Eleven claims filed against city

Publication Date: Friday Jun 12, 1998

FLOOD OF '98: Eleven claims filed against city

Residents blame the officials for thousands of dollars in property damage

by Elisabeth Traugott

Eleven claims have been filed against the city of Palo Alto for damages to personal property resulting from the flood of Feb. 2-3, most of them alleging that the city's negligence in correcting the design of its bridges over San Francisquito Creek contributed to flooding homes.

Although no lawsuits have yet been filed, the claims are commonly the first step in the pursuit of legal action against the city.

Of the claims, nine are for damage to private homes, one is for damage to an airplane parked at Palo Alto Airport and one is for damage to a business, Palo Alto Upholstery, located at 2023 E. Bayshore Road.

Claims range in value from $1,058 for repairs to the wheels of the plane, which rusted after being submerged in flood water, to more than $200,000 for cleanup costs and diminution of property value for a home on Dana Avenue.

Six of the homeowner claims were filed with cover letters from the office of Palo Alto attorney John Hanna, who has himself filed a claim for damage to his home at 1424 Hamilton Ave.

The majority of the 11 claims are for amounts in excess of $25,000, which means any resulting lawsuits would be heard in superior court if the city rejects the claims.

Although Hanna said that he is not yet representing any of those who filed, the claims that came through his office came with $500 checks that he will hold until enough homeowners express an interest to make filing a lawsuit financially feasible.

In order to afford the high cost of expert witnesses, Hanna said he would need at least 25 property owners to express interest and pay their $500 share of legal costs. Hanna said he has found attorneys willing to handle the case for about half the contingency fees lawyers usually charge for such a case.

The claims that Hanna forwarded to the city all allege the same thing: "Failure and refusal to reconstruct bridge to remove stream blockage. Deliberate policy decision to allow known serious risk of flooding to persist for many years despite warning and demands for action to remove the threat. Failure to maintain clear channel; failure to prepare for expected flood; failure to warn of impending flood."

Named in the claims from Hanna's office are "present and past City Council members, city manager, department of public works, and other members of city staff."

On Monday, the council approved by consent a $90,000 agreement with the San Jose law firm Ruby & Schofield for outside legal help with potential flood litigation.

"I wish they had planned that well ahead to prevent the flooding," Hanna said. 

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