Nature offers boost to stormwater campaign | February 24, 2017 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 24, 2017

Nature offers boost to stormwater campaign

City's mail-only election aims to preserve and improve stormwater management program

by Gennady Sheyner

With rain storms dowsing long-parched lawns throughout the county and nearly filling up local creeks, the issue of flooding — especially around the San Francisquito Creek — has a particular resonance this week. And by a happy coincidence, this Friday is the day when the city is mailing out ballots that ask property owners whether the city should raise its monthly fee for stormwater management from the current level of about $13.03 per month for each residential unit to $13.65.

While the increase, in dollar terms, is relatively modest when compared to recent rate changes for other utilities, the new fee would represent a dramatic shift in how the city manages its stormwater. The fee would create a two-tiered structure, with one component (about $7.48 per month) allocated to building 16 new infrastructure projects throughout the city and another (the remaining $6.17) dedicated to annual maintenance of the sprawling system.

The former component of the fee would sunset in 2032. The latter would remain in place until the City Council terminates it.

For the city, the mail-only measure comes with a sense of urgency stemming from both weather forecasts and the vagaries of its existing program. The current stormwater fee, which voters approved in 2005, is scheduled to sunset in June. At that point, the fee would revert to its pre-2005 level of $4.25 and bring in about $2.2 million annually to Public Works, which manages the storm-drain system. If that happens, the revenues the city collects from ratepayers "would not support a minimum level of storm drainage service, which would cost approximately $4.3 million per year," a recent Public Works report stated.

"In addition, the pre-2005 level of funding would preclude any further storm-drain capital-improvement projects," the report stated. "If a new ballot measure is not approved, storm-drain system operations would need to be significantly curtailed."

If the new fee passes, the city would have about $3.1 million to spend annually on new projects and $3.8 million for "ongoing non-capital expenditures for engineering, maintenance and stormwater quality staffing, expenses and permit compliance," a Public Works report states.

The total fee would be subject to an annual increase based on inflation or 6 percent, whichever is less.

To get community buy-in, the city last year established a Storm Drain Blue Ribbon Committee consisting of residents from various parts of the city. After meeting for about three months, the committee worked with Public Works staff to craft the measure and to identify a list of projects that would be funded by the renewed fees.

Six of these projects would involve upgrades around Adobe Creek in south Palo Alto and near the Baylands (these include infrastructure upgrades in the Palo Verde, Charleston Terrace and East Meadow Circle neighborhoods). Others would target Louis Road (where an overflow pipe would be constructed), two different segments of Loma Verde Avenue (between Ross and Louis roads; and between Louis and Sterling Canal), East Charleston Road, Fabian Way, Hamilton Avenue (in the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood), Center Drive and Embarcadero Road (in the Leland Manor neighborhood).

So far, the proposed fee increase has generated little controversy or opposition. In October, the council voted unanimously to move ahead with the fee increase, with then-Councilman Greg Schmid calling the stormwater program "an important element in our future."

"In the past, we have used the funds to prepare ourselves for any eventuality," Schmid said. "It's important we maintain our infrastructure."

As of the October meeting, the city had received 82 written notices from property owners protesting the increase, according to City Clerk Beth Minor. Bob Wenzlau, a member of the Blue Ribbon Committee and one of the leaders of the campaign in favor of the fee, said some of the negative responses he's been hearing have come from people who have broader concerns about public spending.

He emphasized that a citizens committee would oversee the stormwater-management program and make sure the money is spent properly.

"I'm worried that without that message, (the new fee) could be come a proxy for people's view about the City of Palo Alto and governance," Wenzlau told the Weekly.

Wenzlau also stressed the strong — but often overlooked — link between the broad stormwater system and local projects residents feel strongly about, such as potential flooding by the San Francisquito Creek. Clearly, the task of convincing people to support the measure has gotten a bit easier in the rainy season of recent weeks. As Wenzlau acknowledges, the campaign has been "aided by the gods."

Even so, Palo Alto officials aren't taking passage of the measure, which requires a simple majority, for granted. The 2005 measure passed with 58 percent approval, a decisive margin but hardly a landslide. The city's prior effort to raise fees, in 2000, failed miserably, with just 38 percent of the voters agreeing to higher fees.

The 2005 measure, which raised fees to $10 per month with annual increases, funded a list of infrastructure projects that included, among other projects, the $4.5 million pump station near the San Francisquito Creek, greater drainage capacity on Channing and Lincoln avenues; improvements to the Matadero pump station; and a new storm drain system in Southgate. All of those projects have been constructed or are under construction and are being paid for by the 2005 measure, according to the stormwater campaign organizers.

The new fee would fund 13 projects identified by the Storm Drain Blue Ribbon Committee and allow the city to develop "green" stormwater infrastructure that, according to the committee's report, would protect or restore "the natural water cycle by collecting and retaining, and/or treating runoff rather than discharging it directly to storm drains."

For example, the committee pointed to the recent completed storm-drain improvement project in the Southgate neighborhood, which includes bioretention planters (areas landscaped with native plants that filter and treat storm runoff) and permeable crosswalks that allow rain to percolate into the soil beneath them.

"Green stormwater infrastructure practices, also referred to as low-impact development measures, include preserving natural landscapes and utilizing infiltration planters, rain gardens, tree wells, green roofs, pervious pavement and rainwater harvesting to manage stormwater runoff," the committee's final report states. "These practices help to limit the discharge of pollutants from streets, parking lots and roofs by infiltrating stormwater into soil."

These projects, as well as rebate programs for homeowners who undertake them, would likely be scrapped if the ballot measure fails, Wenzlau said. If that happens, the city will still have to find ways to keep streets from being flooded, and it would have to rely on its General Fund, which pays for most basic city services (not including utilities).

"What would end up happening is that the council would have to look at how to spread the General Fund money out, which is how some of the other cities do it," Wenzlau said. "In that case, it would be a choice between stormwater and, say, libraries."

The ballots are due back to the City Clerk by April 10. If the measure passes, the fee would go into effect on June 1.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

18 people like this
Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 22, 2017 at 5:38 am

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

Please visit our campaign website where one can learn more about the stormwater programs, endorse and make a contribution.

www.paloaltostormwater.org

The flood control measures across town have worked very well, and serves as a testament to the efficacy of this dedicated enterprise fund, the planning and oversight. Those of us who have engaged to help it pass are broadly dedicated to assuring that the infrastructure components of Palo Alto are developed. This is slow progress, but we should reflect how little street flooding we have had this year compared to those winters of the past.

The campaign committee and staff that has supported this are a dedicated and savvy group. As such, I hope you will give your VOTE YES when this mail in ballot shows knowing this is a prudent spend. And for those who can, consider a contribution to defray costs of a city wide mailing to help assure passage.


22 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2017 at 8:02 am

This is a regressive tax. Find a better way to raise the funds.


18 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 22, 2017 at 9:51 am

Sorry - this is infuriating. Everyone has been arguing about the SF creek for how many years now. We have also argued about taking down the 100 year old dam at the top on SU property. Specific to PA I have checked Adobe Creek and it has done very well. The major problem we have had is the SFC was not cleared of garbage and dead trees during the drought years. How much time has been spent arguing about basic cleaning and management during the drought years - the huge pile of dirt next to the baseball park. The city and county has not done the common sense maintenance for what reason? No money due to rising pension costs? In San Jose they voted for a number of city upgrades and the money was directed to pension funds. Thank the mayor of San Jose for the problems we see there now. Suggest you ask Jerry Brown and your local political flacks to go look for money.


17 people like this
Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 22, 2017 at 10:14 am

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

I can sense the frustration that one feels, but this is a relatively small fee that has been effective, and will continue to be effective. The governance represents an effective process. All the projects have worked splendidly across town.

While I doubt my remarks will tip the sentiment of a party against all taxation, I believe these focused funds are a proper direction for our city's infrastructure. This is how we have maintained our utilities and how we have improved out schools. The reasons include their governance by citizen oversight (thanks to those citizens), that they reside in a separate "enterprise" accounts, and they are allocated based on detailed budgeting and forecasting. I contrast this to the ambiguity across the city's general fund.

There also is the sentiment that "resident" posts that nothing is getting done. I feel that as we flooded in our home in 1998, and I have been fearful during these recent storms. Sometimes we get most upset as projects are just about to get better. Patience has been the operative word as the projects have had to be completed from the Bay upstream, but I have been pleased with the constant debris removal, and that the East Palo Alto portion is complete, and that the Bayshore underpass is almost complete. Palo Alto will need to do the Newell bridge, and as much as people want the change we have also suffered how this has become a proxy on traffic issues. We will have to collaborate to get this bridge rebuilt quickly so that the Chaucer bridge is not held back. My sense is we are getting there.

Some of us have taken our "fury" and started to work on these oversight committee. When you engage with the city in these forums you can have some impact. I welcome those who might write their statements to come to some of these oversight meetings and help shape these programs. I can tell you it is good for the City, but also good for your own health as you get a better outlet for your fury than just writing it here.


19 people like this
Posted by Southgate Resident
a resident of Southgate
on Feb 22, 2017 at 10:18 am

Southgate did not get, as was initially promised in the 2005 tax measure, a new storm drain system. We received new paving, planting areas and crosswalks. While the grading did definitely improve the water flow throughout the neighborhood, the city cannot claim that they provided Southgate with what they had initially promised. The funds that were allotted in the 2005 measure ran out before they could finish all of the projects. I would assume the same will happen with this round.


9 people like this
Posted by Hamilton
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 22, 2017 at 10:19 am

Thank you for your hard thoughtful work. I will be voting in favor of this to help improve our storm drain infrastructure.


37 people like this
Posted by GRRRRRR
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 22, 2017 at 10:30 am

Seriously??? After the floods of 1998, we voted in a tax to pay for improved storm drains, as well as more of them, but NOTHING was ever done with that money! At least not any improvements in the storm drains!!!

Go find that original tax money!


20 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 22, 2017 at 10:32 am

Sorry, I'll continue to vote NO because I have no faith in the city to fix anything from traffic light timing to storm drains while they continue to waste money on expensive and intrusive things like roundabouts, sharrows, giant Bots dots. according to the latest mailing from the Mayor.

Re the storm drains specifically. for a long long time. I've called, written and posted on Next Door about "Lake Lowell" at the intersection of Lowell and Middlefield. I've spoken to street crews working in the area and they say, "Yup. That's a problem. We'll talk to our supervisor."

Whenever we have the slightest bit of rain, there's always a growing puddle running down the street from the non-draining drain in front of the fire hydrant. When we have real storms, the lake gets bigger, deeper and wider.

Please advise the city to divert the money from the expensive and unwanted roundabouts etc. and to just do their jobs without always asking for more.


6 people like this
Posted by Hermia
a resident of Triple El
on Feb 22, 2017 at 11:04 am

This is exactly the kind of thing I'm delighted to help pay for.
Please DO charge us a few extra cents and keep our houses from going underwater.
The flood in '98 was plenty horrible enough.


16 people like this
Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 22, 2017 at 11:12 am

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

The City has used the revenue from 2005 fee to complete the following high-priority capital improvement projects:
-Constructed pump station for San Francisquito Creek.
-Installed new pipelines to increase drainage capacity on Channing and Lincoln Avenues.
-Installed innovative Southgate neighborhood rainwater catchment system.
-Extended Gailen Avenue/Bibbits Drive to the Adobe Stormwater Pump Station
-Connected the Clara Drive storm drains to the Matadero Stormwater Pump Station.
-Increased drainage capacity of the Matadero Stormwater Pump Station
-Installed storm drain improvements along southbound Alma St.

GRRR, I hope this brings some facts to your general claim that no improvements were made to the storm drains. We have seen great improvements. As one who loves maps, this shows the planned and completed projects.

Web Link



Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 22, 2017 at 11:35 am

Thank you for the report of accomplishments. Unfortunately for you and your utility department the congressional representatives for the state chose to ignore Trump and say - proudly - that they could go it alone. That was before the storm. So what are our local reps doing since at this time we should be getting state funding for all of the storm related issues. We are now in a different ball park regarding funding for disaster relief from FEMA.
Suggest that someone tap them all on the shoulder to say this is the time and place to clear up all of the 20 year issues regarding water and they are going to get the money for this. We the taxpayers have to tap our insurance and wallet to clean up whatever damage at our homes.


9 people like this
Posted by Southgate Resident
a resident of Southgate
on Feb 22, 2017 at 12:17 pm

Bob,
Here is what was supposed to happen in Southgate with the 2005 Storm Drain Fee Increase. (From Palo Alto Weekly)

What: Southgate Neighborhood storm drains
Helps: The Southgate Neighborhood
Description: When the Southgate Neighborhood was created in the 1930s, it lacked a system of underground pipes. Instead, the streets were raked and only one drain was installed to collect its rainwater. This will put in place new pipes and drains to prevent street flooding.
Estimated Cost: $2 million

What we go was repaving, planters and, I believe, a short (20yd) extension of the single storm drain.

The city essentially ran out of funds for the promised projects in 2007 and had to curtail many of them.

In your list of what was accomplished by the 2005 fees, you should also list what was promised, and what was NOT accomplished.

What mechanisms are in place to ensure that the next round of scheduled improvements will not suffer the same fate?


7 people like this
Posted by nat
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2017 at 1:48 pm



I'm in favor of the fees, but do not like the annual increase for maintenance. I may reject the whole thing because of this provision.


12 people like this
Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 22, 2017 at 2:29 pm

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

Ok, as the appointed storm drain advocate let's look at the Southgate neighborhood. I checked around for some background.

First, it is not accurate to say that the Southgate neighborhood was constructed without a storm drain system. While it was built without underground storm drain pipelines, it was designed to drain by gutter flow to a single storm drain inlet at the southeast corner of the neighborhood.

Now to the background on the project. The Southgate project was proposed in 2005 because the surface-based drainage system was no longer working well due to heaved and sunken sections of gutter and uneven pavement grades and resulted in widespread chronic nuisance street flooding.

The project was very loosely defined in 2005 as a system of new storm drain pipelines and inlets to serve the neighborhood. The initial budget was set at $2 million.

However, when the project was planned and designed in 2012-13, it was decided that a green infrastructure style solution including permeable pavement and storm water bioretention planters would more cost-efficient than and equally-effective as a series of pipelines and inlets. In addition, this approach was consistent with the mandates in the regional storm water discharge permit for “green streets” and low impact development measures. The City is now needing to be responsive to these new mandates which contribute to new future spending obligations.

Approximately $2 million in Storm Drainage Fund dollars was expended on the design and construction of the permeable pavement, bioretention planters, and a limited amount of storm drain pipelines and inlets comprising the Southgate Neighborhood Green Street and Storm Drain Improvements capital project. In addition, over $1 million in General Fund & gas tax (utility) dollars was expended to resurface streets and replace damaged curb, gutter, and driveway throughout the neighborhood. The resurfacing and gutter replacement work served to restore the effectiveness of the neighborhood’s surface drainage system outside the scope of the storm drain capital project. This was a great example of staff collaboration and strategic use of Storm Drainage Fund and General Fund dollars.

As an aside the photo included with the article shows the street flooding condition prior to implementation of the capital project, which is not clear from the photo’s caption. There is now a bioretention planter at the location of the ponding. I will look for a photo that shows that the condition featured in the Weekly has now been alleviated.

Southgate can be proud of this project as they have one of the most innovative stormwater management systems in the City let alone state that percolates storm back to groundwater as well as drains the excessive water. The neighborhood has great new streets and are also supplementing Palo Alto's water resources.


1 person likes this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2017 at 3:07 pm

> savvy people

Here are the committee members -

STORM DRAIN BLUE RIBBON COMMITTEE MEMBERS
Peter Drekmeier, Co-Chair
Claire Elliott, Co-Chair
Norm Beamer
David Bower
Nancy Clark
Stepheny McGraw
Hal Mickelson
Susan Rosenberg
Bob Wenzlau
Richard Whaley

Interesting that there are people on this committee that were on the first Blue Ribbon Committee. One of the problems of "politics" and governance here in Palo Alto is that the same people seem to be put into decision-making positions in a way that leaves one wondering just how important "diversity" is to City Management and versus its being able to manipulate "Yes" votes for its spending programs.


2 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2017 at 3:19 pm

> Southgate can be proud of this project as they have one of
> the most innovative stormwater management systems in the
> City let alone state that percolates storm back to groundwater as well
> as drains the excessive water.

Proud? This sounds much more like political posturing than a firm engineering position about storm water drainage. Given how little it rains in Palo Alto (average 15 inches a year), it’s difficult to know how effective any “green” solution is, compared to a more traditional stormwater management solution.

Given the make-up of the BRC, it’s not surprising that “green” solutions seem to have taken on emphasis, even though there is little evidence that they actually provide any real protection to property, or human life, during periods of heavy rains and flooding, as we saw back in 1998.

By the way, is the current Storm Drain Master Plan on-line?


5 people like this
Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 22, 2017 at 4:11 pm

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

Joe,

Here is a link to the Storm Drain Master Plan.

Web Link


14 people like this
Posted by Groundwater pumping
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2017 at 4:36 pm

I continue to favor ongoing work on our stormwater system, and acknowledge that the fee increase is minimal.

But I can not support the new fees when nothing has been done about the groundwater pumping issue. Groundwater pumping creates virtually all of the usage of the system from April thru October, and yet we've made no attempts to recapture any costs from that impact. I see several comments about being unhappy about maintenance costs - that's a simple place to apply new basement pumping fees.

Until there's a sufficient mechanism to measure and charge for pumped groundwater flooding into our system, you'll not get my vote.


15 people like this
Posted by San Jose
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2017 at 4:53 pm

Why don't we follow the example of San Jose, which banned groundwater pumping and any basements in new buildings!

The reason for this is the depletion of groundwater which was causing several neighborhoods to sink! It had become extremely noticeable in Willow Glen, the Rose Garden, Naglee Park, Almaden Valley and Downtown.

Now that there has been no groundwater pumping for a few years, the sinking has stopped and the aquifers are beginning, at long last, to replenish themselves!

As a bonus, this has saved quite a number of large trees, especially oaks.


10 people like this
Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 22, 2017 at 5:18 pm

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

The Blue Ribbon Task Force did recommend that that groundwater pumping be managed and fees be considered. The Council and city staff have worked very closely with Save Palo Alto Groundwater, and I do not believe that this advocacy organization has been in opposition to the ballot measure. The measures on the sustainability side of this measure would work to replenish shallow groundwater.

The Blue Ribbon task force had extensive discussion as to whether a "fee" for groundwater extraction should be incorporated into this fee. We realized that while this was a good goal, it was not practical venue to fund stormwater management. This ballot measure is to broadly build capital improvements for storm water and must have a dependable funding base. A user fee on shallow groundwater usage cannot be predicted and is not dependable, and in all likelihood would diminish as the cost to the developers was felt. Therefore it could not be a practical measure, and would also be inappropriately voted in as a parcel measure.

The City has the discretion to enact special fees to dissuade shallow groundwater, a user fees rather than a parcel fee. You likely have attended the Policy and Procedure discussions on this, and learned that the city is working on several parallel measures to reduce the water resource impact of this practice. Many of these approaches will be tested in 2017, and my understanding would be ready for enactment in 2018. That 2017 appears to be a temporary wet year, I would judge that we can endure until getting the policies right. I have asked that any fees from shallow groundwater be targeted to additional infiltration projects as a mitigative measure.

As such you have selected the incorrect "proxy" to vent your concern, pull back your legions, and let's get this measure in the bag. The measure has the endorsements of the best of our environmental community including Acterra, Canopy, League of Conservation Voters, Grassroots Ecology, and the Clean South Bay. Your interest to promote policy for shallow groundwater have already been effective as staff is readying new programs, and the timing of this measure is urgent as the funding expires in June 2017.


5 people like this
Posted by Southgate Resident
a resident of Southgate
on Feb 22, 2017 at 5:28 pm

Thanks Bob,
As I mentioned, our streets definitely flow better. However, in 2007, the city stated that they did not have any money left to complete many remaining projects from the 2005 increase, correct? Here's an article from PA Weekly (page 3): Web Link

The promises that were made, and these can be found in the ads purchased by the Vote Yes on Storm Drain Fee people, were not fully accomplished.
(page 8) Web Link
So, why should we support this new measure? The last measure stated that we should be confident that the money would be used to accomplish all of the items because there was a specific list, there was a sunset clause and there was a Blue Ribbon Committee. What makes this tax different than then last one?

As far as the General Fund and Utility money spent to fix the streets in Southgate, that was LONG overdue. After a rain, the streets were basically mosquito breeding grounds for the next week due to the lack of drainage. Many homes' driveways were lower than street level as the streets hadn't been properly repaved in many decades. The streets were constantly flooded after even the smallest of storms.


Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2017 at 5:42 pm


Web Link

This link (provided above) points to an extract from the Storm Drain Master Plan, not the Master Plan itself. However, there is a lot of good information in this 43-page document.


7 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 22, 2017 at 11:18 pm

Why increase the fee when they never do anything to improve things
or fix chronic problems that have been around since the big flood.
Good god, almost 20 year and people are still being flooded. No more
money without a specific plan, schedule and realistic budget.


19 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2017 at 6:42 am

The utility is transfering in 2017 to the city $18 million in profits, and also collects another $12 million in "utility user taxes", for a total of $30 million. The utility department should transfer $7 million less to the city to pay for the storm drain improvements, instead of passing another tax.

You see the shell game going on here. The city transfer money from the utility department to pay for pet projects, like a PR person, remodeling the city hall lobby with big screen televisions, then says there is not enough money to repair storm drains.


4 people like this
Posted by Stepheny McGraw
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2017 at 12:38 pm

We have seen what happens to other communities when they do not tend to their infrastructure during this very stormy weather. Palo Alto needs to continue with the upgrades and maintenance of its storm drains. By law, storm drain and storm water management cannot come out of the General Fund, but must be separately funded.


Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 23, 2017 at 1:12 pm

@Bob Wenzlau,

Can you please clarify for me about Channing? I well remember the long time period the street was torn up. This was for storm water movement improvements. I had impression super duper better pumps were improved/installed under the street to move storm drain water better to the bay. Then awhile ago, I read that these pumps weren't -- in fact --all that great.
W/o having read this entire thread, I reference your post at 11:12 on 2/22 which notes work done on Channing.
Question: why wasn't it done sufficiently this last time around? I am not appreciating that I am now supposed to fund more dollars towards an improvement there, AND have Channing torn up for another year or etc.

Taking steps to improve the city wide system should be a budget priority, not an add-on at this late date of 2017 in the history of the City of Palo Alto. Look at the size of this city's budget!


3 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 23, 2017 at 3:36 pm

Flood infrastructure improvements should be paid for by those that bought in flood zones not by the rest of us.


4 people like this
Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 23, 2017 at 4:53 pm

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

To my fellow resident, the street flooding that this measure controls has no correlation to flood zones formed when creeks might flood low lying areas. The generosity you express in your allocation of who should pay (not you) is misplaced as street flooding is controlled through a stormwater management that is city-wide including the Downtown North that you claim as home (the rest of us). Hope this clarifies and brings you to being a supporter of this fair program.


7 people like this
Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 23, 2017 at 5:33 pm

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

A couple of other comments,

To Southgate Resident, The article from 2007 did speak to a scary time, and budgets appeared in jeopardy ... BUT ... all the projects promised projects were completed. The only short coming are some feeder lines to the Matadero pump station that will be completed in the next phase, but that is a minor shortfall. So your rhetorical question has an answer, "Why should we fund this again given the past track record?" The answer is because the City and the Oversight Committee completed what was promised within the budget.

To Anonymous, Your question of why would we be doing a project on Channing after completing a project on Channing has an easy answer. There is no project planned on Channing, as you inadvertently read the 2005 project list and assumed it as those forecast in the next round. Of interest Channing is the backbone of storm drainage in this part of town where an enormous culvert 5 feet in size was installed. The new projects on Lincoln will tie into this.

You can decide on merits, but basically this is a sound investment with defensible accomplishments.



Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 24, 2017 at 9:41 am

@Stepheny --

> We have seen what happens to other communities when they do not
> tend to their infrastructure during this very stormy weather.

Could you be more specific in your claim? What communities have let their "infrastructure" decline, what are the yearly expenditures of these communities, and what are your sources for these claims?

Thanks.


2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 24, 2017 at 10:03 am

I have attended previous meetings at the Santa Clara Department of Water in which many small cities presented requests for services to their local areas to prevent flooding. As the drought went on SC Water Board provided many disclaimers concerning amount of funds available and where their priorities are. To my knowledge no one makes a move in their city unless it is approved by the SC Water Board. No digging, no trucks, no employees without their approval. And they have the funds to make things happen - or in this case as we have seen things do not happen leading to disasters. So from where I am sitting this is a county problem and county budget issue. they control the purse strings. Please report on the actual control points for decision and budgeting - it is a county issue.


8 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 24, 2017 at 11:31 am

1) Is there anything else on the ballot besides the proposed increase in the storm drain fee?

2) How much is this special election costing?

3) Was there any attempt made to divert funds from other projects to fund the improvements?


4 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 24, 2017 at 1:14 pm

@Stepheney:

> By law, storm drain and storm water management cannot
> come out of the General Fund, but must be separately funded.

Could you help us understand this better by providing a link to the CA Code that excluded Stormdrain funding from a city's general fund?

Thanks.


6 people like this
Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 24, 2017 at 6:19 pm

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

Resident - My hunch is you mean the Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD), not the Santa Clara Department of Water. You would hold that the SCVWD and not the City of Palo Alto should provide for flood control.

The duties between cities and the SCVWD have been divided, and are consistent across the county. The SCVWD manages the flood risks that come from creeks. This is broadly because creeks do not respect city boundaries and need a coordinated view across cities.

However, the cities are left to get the storm water from the streets to the creeks where they outfall. The SCVWD does not provide those services.

Our city would be flooded if the City did not provide a storm drainage system. The SCVWD would not ever have the jurisdiction or authority to put storm water systems into a City.

Now there of course is another agency, Santa Clara County, and one would ask why does the County not provide this. Again, their duty as far as storm drains is in non incorporated areas. I suppose that when a community like Palo Alto opts to "incorporate" they assume the duties storm and other features.


1 person likes this
Posted by Save Palo Alto's Groundwater
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 24, 2017 at 9:51 pm

@San Jose
We are very interested in the specific ordinance or directive in San Jose.
The Palo Alto City Council will be considering adopting an ordinance related to construction dewatering on March 7. We believe that it is feasible and affordable to build basements without discharging groundwater to the storm drains, (using local area dewatering methods, which are proven)and intend to ask City Council to direct Staff for confirm the feasibility of such an ordinance in 2017, and adopt such an ordinance for 2018. Council Members and Staff are always more comfortable leading if someone else has pioneered the road.


1 person likes this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 25, 2017 at 8:24 am

Thank you for the response on the SCVWD. At the time I was there it was to support clean-up of the SF Creek. There has been continuous discussion on clean-up and correction of bridges. It appeared that the Joint Powers for San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Mateo had control here since it was a border between the counties and there was some disagreement between all of the parties on how to proceed. Then there is the 100 year old dam at the top which SU controls so many parties involved. At least there is work being done on the creek at the 101 interchange.

Clean-up of the drains assumes that when the water does go in the major drain that it will move effectively out to the bay. There lies the rub. Looking at Adobe Creek yesterday the water was not clear - as it has been in the past - but dirty brown. Obviously the hills above are deteriorating and the dirt is moving down the established water ways out to the flood plane east of 101. And look at the flood plain east of 101 - intense growth of vegetation which is now going to have a pile of dirty water dumping into it.
If the goal is to get the water into the bay without flooding then who is suppose to be clearing some vegetation east of 101. I realize that the vegetation in part helps distribute the water in the flood plane but who is clearing enough vegetation to allow more water going into the bay.


6 people like this
Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 25, 2017 at 12:01 pm

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

All,

I congratulate all of us that have reached this far down into the discussion.

So, let' talk about San Fransisquito Creek for a bit, and how this connects in. Resident is correct that there is a problem in the overall system if streets drain well, but there is no place to put the drained water for that portion of Palo Alto that drains to San Fransisquito Creek if it is at flood stage. Of interest most of Palo Alto drains to Matadero and not San Fransquito Creek. Another tidbit is that streets drains before the flood stage hits. The flooding of the creeks is caused by the upstream basins (think hills) and not by our streets.

Given this introduction, how does San Francisquito Creek get maintained. The creek is odd in that the creek is mostly owned by private parties as their parcels cross into the creek. The SCVWD is granted a maintenance easement. The San Fransisquito JPA that is working to construct the new Chaucer street bridge does not do the maintenance. So it is really awkward to maintain San Fransisquito creek. Every August all the agencies walk the reach of the creek from Oak Creek apartments to Bayshore and they point out maintenance issues. Then the different agencies would do the maintenance required. However, this is a riparian (natural) creek so one cannot cut down trees at will, and the tree root systems often provide stability to the channel.

As for east of Bayshore reach. This did get overgrown, and we are in the midst of a 3 year project - 2 more years left to scour the channel and leave it with capacity for both sea level rise as well as over 100 year capacity. This is a project of the San Francisquito JPA. After completion, the maintenance of that portion would likely fall to SCVWD.

The brown color of Adobe and other creeks is normal in storm flows and not so much representative of conditions awry. In the summer most of the flow is caused by groundwater seepage which is clean, but when water enters the creek in storms by surface flow and given the turbulence of a stream, brown is the operative color. There of course is an entire duty to limit the flow of sediments to storm systems - the hay bails we might see around construction projects. So sediments are not good, but in a storm event they are common.

Now one correction about Stephanie's statement. The City's General Fund could be applied to pay for the storm drain system - it is a general fund. There is not a state law. However, the contrary is not true. The enterprise fund we maintain through this parcel measure for stormwater management cannot be used for other purposes.

Again, I am struck that much of this is coming together. Yeah, about when we all felt like screaming, but it still seems to be coming together.


9 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 25, 2017 at 12:45 pm

Bob, thanks for all you're doing.

I still want to know how much this special election will cost, why they're rushing on this now and why they can't get the money from other wasteful city spending.

The Utility Dept. has done nothing to help us reduce our bills by cancelling garbage removal during vacations, etc. yet they keep sending expensive mailings on composting, zero waste etc etc. Let them cut those expensive and silly mailings first before they ask us for more money.

The mayor's recent letter bragged about how they're going to spend lots of money on roundabouts, sharrows, channelling roadways, etc. etc. which many have stated for years they don't want.

Look at your phone bills, car registration, cable bills, etc. and you'll see that we're already paying a lot of city "use tax" or fees etc.


5 people like this
Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 25, 2017 at 1:17 pm

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

This is a relatively inexpensive election in that it is conducted by the City of Palo Alto instead of the County. Therefore, a mailing would cost about $20k for postage. There is administrative time - yes quite a bit - that would include the City Attorney vetting the measure, staff working through the development of the ballot, and the clerk counting results. It might be lower cost as this is a parcel vote as opposed to a general election vote. When it is a general ballot then a huge cost profile comes alive, I recall like a payment to the County of over $100k. So this all in all is a pretty good value to get a determination like this. I have not heard a fixed number, but my "hunch" is is all said about $50k to $75k to get the vote with postage complete and staff overhead complete.


7 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 25, 2017 at 3:57 pm

Thanks, Bob. This election may be relatively inexpensive but not while the city's running a deficit, pleading poverty and continuing to spend on things the residents don't want and have been actively opposing.

I still want to know why they can't pay for this from other funds., especially as they're continuing their deficit spending on the election, roundabouts, raises for every single city employee.

I'd like to see some evidence they're going to economize before authorizing more expenditures and some evidence of accountability.


5 people like this
Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 26, 2017 at 7:05 am

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

Online Name, The "proxy" stance in this vote to me is problematic -- waiting for evidence of city-wide accountability and economizing. Our stormwater programs are an example of a well run program, diligent staff and a record of accomplishment. Of course there will be bumps, but like the 2007 budget crisis in the stormwater program, staff actually pulled out of it, and got the scoped work complete. The service provides basic infrastructure that protects home and business. Budgets have been met. As such it is accountable and economical. You should vote yes to validate a successful program. Your yes vote sends a message just as you feel your no vote would as well.


9 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 26, 2017 at 10:36 am

Bob, I hear you but I disagree. The city must be motivated to provide cost-effective responsive services somehow instead of always asking for more money from us.

I've called, written and sent photos of Lake Lowell to the Public Works Dept. and the Utilities Dept for YEARS and years. The most substantive response I've ever gotten is, "Oh, the street is old" yet they've repaved and worked on the street and sewers many many times over the years, most recently this year. They rushed to put in giant BoTTS Dots and a controversial bike lane but they can't fix one storm drain that becomes a rushing river and a broad and deep lake on one of the busiest streets in town?

How do you suggest we get them to become responsive?


3 people like this
Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 26, 2017 at 4:34 pm

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

The Lowell lake is scheduled for repair in the Summer of 2017. What is it about being anonymous?? You seem intelligent and engaged, but opt to hide your name. Staff has asked for photos and seek to be responsive. I understand it is a curb and gutter issue that can be resolved in this scheduled street repair. I would be happy to advise you on how to engage with staff, and to get this input in. My hunch is your lake will be gone soon.


5 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 26, 2017 at 5:28 pm

Thanks for tracking down the answer so quickly. Evidently they respond faster to "stakeholders" than ordinary taxpayers.

Trust me, I identified myself to the city in my polite phone calls and emails over the years when I also complained about the huge permanent puddle in front of my own driveway. Fortunately it only took a few YEARS to get them to fix my driveway problem but it's absurd that it will take them until this summer to fix Lake Lowell when they could have easily and more cost-effectively fixed it at the same time they did my driveway a few years back.


7 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 26, 2017 at 5:56 pm

PS: Staff has the communications and, checking my files, I see they've had them for 2 years during which time they've done repaved and done considerable OTHER work in the immediate area while still ignoring Lake Lowell.

If they can't reference them by the street addresses of the problem, they can check their chron files for 3/21/15 when they first sent out advisories they were fixing the storm drains through 3/23/15 when I detailed the problems for two different staff members via email, not counting those I spoke to the workers while they were working on the street.

I really don't mean to beat this to death but this is the sort of time-consuming process regular people experience. I don't consider 2 1/2 years responsive.


8 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2017 at 8:25 pm

The city has $1,000,000 to spend to try another bike sharing program, but doesn't have the money to spend on storm drains. Amazing...

Story here:
Web Link

Another example where the city and city council spend on their pet projects, but cry poverty when it comes to funding high priority items.


7 people like this
Posted by Southgate Resident
a resident of Southgate
on Feb 27, 2017 at 3:51 pm

Just received my ballot in the mail.

Looking over the costs associated with this, it came as little surprise that one of the largest line items is "Administrative Support". Evidently, there is a larger outlay in admin support than the line item that actually reads, "Storm Drain Capital Improvements".

Also noticed that they throw in the permissible uses clause of: uses include, BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO, ... That doesn't seem to restrict the funds in a meaningful way.

My ballot is already in the mail. Voted No


5 people like this
Posted by Andrew Sharpe
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 27, 2017 at 7:42 pm

Hmm. "the issue of flooding -- especially around the San Francisquito Creek", is certainly real, and yet, this proposal does nothing around the San Francisquito Creek. Take a look at the map accompanying the ballot; all the improvements are located around 101, and all are either on the other side of Embarcadero, or next to it. I don't mind paying a bit extra, but in this case, perhaps the funds could be raised from the areas that will directly benefit.


2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 28, 2017 at 12:02 am

The funds from this fee will pay for items that will help to prevent flooding in potential flood zones. This is clearly shown in the ballot map of planned expenditures funded by this fee. Let the owners who bought in these flood zones pay for these improvements, not the residents of the whole city.


5 people like this
Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 28, 2017 at 5:49 am

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

Andrew, Often the improvements you observe are in major trunk lines that carry flows from upstream locations. So capital investment is needed toward the outfalls. So the improvements focus on a system approach benefitting across a large portion of the city - not all - but a significant portion. As such a fee model that is just based on a concept of a benefitting neighborhood is not viable.

A significant portion of the fees are applied system wide for both compliance and water resource management - a characteristic that challenges your premise to just have the beneficiaries pay. The compliance burden on the City for stormwater is enormous, and not one that the City electively pursues. The benefits of compliance are healthy creeks and habitats, and a cleaner bay, but it comes with regulatory teeth. The water resource elements are in there early stages, but seek to allow more permeable surfaces that would lead to a healthier urban forest but also some resiliency in town as we experience drought.

When one studies the map of this phase of the stormwater improvements coupled with the last phase, and albeit future phases one will likely see that the improvement areas rotate around Palo Alto and are not always concentrated at Bayshore. Just one example related to where I work, is Town & Country where many have noticed flooding. The improvements now underway along Lincoln will help the draining at Town & Country.

I would beg you take a more generous view of these services and improvements.


5 people like this
Posted by maurice druzin
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 28, 2017 at 10:31 am

Bob Wenzlau and the Panel have spent many hours working thoughtfully to improve our neighborhoods.
He has responded to all the questions with facts,and has not engaged in emotional rhetoric.Many of the negative comments were not based on accurate information, and overall, he has presented a compelling argument to move forward with multiple small steps to improve the storm and flood systems, and protect our homes.(we were flooded and out of our home for 3 months in 1998, and were angry too!)
I urge everyone to support this initiative, and thank Bob and the panel for their countless hours of work.


7 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 28, 2017 at 12:01 pm

I applaud Bob for being responsive.

One final question because it's the deciding factor for me: With all the money the city wastes on nonsense like the $1,100,000 bike share program etc., why can't they find the money elsewhere?


6 people like this
Posted by Southgate Resident
a resident of Southgate
on Feb 28, 2017 at 3:25 pm

I too appreciate Bob's responsiveness, even if they didn't convince me. There are some questions that have been left unanswered, however, such as why are the admin costs a bigger expense than actual capital improvements? And, why did the measure need to put in the clause that funds could be used for "but not limited to..."? If it's a storm drain fee, why is it needed to put in that clause where the sole intent is to give the city flexibility to spend the money as they wish?


5 people like this
Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 28, 2017 at 4:49 pm

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

Online Name, I will not convince, but I believe the use of enterprise funds is an appropriate vehicle for stormwater management. Though there is some "discretion" that one commenter noted, that discretion is controlled by an citizen oversight committee. (I am not on this committee, but this is one honorable group of citizens that for 10 years have monitored and calibrated the spending - my hats off to them for their years and years of service.) While there is an obvious limit, the use of focused enterprise funds is a best practice as one can trust the monies will go to the objective. When the City does the right thing in fiscal management, you should support it.

As for the administrative costs, there are two parts to the administrative cost. One part is the direct services, and the other is the indirect. Recall that there is engineering, maintenance, and compliance that must be performed on the storm drain system - that is the bulk of the "admin" and it is legit. However, there is also an overhead charge the City places on these funds, and those essentially cover legal, information technology and other charges. Yes, that charge drives me nuts, but the oversight committee might have the chance to drive this down. You don't really know what you get.

I appreciate the concern regarding how General Fund monies are used. I will just leave it that disposition of the General Fund is a separate matter.

Please take a leap of faith in this measure through your yes vote, and allow the team at the City and your fellow community members to accomplish this segment of infrastructure management rather than throwing it back into the chaos that a no vote would do. Many of us just don't have the stamina to do a restart on this (I don't), and a causal or symbolic no vote for other issues is really frustrating to those of us that are working on infrastructure priorities and trying to get work accomplished.

I appreciate the discourse very much.


7 people like this
Posted by Save Palo Alto's Groundwater
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 28, 2017 at 8:11 pm

Save Palo Alto's Groundwater recognizes the need for the Stormwater Management Fee, both to offset the substantial costs of operating the storm drain system. We also appreciate the Green Infrastructure Initiatives, which strive to use our soils and aquifer to filter and transport stormwater.

We hope that the City Council will on 3/7 (6 PM) will direct Staff to propose regulations for construction dewatering that prohibit the use of storm drains for disposal of water from basement construction dewatering that take effect next winter. Proven construction methods that greatly reduce the amount of water pumped and dumped are available, and used locally. Please come on 3/7 and let Council Members know you support prohibiting use of the storm drains for disposal of water from basement construction dewatering. Or, send an e-mail to City.Council@cityofpaloalto.org letting them know your concerns.

See Web Link


5 people like this
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 4, 2017 at 12:20 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

Bob or other member of the oversight committee,

Can you provide the rationale for the new, two-component fee structure in which a fixed sunset date is again in place for a “Projects and Infrastructure Component” (i.e., $6.17/ERU/month plus annual CPI increase, with 6% max, for 15 years), but there is no sunset date aside from council vote to terminate for the “Base Component" ($7.48/ERU/month plus annual CPI increase with 6% max).


9 people like this
Posted by Mary
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 4, 2017 at 2:31 pm

"You don't really know what you get.....Please take a leap of faith in this measure..."

We have been taking leaps of faith in Palo Alto for decades, and by now, anyone who's been paying attention does know exactly what we get for our money. If you think the city has been an honest and faithful steward of the millions of our dollars they manage, then by all means, take a leap of faith and give them some more. But if you want to send a message that the city needs to budget carefully and set spending priorities with the heaps of money they already extract from us, then vote no.

Bob Wenzlau clearly is an open and honest person and exactly the kind of person you'd want involved in civic affairs in a well-run and honest system. But I'm kind of with Online Name on this: at a certain point credulousness and good intentions in the face of a government system that's become untethered from the purpose of serving its constituents degenerates into useful idiocy.


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Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 5, 2017 at 6:26 am

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

Fred, The rationale for the component that expires is that a fixed list of capital improvements was created based off current conditions, and a time frame of 15 years was chosen toward construction. In another 15 years another citizen/staff group would have the duty to assimilate the capital improvements to forecast the breadth of a future budget for capital improvements. In contrast the ongoing base fee is for known recurring duties such as maintenance and compliance. This base component is done to preserve the enterprise fund for ongoing duties. If in 15 years we found that no capital projects are needed, the base fee would be preserved. This round the capital projects in the current parcel vote will complete what we deemed "high priority" flooding areas and also step into a zone called "medium priority". Given the progress into the medium zone, my hunch is the capital demand in 15 years will be lower unless sea level rise places a new demand. Hope this offers some clarity. Bob


4 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 15, 2017 at 2:10 pm

This all seems like a shell game to extract more money from us for "essential" things while spending the freed up money on stuff like $3000 bicycles and roundabouts. They need to shuffle some of the utility money in storm drains.


2 people like this
Posted by Competent oversight?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 15, 2017 at 5:02 pm

The claim that the committee is highly competent hit a dull thud when I saw the name Peter Drekmeier, Co-Chair.

I watched him on the City Council for a long time and competent is not an accurate description of his participation.
A sure vote for developers would be more accurate.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.