Governor declares state of emergency for winter rainsBy Sara Zaske
Flooded streets, landslides, power outages and downed trees -- the early winter storms hit San Mateo County hard this year. The damage to the Peninsula was serious enough that the governor included San Mateo when he declared a state of emergency for 15 other northern California counties on Feb. 21.
If approved by the federal government, the declaration means that the Peninsula could collect for emergency repairs to local roads. The state has put in for $15 million in federal money for major highway repairs, including $800,000 for an eroded bluff on Highway 1 near Pescadero. Local cities would also be eligible to draw from another pool of $8 million for their own flood repairs.
The process to receive emergency money is long and complicated. But considering the devastating cuts facing city budgets, any money is welcome, according to local officials.
"It has to be something worthwhile, but then we are not flush with money. Like every other city we are nickel-ing and dime-ing it," said Frank Erbacher, Burlingame's assistant director of public works. "Times being what they are, it might be worth spending $3,000 or $4,000 to get $10,000."
Like many departments, public works agencies are facing severe cutbacks. City budgets been crushed from the combined impact of state cuts and reduced revenues due to the economic downturn. In addition, all state money directly slated for transportation projects is currently frozen. Some sources of transportation funds are still flowing, however, including the county's own transportation tax and standard federal funds.
Although the emergency designation appears to be an added boon, the special federal funds will not stave off any of the budget woes, say officials, rather it will just help fill the additional holes left by the rain.
In Daly City, officials are looking to recoup losses on several construction projects, including Avalon Canyon. Because of the rains, Daly City had to spend $350,000 on emergency work to prevent the erosion of a hillside near 1,000 homes in the coastside canyon.
"The city is very frugal with money, but calamities make it more difficult," said Mohinder Sharma, the city engineer.
In other emergencies, property owners have been able to access special federal loans to repair flood damage. To date, the governor's declaration only includes roadways -- which is unfortunate for the city of South San Francisco. During the rains, water from Colma creek, storm drains and sewers overflowed into the street south of Linden and into area residences. The city faces several lawsuits stemming from that flooding.
Public Works officials may still try to seek funds for at least the city's costs. Ironically, the South San Francisco has been trying to fix the problem for years but has been stymied by another arm of the federal government -- the U.S. Department of Fish and Game guarding the presence of an endangered species.
Storms also hit further south in the county, flooding streets and tearing down trees -- although it was not as bad as could have been, according to Peter Ingram, the public works services director for Redwood City.
If the emergency funds come through, Ingram plans to put in for his department's overtime during the storms, including time spent chain-sawing downed trees and clearing storm drains.
First, however, Ingram has to weigh whether it is worth his staff's time to go after the funds. The money will also have little impact on the current budget, because it some times takes two to three years to receive emergency money.
Still, if the city is owed a significant sum for its emergency efforts, Ingram will go after it -- regardless of current or future budget situation. "We have an obligation to go get it," he said. "It's not a windfall."
Copyright ©2003 Independent Newspapers. Published 03/01/2003.