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This is no solution for the creek's problems

Original post made by diana diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger, on Mar 24, 2008

The day after the San Francisquito Creek flooded in 1998 in Palo Alto, I happened to call a friend the next morning on a business matter, not even knowing where he lived. “I can’t talk to you right now, Diana. I am standing ankle deep in water in my own living room.”

Since that terrible flood that affected hundreds and hundreds of residents, there have been feeble attempts to try to “fix” the creek problem. Ten years later, we are now back to the beginning, with a solution nowhere in sight.

All this despite the fact that a Joint Powers Authority was formed, and a woman named Cynthia D’Agosta was hired to figure out what to do. She was earning a six-digit salary since the early part of this century. We were soon paying one of her relatives whom she put on the JPA payroll.

I had long wondered what a person would do every day, five days a week, 40 hours a day, to “fix” the creek. I was told that she was involved in all sorts of studies and was trying to work with the Army Corps of Engineers to come up with a solution.

For years the JPA board members agreed that anything done to improve the creek had to be environmentally sound and safe, and that means not harming plants, fish, insects or wildlife.

The “solution,” we were soon told, would take millions of dollars (if not billions) and about 40 years to complete. The JPA was relying solely on the Army Corps of Engineers for direction and guidance, and figured that we would get annual payments from the federal government to finance our creek problem.

Then the Army Corps got involved in Katrina, the federal government balked at spending much money to come up with creek solutions, and everything was suddenly on hold.

D’Agosta apparently has left (although her exit was not reported in local newspapers as of Monday), and now I read in the Weekly that the JPA is going to ask the public — yes, we, the people —to suggest what should be done. A list of 26 possible approaches are listed on the city’s web site and we can choose one of the suggestions or add our own.

This is blatantly ridiculous. I took a look at that list, and as a lay person could not even speculate which approach would work. Maybe there are a few engineers in town with expertise on creek flows and flooding problems that could offer their ideas — that would be fine, but I cannot begin to say which route I prefer. For example, suggestions 15 to 21 include the following:
15) Construct a culvert around/adjacent to the Pope-Chaucer bridge
16) Construct a culvert around/adjacent to the Middlefield bridge
17) Widen channel in areas of low capacity
18) Build floodwalls in areas of low capacity
19) Construct floodwalls upstream of Pope-Chaucer bridge to improve storage capacity of channel
20) Construct a pump-pressure pipe bypass at Willow Rd
21) Install underground storage below Alma Street in Menlo Park

See what I mean?

Suggestions from us are due in by April 9 and should be e-mailed to

And costs for all this? Well, a very scaled-down creek solution (one not yet chosen) will be $10 million to $50 million – or more, according the city’s web page. A consultant will cost $175,000 and planning costs are an estimated $3 million.

Plus all the millions we have already spent on the JPA and its staff to get us nowhere.

Most of all, I feel sorry for the people living near the creek whose homes are endangered each time we have heavy rains during the winter season.

Comments (27)

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 24, 2008 at 5:56 pm

If I give input to the city, I hope I'll be paid as much as all the other consultants the city hires! And I'm sure the city will actually pay attention to me, just as did when I sent my ideas about city manager qualifications.

Isn't civic engagement wonderful?

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Mar 24, 2008 at 7:36 pm

Who paid her salary? The city or someone else?

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2008 at 7:00 am

Perfection is the enemy of good enough. There is no design that will withstand the 500 year flood; that does not mean give up to the 5 year flood.

Like this comment
Posted by Janet H.
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2008 at 10:56 am

The outgoing Executive Director had poor judgement. Bad judgement to hire her relative, flawed judgement choosing projects that got us no-where and worse ability to design a coherent flood control strategy.

Her move to CGFH is more of a demotion than anything. Hopefully she can bring in more funding than she doid with the JPA.

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Posted by David Killam
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 25, 2008 at 3:00 pm

I represent the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District. I'm not sure Ms Diamond totally understands how the Corps of Engineers works. Whether or not the Corps spends money on a project has less to do with external events, such as Hurricane Katrina and more to do with Congressional preferences. Almost all of our projects are specifically funded by Congress and each project has to be studied and then fully justified to Congress before Congress authorizes the project and then allocates funds to proceed. The exception to this would be if the project is part of a much larger systemic project. I'm not sure about annualized payments to finance a project, which she mentions. Sometimes we will enter a project cost sharing agreement with a community in which the community is refunded part of the cost of a project on a after-the-fact basis. But in most cases, the money for a project is allocated by Congress with a cost sharing agreement with the state or local community. I am not familiar with any projects that have taken 40 years to complete, although many flood-control projects can take several years to complete. I hope this answers some questions.

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2008 at 3:16 pm

Dave, it does not answer the question - why not do what local resources can do while Washington simmers? We all know
God helps those who help themselves - Does CofE feel the same?

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Posted by Can't-Wait-'Till-He's-Gone
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2008 at 1:22 pm

> The outgoing Executive Director had poor judgement.

And her boss--the City Manager--had even poorer judgment for letting her spin in the wind for all of these years. This City Manager never seemed to learn: "the proof is in the pudding". He seemed to happy just letting people go to meetings and spin their wheels.

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Posted by Blame the Politics, not the Person
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 26, 2008 at 2:09 pm

I think Diana D is guilty of greatly over-simplifying this whole issue. How effective would she be if she was put in the middle of competing local government agencies and districts, one has to wonder? It's always easier to criticize those trying to make positive change than to try to support ideas that might be unpopular in the short term in order to find a solution in the long term. If Diana thinks she can do a better job than Ms D'Agosta, I welcome her to run for the open job. Let's see if she will put her efforts where her mouth is. At least Ms D'Agosta tried to get PA, MP, EPA, etal to find a solution that was agreeable & fundable to all.

(On the hiring of a relative, if the relative is qualified and does a good job - at least you know they are committed more than some Joe Blow off Craigs List! I'd hire my mother right about now if I thought she would show up for work every day.)

I wish Ms D'Agosta well in her new job

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Posted by David
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 26, 2008 at 2:46 pm

The solution to flood control problems has been known for about 3,000 years.

You build a damn.

The damn must be upstream, and in this case upstream means Stanford. So just take some land from Stanford (this is one of the few legitimate uses of eminent domain) and build it. And do it fast before they cover the foothills with buildings.

Oh, by the way, the damn already exists; it is at Jasper ridge. Stanford's reluctance to dredge behind the damn (for "environmental" reasons) definitely contributed to the flood of 1998.

So just force them to dredge a few tons of muck to solve the short term problem and then find another site for a damn for the long run.


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Posted by Jennifer
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 26, 2008 at 5:40 pm

Ms. Diamond is on the right track here. D'Agosta's attempt was not so valiant as it was half-hearted. Pay attention to her action. She bailed when it got tough. That's commitment.

The "Joe Blow" off Craig's list or any other legitmate and fair means didn't get a chance because this person hired her brother or son or whatever it was.

So she brought in yes person. That's what this person was. She likely set his salary, knowing the JPA. These local pols on the this board had lax oversightsight and provided inflexibility in their thinking about solutions.

Like this comment
Posted by Louise, San Jose State
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2008 at 9:26 pm

Wow, Ms. Diamond has some vendetta against the JPA. Narrow and shallow in her ability
to see the truth, that working in government agencies these days is a thankless place.
Creating any kind of solution to this problem is only multiplied by Stanford's lack of 'true
stewardship' or so called environmental protection. What they cannot control they will not
support and have played a major roll of undermining any progress the JPA could have possibly made. The city didn't help, three counties couldn't agree and the Army Corps
of engineers were always three steps behind. I say, Ms. D'Agosta stayed way too long and was paid way too little by the JPA for her progressive thinking. The board spun their wheels, didn't do their homework, the meetings are on online--read them Ms Diamond,
asking for study after study--never a consensus---what a way to earn a living. It's still a
good old boy world out there and back room politics corrupt our jobs and real work does not get done. Only in this case, it's the 'not in my backyard' politics of Stanford University that prevented innovative solutions, plain and simple. Ms D'agosta will be the fall guy
and go off to make a real difference in a community that hopefully, will participate in the
process. God help us Ms Diamond, if solving global warming has something to do w/ Stanford not getting the credit for the solutions, we may all parish, a flood will be the
least of our worries.

Like this comment
Posted by Where is Eshoo?
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 27, 2008 at 9:00 am

It seems pretty clear from the response from the Corps of Engineers that the problem is we have not been able to get a congressional appropriation to fix this BIG, REAL problem in our community (while at the same time Congress funds hundreds of millions for that famous Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska and other similar projects).

So where is the great Anna Eshoo on this? And what about her close working relationship with Speaker Pelosi? Have they no influence in Washington at all?

Personally, I'd like to see Ms. Eshoo throw one fewer news conference about how she is against global warming and spend some more time working her colleagues -- effectively -- so our community can get what we need most from Congress.

After all, isn't that HER JOB? Or is she all show? C'mon Anna, get the job done!

Like this comment
Posted by A free thinker
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Mar 27, 2008 at 9:55 am

Earn a living. Run a racket. Same difference.

hiring relatives + under attentive board= where thing stand now.

With D'Agosta running the Green Hills/Fields org and her relations still JPA, we will have nepotistic behavior and clogged bandwidth as far as the eye can see. Think of the possibilities.

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 27, 2008 at 3:11 pm

Thank you David Killam for giving some facts in a discussion that is mostly opinions so far.

I give Mrs. D'Agosta credit for trying to get 5 disparate groups to work together toward a solution. However, she should have realized after the second year it would be hopeless to get them to agree or to expect Congress to fund the project in less than 10 years. She should have bailed sooner.

David. Why the word "damn" for "dam"? Or were you making a point I don't get?

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Posted by Bob's neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 27, 2008 at 5:01 pm

Bob: I don't know what on gods green earth you are talking when you talk about facts and opinions.

The fact is Mrs. D'Acosta cost us. Cost us money and wasted time that we have to declare lost. Can we afford to make the same mistake again? It's ten year's after the 1998 flood, there is little one can point to.

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Posted by Mo
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 1, 2008 at 4:24 am

> I give Mrs. D'Agosta credit for trying to get 5
> disparate groups to work together toward a solution

It was a job. She got paid to do it. She could have quit sooner. She could have gone to the public with her views of how difficult this might be. She could have run for public office to take this cause even more public.

She had a boss--Frank Benest. He could have decided that this wasn't working and pulled the plug on her job. Benest was a big one for "regionalism"--why didn't he play the "regionalism card" and get all of the players to magically fall into line?

Sorry .. D'Agosta was a poor choice to begin with .. and cost the city residents a lot of money .. producing nothing as a result. And to think that Benest wanted us to pay her salary with his original Storm Drain Tax.

This is just another example of how little government can accomplish with our money in this town.

Like this comment
Posted by Madelyn
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 1, 2008 at 1:32 pm

She did make her views known. It's in the response from "Louise." Sounds like it could be D'Agosta in disguise with the defense of government nepotism and anti-Stanford perspective.

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Posted by Attention crybabies
a resident of Woodside
on Apr 2, 2008 at 1:56 pm

You need to assess the homes and business within the flood area with this fee for service,

The "Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act of 1982" provided local government with an additional financing tool.

DO THAT and SHUT UP - Please.

Like this comment
Posted by Jim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 2, 2008 at 6:12 pm

Our current city manager's house is outside the flood zone. Could that explain the slow process? I think our city buy its next CM domicile in the zone.

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Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 3, 2008 at 4:44 pm

Louise and others,
The community did participate and make an effort. There were a number of organized meetings around actions to take, alternatives, how the system works, etc. A dedicated group formed that went away and discovered the computer simulation model for the creek. They learned how it works, ran numerous scenarios and reported the results.

If you ever wondered whether Palo Alto really has smart people, you would have learned the answer here. Unfortunately all the work was basically a waste because the bureaucracy absorbed it all and then ignored it.

Seems the true purpose of the JPA is to be a full employment act.

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Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 3, 2008 at 4:48 pm

There is indeed a fee; Federal flood insurance. We all pay it.
My house is far, far older than the Chaucer Bridge, which is a primary cause of the flooding danger. This flood enabler was installed by our own local government long after most of the neighborhoods were here.

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Posted by Attention crybabies
a resident of Woodside
on Apr 3, 2008 at 5:07 pm


That doesn't change a thing. You live in Palo Alto and you or the prior home owner voted in the representative to represent your interests into government.

If they didn't do what you wanted - tough. You get what you vote for, got it.

A modified "Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act" will solve the problem which is mainly money, specifically your tax money that is needed to fix the problem.

Like this comment
Posted by Art Kraemer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 3, 2008 at 8:42 pm

Measure B which was approved by the voters in 2000 provides approximately $30 Million to the Santa Clara Water District every year for 15 years. It was specifically for flood control. Five projects were included in the bond measure. Two on the Guadalupe River have been completed, and one was the San Francisquito Creek. The short-term solution being considered will cost approximately $30M.
So the money is already there. However, the previous JPA choose to "let the feds do it" and of course nothing has happened. We don't need more endless discussion and whining. Let's get something meaningful done.

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Posted by Louise
a resident of another community
on Apr 3, 2008 at 9:10 pm

First of all, I am not D'agosta in disguise. I work in the system w/another water
district in N.Bay. I have been involved in 2 other creek and river issues San Anselmo and
Napa River flood issues in the 90's. Still flooding in Marin!
Goverment and local interventions/plan to no avail, to solve these problems.

Maybe people shouldn't build their homes near rivers, creeks and oceans.

Like this comment
Posted by Madelyn
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 7, 2008 at 9:25 am

Ha. It's more like Blame the Politics and Louise#1 that is D'Agosta in disguise. Louise is disguising that she's D'Adosta.

makes sense

Like this comment
Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 11, 2008 at 2:15 pm

This is insane. Can anyone in Palo Alto come up with a solution to our real problems that endanger our property and personal safety? The idiots of this community continually come up with new problems to solve that have nothing to do with basic safety and security. Can't we have a local government that serves the people instead of the arts and environment???????????

Like this comment
Posted by Tom Flynn
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 25, 2008 at 4:23 pm

Millions spent, more being spent. D'Agosta, Murray, Peg Henderson it's all messed up and will continue. The inmates were always running the asylum at the JPA.

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

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