Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and agencies roll out storm plans | News | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and agencies roll out storm plans

Efforts include clearing creek of debris and vegetation, new flood-warning website

Warnings that flooding might not be contained if the predicted El Nino hits the Bay Area this winter, public officials said they are doing everything possible to reduce hazards to homes and residents if the notoriously volatile San Francisquito Creek surges out of its banks.

Standing on a dike where the creek jumped its banks and flooded an East Palo Alto neighborhood in December 2012, city and county officials discussed their efforts to reduce the hazards during a joint press conference on Wednesday, Oct. 14.

Those efforts include clearing the creek of debris and vegetation that impede downstream water flow to the San Francisco Bay, a new website that will give residents in flood-prone areas a two-hour flood warning, adding berms and retaining walls in troublesome areas, and coordinating disaster and emergency response.

Speakers at the media event included Len Materman, executive director of the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority (JPA); East Palo Alto Mayor Lisa Gauthier; Palo Alto Mayor Karen Holman; Gary Kremen, chair of the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board; Menlo Park City Manager Alex McIntyre and San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine.

The expected rainfall could equal or exceed that of 1998, where 70 homes in East Palo Alto and Palo Alto flooded, Holman said. About 200 people were evacuated, she said, and 1,500 properties were affected overall.

"While we can't control how much rain falls, we are committed to proactively doing everything possible to reduce the risks of flooding, supporting our communities and working with our neighborhoods to be prepared," Holman said. "Our first priority remains the safety of our communities and the protection of homes and that is where we have been and will continue to focus our efforts."

The broad collaboration is thought to be the first of its kind for reducing flood risks, Pine said.

"Hopefully, these efforts will make us all better off and protect our residents," said Gauthier, whose home is in the Gardens neighborhood that flooded in 2012. Although her home was not affected, those of her neighbors two blocks away were, she said.

Since, a 1 1/2-foot-tall berm made of concrete and sandbags has been added to 400 feet along the creek bank where water surged out of, and another 600 feet of berm closer to the bay will be completed by Nov. 1, City Engineer Kamal Fallaha said.

Another 2-foot-tall retaining wall will be constructed in the coming weeks along a section of creek on Woodland Avenue near University Avenue in East Palo Alto that will match the height of an existing wall on the Palo Alto side to keep rising water contained, Fallaha said.

Palo Alto and Menlo Park officials have also shored up the area near the Pope-Chaucer Bridge with berms. The bridge is a bottleneck for debris that causes flooding, and it will later be modified and widened through a broader flood-control project through the JPA.

Caltrans has been working this summer on a new, wider bridge at San Francisquito Creek that goes under U.S. Highway 101 to improve creek flow in that area. That work won't be completed by this winter, but a retaining wall that currently keeps water from entering the work site will be removed this month so that it won't affect downstream water flow during the rainy season, officials said.

Joe Teresi, Palo Alto senior engineer, said a pump station was not in place during the 1998 flood that affected Palo Alto. Built in 2004, it is designed to move water faster away from Palo Alto. But that could mean more water for East Palo Alto, so the pumps would be turned off when the water reaches a critical level, he said.

Crews walked the creek in August to identify potential blockage areas and have since removed vegetation and debris that would impede water flow downstream.

"Our city crews removed 2,700 pounds of trash and 750 pound of recyclables from Menlo Park's 1.3 miles of creek," McIntyre said.

Additional sandbag locations are also being set up, and water district officials are looking at funding crews to help seniors and other residents with filling and delivering sandbags to their homes, Kremen said.

East Palo Alto will host a sandbag-filling event on Oct. 24 at the Tara Road municipal yard from 9 a.m. to noon. The city has 133 volunteer emergency workers at the ready and has conducted drills to aid residents should flooding occur and in the event of evacuations, Gauthier said.

The JPA also debuted a new website at, which displays a color-coded map showing the likelihood of flooding at key points along the creek and in specific neighborhoods.

"The site provides a two-hour warning where we can now anticipate points where the creek levels will over-top. The site also makes rain and creek-flow data during major storms both useful and user friendly," Materman said.

Palo Alto will also provide storm updates at and through the social networking site nextdoor.

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34 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2015 at 10:16 am

I am disgusted that this work on highway 101 has not been completed in a timely manner. The fact that a wall that has been built now has to be dismantled is beyond belief, particularly if it will have to be built again next summer for the work to continue.

This bad management is unforgiveable. Why Palo Alto did not insist that Caltrans work was not done 24/7 around the clock is unfathomable. We have already had a couple of major accidents as a result of this work and the fact that emergency vehicles cannot get to the accidents makes it ten times worse.

I can't believe that this state of affairs is going to go unchecked during the winter rainy season. I wonder how many more serious accidents are going to be caused by this lane shift of narrow lanes in heavy rain.

Absolutely incredible.

21 people like this
Posted by Creekside resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 15, 2015 at 12:48 pm

I live upstream of the Pope-Chaucer Bridge - along the Creek. I've seen no evidence of any Creek-clearing activities between Middlefield Rd and that Bridge. There's a lot of debris, dead trees, etc. We're at the self-imposed deadline of mid-October. Winter is coming...

9 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 15, 2015 at 3:59 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

A previous article stated that willows could not be cleared from the creek because of native species regulations. Anyone know what specific regulation is causing that stupidity?

12 people like this
Posted by Concerned Creekside Homeowner
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 15, 2015 at 4:31 pm

I doubt that removing some "trash" and "recyclables" will have much of an impact on flooding. The creek is filled with downed trees, branches and brush that are more likely to cause flooding. When will that be addressed? It seems like the cities and counties are avoiding the hard work that is necessary.

11 people like this
Posted by Remove Chaucer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 15, 2015 at 5:13 pm

Vegetation in the creekbed upstream of the Chaucer-Pope flow restrictor slows the water velocity and stores water which would otherwise rush directly to the bridge, pile up, and overflow.

16 people like this
Posted by No Cleanup
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2015 at 5:34 pm

It was reported last week in the Daily Post that the creek had been cleaned up. This weekend I visited good friends who live in The Willows, near Woodland alongside the creek. They showed me all kinds of brush, wild shrubs growing in the creek bed, and very old-looking fallen tree limbs that they told me had been there at least four years. This is to say nothing of homeless people and their tents in the creek bed.

Obviously, if any cleanup was done, and it doesn't look like any was done, it must have been mighty superficial, and barely scratched the surface of all the serious debris that remains.

9 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 15, 2015 at 7:42 pm

More lip flapping. Until the two bridges and the forest in in the creek are gone, be prepared to swim.

4 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 15, 2015 at 9:55 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Remove Chaucer - You've come up with the best solution, just fill the creek with junk to slow the water down.

9 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 15, 2015 at 10:41 pm

Well, every time I cross over one of our bridges that spans the creek I look down there and I'll be damned if I can see any clearing of the creek or anyone doing any work to clear out the creek of trees and bushes growing down in there. I just wonder WTF is the city waiting for? GET THE CREEK CLEARED OUT, PLEASE - PRONTO!

5 people like this
Posted by midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 16, 2015 at 10:29 am

Sterling Canal / Matadero Creek is also unforgiveably full of sediment and vegetation.
All summer long we wait, assuming they will use the dry time to bulldoze for safety.
But nope.

To whom can we send pictures and concerns?

4 people like this
Posted by Jon Hospitalier Assistant Director of Public Works City of Palo Alto
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2015 at 2:55 pm

Since mid-September, Palo Alto, along with the Santa Clara Valley Water District, Menlo Park and East Palo Alto crews began removing trash and non-native or dead plant life and trees from the creek. Several individuals have made the observation that many large areas of plant life and trees still remain in the creek. These areas have been identified as native species and are not allowed to be removed according to California State Water Board regulations without a permit. The reason these areas of plant life and trees are not permitted to be removed is because they serve as habitat to animals and birds. It has been our experience that during high flow rain events these areas do not obstruct flow and often bend with the power of the water flow. Obstructions do not typically develop in the areas do to the sheer power of the water flowing over them. In some cases many of these areas of foliage help keep the creek banks in place and reduce the risk of collapse.

10 people like this
Posted by Stephen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 17, 2015 at 12:10 pm

To Mr. Hospitalier: With all due respect, you are wrong about the effects of vegetation in the channel on flow. Speaking as someone with a PhD in hydraulic engineering, any trees/bushes in the channel cross-section will act as drag elements and will increase the flow depth for a given flow. I.e., they will be obstructions. They also tend to collect debris, further increasing resistance. Moreover, while it is important to protect native vegetation, some of the most egregious examples of vegetation in the channel that I have seen are non-native, e.g. Eucalyptus trees. However, as you point out, bank vegetation can generally serve the important role of protecting the banks of the creek. Unfortunately, as seen in 1998, when a tree on the bank in Menlo Park downstream of the Chaucer bridge fell in to the creek and likely caused a rise in upstream water levels, bank vegetation can also have a negative effect on conveyance. In any case, thank you for pointing out the fact that we must continue to think about the natural environment of the creek when thinking about flood protection.

9 people like this
Posted by Dead Wrong
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2015 at 2:20 pm

Trees and woody shrubs, native or not, will not bend in the water flow. They will drown when the water level rises anyway, so why not extract them before they cause trouble in the form of debris getting caught in them and forming a blockage?

1 person likes this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 21, 2015 at 7:11 pm

>>public officials said they are doing everything possible to reduce hazards to homes and residents if the notoriously volatile San Francisquito Creek surges out of its banks.

This sounds like kind of a joke ... what is "everything possible" ... does that mean talking about it online? Because I don't see anything being done but talk and excuses. Just look down the creek and you can still see lots of bushes and trees and the silly explanation that it is somehow environmentally bad ...what kind of lame excuse is that exactly?

Whoever said that you have to let bushes and trees grow in the middle of a creek and endure flooding. Who made this determination and based it on what? If that was true, why didn't they take the years and years to get a waiver on that from the state or whoever it is that can give us a pass on that so we don't get flooded.

Maybe the time to do something would not have been to wait until the rains are almost upon us.

I think there must be some toxic chemical loose in downtown Palo Alto that makes people allergic to logic and work. Better call out out the EPA and get it cleaned up.

This is like the NOLA hurricane Katrina, they know something is going to happen and do nothing about it. Anyone read or hear about Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. When developers want to get their hands on something they just neglect to take care of it or do their jobs and the some natural disaster comes along and wrecks it so it can be bought up and developed cheap.

In the last big supposed 100 year flood I saw it wipe out houses all over South Palo Alto and 101 area. 2 feet of water and mud in all the houses in that area, a total of waste or resources. Contractors all busy so costs went up higher than normal. and over 15 years to plan and think about what to do and virtually nothing has been done. This really ridiculous.

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