Residents raise issues with Pope-Chaucer bridge project
Original post made
on Jan 30, 2014
Despite organizational difficulties and a gym with poor acoustics, Palo Alto and Menlo Park residents clearly voiced their opinion at a community meeting Wednesday night about the potential fate of flood-prone Pope-Chaucer Street Bridge: They're not happy with the options that have been presented to them, and they want more information.
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posted Thursday, January 30, 2014, 9:44 AM
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Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 7:45 pm
Let me start out by saying that I totally agree with those who are opposed to flood walls. Any 100 year flood solution to San Francisquito Creek must be done by using upstream flood retention basins, and/or underground conduits. It is too bad that the folks who showed up at Wednesday's meeting did not exert similar energy back when Stanford requested permission to expand the hospital. As you may recall, they had absolutely no right to carry out this project without Palo Alto's permission. It was, and is, the largest construction project in the area's history. At the hearings, I proposed that, as a condition for allowing the expansion, the city require Stanford to drop its opposition to making its land available for flood retention. At that time, and today, Stanford has categorically rejected the idea that any of its land could be used for that purpose. And there is no other land suitable for that purpose. But the City of Palo Alto did not push for that concession an opportunity of a lifetime lost forever. So maybe we can now persuade Stanford to change its mind, but I'm not counting on it. As for underground conduits, I am not optimistic, because it is far more costly than flood walls, and the people that would come out of the woodwork opposing it would dwarf the current groundswell against floodwalls. So the bottom line is: we probably will never get 100-year flood protection.
But the Crescent Park Neighborhood Association (CPNA) has always had a more realistic view, to the effect that, at least for the present, we should concentrate on relieving the affected properties from the danger of 1998-level flooding about a 50-year flood event. True, that will not get everyone out of the flood plain. But it will get quite a few people out, and it will protect everyone from the largest flood event so far in our recorded history. After years of inaction, the responsible officials (i.e., the Joint Powers Authority, etc.) are finally about to embark on what they call an "interim" solution to solve the 1998 flood problem. This is precisely what the CPNA has been pushing for over the past 15 years. Therefore, it is quite alarming and infuriating that folks who previously ignored this issue are suddenly trying to destroy this effort.
One argument posed by these Johnny-come-latelys is that homeowners were on notice that they were in a flood plain, and that therefore they have no ground for seeking flood control measures to protect them from floods, is a rather nasty and unwarranted position. In the first place, as has been pointed out, many people (including myself), were not in the flood plain when they bought their house. But aside from that, the universally accepted public policies of the federal and state government for at least the last 100 years of this nation's history have been to support public works projects to relieve folks from floods. Is it OK to say to the victims of Hurricane Katrina that it was tough luck for them because they knew that they were in a flood plain? Closer to home, is it ok to tell East Palo Alto that it is OK for them to drown when the next flood comes? Even closer to home, the homes in Palo Alto near 101 and Greer Road could easily be inundated with 6 feet of water during even a 50 or 70 year flood event. Lives could be lost as a result of that. And of course hundreds of millions of dollars damage would result from the next flood, which, despite the current drought, is inevitable. In light of this, how could anyone in good conscience try to block efforts to correct this situation just because some trees might have to be cut down?
I was astonished at the misinformed statements made Wednesday night by Menlo Park residents in their weak attempt to justify their positions. In the first place, they collapsed the issues regarding the interim solution with the issues regarding the 100-year solution. The interim solution does not require flood walls, unlike the non-retention-basin, non-underground-conduit, option for 100-year relief. But many of the participants at the meeting seemed to oppose everything based on the opposition to flood walls. Forget about flood walls. They will never happen, and have nothing to do with the solutions for 1998 level floods.
Others argued that we should leave the bridge alone until other projects, such as the 101 bridge renovation, are completed. This is just a delay tactic. There is absolutely no doubt that the Chaucer Avenue Bridge is a critical constriction that causes the most severe flooding problem. There is absolutely no doubt that the bridge must be rebuilt in order to solve 1998-level flooding. (Perhaps some are arguing that the upstream retention basins or underground conduits could solve 1998 level flooding, even if the bridge is left as is. But there is funding in place to renovate the bridge; there is no funding for these theoretical approaches. Plus, as mentioned above, Stanford will not allow retention basins, and the underground conduit idea is years away, if ever).
I was amused by arguments to the effect that we should mandate permeable driveways and parking lots, and that will absorb enough water to prevent floods. A related comment was to the effect that we should build reservoirs for drinking water, and that would solve flooding. It just ain't so. Take a look at the watershed for the creek. Web Link. It is almost entirely in undeveloped land in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Imposing regulations regarding permeable surfaces, while desirable for other reasons, have nothing whatsoever to do with the flooding problems of the creek. As for reservoirs, as discussed above, there is no practical way to construct flood retention basins, let alone the much larger basins need for reservoirs.
Some argued that we should just tear down the bridge. I personally would not be bothered if that were done. But politically there is simply no way, no how, that this could be accomplished. It is an absolute nonstarter. Quit wasting our time with that hopeless suggestion.
So we are left with the argument that the new bridge will require cutting down trees. Given that extensive mitigating measures will be taken to compensate this (new trees, measures to help the trout, etc.), I fail to understand how this argument could possible justify blocking the needed fix rebuild the bridge now.