Frustrated residents take matters into own handsBy Rebekah Gordon
In San Mateo County, there are a handful of locations that repeatedly flood, frustrating area residents, business owners and the municipalities trying to fix the issue.
But when there is a complicated web of government agencies sharing responsibility for the creeks, a simple solution can be elusive.
On the coast, Pescadero experiences flooding after heavy rainfall on Pescadero Creek Road at the intersection of Pescadero and Butano creeks. For years, the Pescadero Municipal Advisory Council alerted the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and California State Parks (which owns land on the riverbanks), to no avail. The tiny town finally took matters into its own hands and made a sandbag wall along the road, which has reduced flooding.
"We had to do it on our own, because between State Parks, the California Coastal Commission and everyone else, no one will act. 'Let's do a study' is all you ever hear," said Catherine Peery, the council chair. The council is trying to obtain a grant to raise the foundations of buildings by 3 feet on Stage Road, which intersects Pescadero Creek Road, and to create a sewer system for the town, which lacks storm drains. State Parks has obtained a small grant to remove some levees from the 1930s that also contribute to the problem Peery said.
In San Bruno, the 500 block of 7th Avenue in the city's lowland near Highway 101 often floods. A fairly flat pipeline with slow drainage is partly to blame, said Robert Howard, San Bruno's public works deputy director for utilities and operations.
"We are fully focused to get (the pipe) completely cleaned," Howard said. "We're very empathetic and we're trying to do the best we can."
The city would like to do more to fix the problem, but the area is near the Cupid Row Canal, which was built in 1970 by the county to manage flooding from San Bruno Creek. The canal is home to the California red-legged frog, protected as a threatened species since 1996, and the San Francisco garter snake, which has been endangered since 1967.
That allows the state Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board to impose stringent limitations on changes, which makes what can be done expensive.
"I can empathize and sympathize with property owners," said San Mateo County Public Works Director Neil Cullen, whose department oversees the maintenance of the canal which requires permits from those agencies. "All of sudden, flood control is secondary and habitat is primary."
But there is good reason for a department like Fish and Game to get involved, said Maria Or, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Involving multiple agencies in resolving a flood problem, even though it takes time, brings about the most effective solution, she said.
"We want to get as many people involved as possible to review the different alternatives that come up," she said. "I wouldn't say it's an excessive amount of time. It's the amount of time the project takes. It's being thorough."
San Carlos experiences regular flooding problems on Laurel Avenue from its storm drain system that discharges to Cordilleras Creek, which cannot handle much rain water at high tide. The creek flows to Smith Slough.
Along with Redwood City, San Carlos has applied to Fish and Game and the Army Corps of Engineers to clean up erosion sediment at Old County and Industrial roads that aggravates flooding, Public Works Director Parviz Mokhtari said. They hope to get a permit by April or May.
But completing the cleanup requires the participation of the San Mateo County Transit District at the Caltrain property and Caltrans for El Camino Real, bringing more government agencies into the process.
"This is very time-consuming stuff," Mokhtari said.
A second phase would cost the city $1 million to fix the creek system upstream and eventually, Mokhtari said, the two cities and the county would have to work together to remove property in flood zones.
Meanwhile, the city spends $20,000-$30,000 a year on public works staff overtime to clean drains and pile up sandbags, Mokhtari said.
At the corner of Laurel Street and White Oak Way, the San Carlos Chamber of Commerce has been flooded five times in three years, including last weekend.
Each time, the Chamber spends about $12,000 in water damage repairs.
"They need to do a major infrastructure overhaul down here in the White Oaks area, and they keep putting it off and putting it off," Chamber CEO Sheryl Pomerenk said. "We're a nonprofit. We can't afford $12,000."
Staff writers Julia Scott and Christine Morente contributed to this story.
Copyright ©2006 San Mateo County Times. Published 01/07/2006.