FEMA map proves nearly accurate

Publication Date: Wednesday Feb 11, 1998

FEMA map proves nearly accurate

City officials revising plans to appeal FEMA flood zone

Last December, the Palo Alto City Council voted unanimously to appeal federal flood maps that added 800 more homes in Crescent Park and Green Gables to an area that could be flooded by an overflowing San Francisquito Creek.

One of the homes added was Council member Micki Schneider's. She abstained from the December vote, but last week, her home was one that did sustain water damage from the flood.

"Had I been forced to buy insurance, I'd be covered," Schneider said. As it is, she and her family had no flood insurance. "It seems to me that the Army Corps of Engineers was right. (The maps) are very closely aligned."

In December, before the full impact of El Nino had begun, the City Council and city officials felt that the maps were overly conservative and had inadequate topographical information.

Last week, the San Francisquito Creek, which forms the border between Palo Alto and Menlo Park, overtopped its banks in four places. Water surged from the creek in a southeasterly direction, flooding homes along the creek, crossed University, Hamilton and Channing avenues, crossed Embarcadero Road, and ponded in a neighborhood next to Oregon Expressway and U.S. Highway 101.

To survey the extent of the flood, Public Works Director Glenn Roberts drove through the flood-damaged areas of the city with the proposed FEMA map in hand. "What we've seen indicates that FEMA's topographical accuracy looks pretty good."

As he drove down streets where curbs were covered by water, he said "I would look down at the map, and they'd coincide. The technical accuracy question appears to not be a real strong issue."

Roberts said there is one aspect of the maps the city does plan to appeal: the accuracy of the projected depths of flooding. He disputes the fact that the FEMA map includes homes that would be surrounded by less than a foot of water, even though those homes were not flooded last week.

"Why put them in the flood zone and make them pay flood insurance, when we have real-world experience? That question is worth looking at closer," Roberts said.

As of press time Monday, the city was still fine-tuning the map of where flooding occurred last week, but the flooding appeared to conform very closely with the FEMA map.

Mayor Dick Rosenbaum said the city now has valuable data with which to more closely analyze the FEMA maps. Also, he noted, there were some flooded areas that were outside the FEMA flood zone.

The city is expected to hold a public hearing on the FEMA map later this month or in early March.

--Elizabeth Lorenz

Map of the FEMA flood zones vs. actual flooding

Palo Alto Online Logo