No deal on who pays to clear San Bruno ChannelBy Nat Friedland
The San Mateo County Flood Control District and Caltrans have come to a temporary stalemate in negotiations over regular maintenance needed to prevent flooding of the trouble-prone San Bruno Creek Channel.
"This is not good news for the Belle Aire neighborhood," said longtime east San Bruno flood watchdog Robert Reichel.
Reichel was referring to a letter sent to the city by San Mateo County Public Works Director Neil Cullen.
"We have declined entering into an agreement with Caltrans -- for the county to accept maintenance of the channel within the Caltrans right-of-way," Cullen wrote.
Reasons given by Cullen for pulling back on a deal included the lack of a guarantee that the county would be reimbursed for all costs as well as liability issues.
However, all parties involved in the negotiation process -- the county Public Works, the state's Caltrans and the City of San Bruno -- agreed that they would keep communications open and try to cooperate as much as possible on holding the channel clear of clogging vegetation and mud.
Scott Munns, San Bruno public works director, pointed out that the lack of a contract would not in itself prevent the county and Caltrans from continuing to work together on specific channel efforts.
"It's unclear that maintenance work [on the San Bruno Creek Channel] won't continue to happen on a regular basis," Munns said. "And it's premature to speculate on whether a long-term contractual relationship between the county and Caltrans can still be reached."
San Bruno's Public Works Department has asking the state to clean its stretch of the channel whenever the county does its cleanup, Munns said.
"If the two agencies don't maintain the same schedule, it has at times reduced effectiveness of channel-clearing measures," he said. "For example, suppose the county dredges mud out of its upstream channel sections. Unless the state does their section at the same time, it could end up higher than the rest of the channel and block the flow."
However, Caltrans and the county did coordinate their efforts for a major clearance job last October and November, preventing a repeat of the Belle Air flooding of November and December of 2002.
Cullen said his department received a standard-language contract from Caltrans, offering to pay a top limit of $15,000 yearly for the county to take over maintenance of the state's small portion of the channel. But any payment was subject to approval by the Legislature.
"We're still figuring out all the county's costs for the last work on the channel in the fall of 2003, but it adds up to six figures," Cullen said.
The square footage causing contention between the county and the state is small -- no more than 400 feet out the half-mile channel that runs from the Sylvan Avenue Caltrain station across San Bruno to the bay. Caltrans owns short stretches along each side of U.S. Highway 101 and a culvert that lets water cross beneath the highway.
"Caltrans did its 2003 work under the environmental permits gotten by the county," Cullen said. "And we're willing to continue the same arrangement in the future, even if it increases our liability risk. Obtaining all the state and federal permits we need to do any work on the channel becomes more and more demanding. It keeps changing."
Caltrans engineer Bart Desai said he is still seeking a deal with San Mateo County.
"We're still talking," he said. "We're waiting for them to call and set up a meeting between our staffs."
Copyright ©2004 Peninsula Examiner. Published 02/24/2004.