$30 million project to weatherize Palo Alto
Publication Date: Wednesday Sep 20, 1995

PUBLIC WORKS: $30 million project to weatherize Palo Alto

City wants residents to speak out on 30-year, $60 million project

by Peter Gauvin

Before stepping into deep water, the City Council wants to know what the public thinks about a proposal for a $60 million storm drain improvement project that would not be completed until sometime around 2025

The project would upgrade the city's entire system to handle a "10-year storm" without flooding. A 10-year storm is one that has a 1-in-10 chance of occurring in any given year, and which produces 1.62 inches of rain in a six-hour period.

To put such a downpour in perspective, neither the January or March drenchings Palo Alto experienced this year was as large as the theoretical 10-year storm.

The Jan. 9 storm produced 1.38 inches of rainfall in 6 hours and the March 9 storm 1.32 inches.

"Those were probably about three- or five-year storms," said Public Work's Senior Engineer Joe Teresi.

Nevertheless, both of these storms overwhelmed the city's storm drain system in many places, flooding numerous streets, the Embarcadero Road underpass, and several homes and businesses. In some of Palo Alto's older neighborhoods the system is 100 years old.

The city has done two studies of its storm drain system, Teresi said. The first looked at the condition of pipelines and manholes and found that many were in need of repair. That accounts for $5 million of the $60 million project.

The second study looked at the system's capacity to carry storm water and found that it was inadequately sized in many areas, which became visually evident several times last winter. To upgrade the entire system to handle the 10-year storm would cost $55 million.

The Barron Park neighborhood in southwest Palo Alto is the worst off because that residential area has no gutters on its country-like streets and it has fewer storm drains than other neighborhoods, Teresi said.

"We aren't talking about putting in gutters--that's not what the residents want--just more storm drains," Teresi said.

Of the $55 million worth of necessary capacity upgrades, the Council has given a preliminary green light for $13 million to do improvements in the most troubled areas. They include Barron Park, Professorville, the Seale Addition and Southgate neighborhoods.

The improvements would be funded through a combination of bond financing and increases in the storm-drainage fee that appears on property owners' monthly utility bills.

Currently, the fee is $4.25 a month for all single-family residences. It is estimated that over the 30-year period that fee would increase about 5 percent a year, to just under $20.

For commercial and other types of properties the fee is based on the amount of impervious surface area on each parcel. For each 2,500 square feet of concrete or roofing surface, the city charges $4.25 a month. The owners of a 10,000-square foot building, for example, would pay $17 a month.

A series of 10 meetings is planned to inform Palo Alto residents and businesses on the shortcomings of the storm drain system and get their input on the proposed solutions. The series kicks off with two citywide meetings. The first will be held Thursday, Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. and the second will be on Wednesday, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. Both will be in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.

Several business and neighborhood meetings will follow for different areas of the city based on their watersheds: San Francisquito Creek, Adobe Creek, Barron Creek, and Matadero Creek.

To find out which area you are in and dates and times of meetings, see the map and schedule in the city's brochure in today's Weekly.

The Council will decide whether or not to go ahead with the bulk of the project ($42 million worth) next spring. 

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