Flood cost may top $40 million

Publication Date: Wednesday Jun 3, 1998

FLOOD OF '98: Flood cost may top $40 million

City underestimated repair cost for flooded private property

by Vicky Anning

Official estimates of the cost of property damage to Palo Alto homes from the February floods have increased almost sevenfold, putting the total bill at more than $40 million. City officials shortly after the floods pegged damage to private property at about $6 million. The figure was based on an estimate of $15,000 in structural damage to each of the 400 affected homes and did not take into account any damage to the content of the homes, said the city's director of public works, Glenn Roberts. Now, Roberts said, the building department is seeing estimates for structural and content damage in the range of $80,000 to $100,000 per home.

Roberts said that though the latest estimate is still just a ballpark figure, the number will be important in working out the pros and cons of various flood abatement projects.

"As improvements to the creek are studied, we'll have to work out a cost-benefit analysis," Roberts said.

Roberts presented the information at a May 27 meeting in Menlo Park, where officials from Palo Alto, Menlo Park and East Palo Alto discussed recent planning efforts toward flood management, erosion control and environmental preservation in the San Francisquito Creek watershed.

The cities are hoping to team up with other agencies in the watershed to form a joint powers authority, which would oversee maintenance of the creek as well as any long-term flood management control projects.

Officials are anxious to secure funding to carry out a study of the different flood control options. Such a study could take up to two years and cost up to $5 million, according to officials from the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

In the other cities in the flood plain, damage was far less costly than in Palo Alto. In East Palo Alto, the number of homes damaged was also about 400, officials said. But the latest damage estimates from that city, based on claims processed by the Red Cross, total less than $500,000, said Michael Bethke, East Palo Alto's director of planning and public works.

"The folks over here tend to be from a lower economic scale, and they probably didn't have such valuable treasures as folks in Palo Alto," said Bethke. Structural damage to homes in East Palo Alto was minimal because water receded very quickly, and very few homes in the city have basements, which also minimized damage, he said. Bethke said most claims in East Palo Alto were for damaged furniture and carpets.

Public sector costs in East Palo Alto are also far lower than in Palo Alto, where the latest estimate is about $1 million. In East Palo Alto, public sector damage was less than $300,000.

In Menlo Park, initial city estimates put damage to private property at $1.2 million, but the number may yet increase, said Ruben Nino, director of engineering services. Damage to public sector property, including operating equipment, was estimated at $325,000, Nino said. 

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