemnation. PA settled a suit based on this theory after the last flood for a large sum.


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Posted by Floody
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 14, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Short of removing the Chaucer Street bridge, which politically is a non-starter, this is a no-brainer. Why did it take them 12 years to figure out it would be cheaper to raise a bond than pay into FEMA flood insurance? I moved here three years ago and thought about this math. When? When? When are they going to get moving? Every year is a game of chicken. If the City gets it wrong they are going to get sued by homeowners and all the money that would have paid for the bridge fix++ will go to the lawyers. Move faster for gosh sakes!!


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Posted by Floody
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 14, 2011 at 12:22 pm

If those who see the logic in removing/repairing the Chaucer Street Bridge are prevented by the requirement to protect those downstream, why aren't those upstream from the Chaucer Street Bridge not compelled to protect those downstream? - ie. holding basin at Stanford. Didn't the City just approve development at the Hospital for all sorts of concessions? Why wasn't flood protection a part of that negotiation?


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Posted by Floody
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 14, 2011 at 12:29 pm

What is to prevent the bond from getting squandered on downstream projects cost overuns, with nothing left for the upstream projects? Then PA residents would get the pleasure of paying for the bond, paying their flood insurance, and staying vulnerable in the flood zone. If there are no gaurantess in place then that would end up being a transfer from Santa Clara to San Mateo and from PA to EPA. Brian since you are on this board can you respond?


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 14, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Floody, maybe I'm wrong, but my understanding was the it's not yet Chaucer Street's turn for being fixed, not that it wouldn't ever be fixed. They're starting downstream & working their way up.

As for the time all of these things take - believe me, us natives have been asking this question for many years. I remember as a kid visiting the creek at Chaucer during storms & adults discussing the same issues - & that was a long time ago!


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Posted by es
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 14, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Unless the work includes Chaucer Street Bridge and downstream remediation at the same time, it makes no sense. I'm not going to pay for downstream remediation and my existing flood insurance just to have a board come back and say, Oops, we need another financing measure to fix the upstream problem.

Anyone hear of high speed rail cost increases, because the self deluding masters of aggrandizement wanted to sell a pig in poke? My faith in government and quasi government boards is lower than the floor in my basement.


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Posted by susie
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 14, 2011 at 9:54 pm

OI

its going to look but ugly


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Posted by all that sparkles
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 15, 2011 at 9:50 am

"My faith in government and quasi government boards is lower than the floor in my basement."

There's your problem. Putting a basement in a house in a flood zone!


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Posted by to 'all that sparkles'
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 15, 2011 at 10:13 am

for most of us, our crawlspaces are classified as 'basements', for purposes of insurance. which is why the insurance rates are over $1300/year, in most cases.

we get all the costs, and none of the benefits, of a true basement. and, IIRC, the City building codes won't let you put in a true basement, if you live in a flood zone.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 16, 2011 at 12:08 pm

All that sparkles - I grew up near the creek & only a few very old homes had true basements. I also recall my parents questioning the use of the term basement when dealing w/flood insurance, & this was in Menlo.


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