The recent Almanac guest opinion titled “Creek flood control plan doesn't tell the whole story” questioned the upstream flood control project of the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority (JPA). The guest opinion is misleading and ignores the tremendous progress that has been made by the JPA to protect our community from flooding and sea level rise.
The JPA was formed by the cities of Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and East Palo Alto, the Santa Clara Valley Water District (Valley Water), and the San Mateo County Flood Control District (now the Flood and Sea Level Rise Resiliency District) in the wake of the devastating flood of 1998. That flood endangered people’s lives, damaged approximately 1,700 properties along the San Francisquito Creek, and closed Highway 101.
The JPA was created to plan and implement flood control measures to prevent a similar catastrophe from ever happening again. A huge milestone toward this goal was achieved in 2018 when the downstream segment of the project between Highway 101 and the Bay was completed, which will protect 1,000 homes from a 100-year flood event with 10 feet of sea level rise.
The JPA is now planning and designing an upstream flood control project with the goal of protecting people and property from a one in a 70-year flood as was experienced in 1998. The plan is to replace the Pope-Chaucer Bridge so it no longer impedes the natural capacity of the creek and to accommodate greater creek flow by removing in- stream concrete structures at five sites, adjusting the creek banks where necessary, and replacing the University Avenue Bridge parapet extension upstream of that bridge. Contrary to what was asserted in the guest opinion, these relatively modest modifications to the creek are very different than those considered earlier in the planning process and would in no way result in a “permanent sterilization of the creek environment.”
The authors of the guest opinion falsely imply that the JPA is not committed to 100-year flood protection, which is required to relieve homeowners in the flood zone of the financial burden of buying expensive flood insurance. While it would not make sense to leave the community in harm’s way by delaying the planned upstream project that will protect the community from a 70-year flood, the JPA’s ultimate objective is to build flood control infrastructure providing 100-year flood protection. In fact, on March 24, the JPA released a request for proposals to conduct an environmental assessment of implementing 100-year flood protection through a combination of stormwater detention on Stanford lands and additional bank height at strategic locations in the creek.
The authors of the guest opinion also are incorrect in asserting that recent actions by Stanford have taken upstream detention on Stanford lands off the table. In fact, the JPA
is currently in discussions with Stanford about accessing its lands to conduct an evaluation of this very possibility.
Finally, the authors unfairly attack the JPA and its Executive Director Len Materman by stating that “[the JPA has been misleading the public” and that Materman has disclosed minimal information and deployed “smoke and mirrors” in advancing the JPA’s projects. Over the years, the JPA’s members and Materman have repeatedly vetted the JPA’s projects in great detail in countless JPA board meetings and public forums.
During Materman’s tenure, the JPA completed the $77 million Bay to Highway 101 project, certified the final environmental impact report for the 70-year flood protection project upstream of Highway 101, initiated the SAFER Bay project to protect 11 miles of shoreline in two counties from Bay flooding, and created an advanced regional flood warning system that is now a model for others.
This work wasn’t easy and would not have been accomplished but for Materman’s extraordinary leadership, perseverance and creativity. As Materman departs from the JPA after almost 12 years of service, we are confident that we speak for the community in thanking him for a job well done.
Gary Kremen represents District 7 on the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors and is board chairperson of the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority (JPA). Dave Pine represents District 1 on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and serves on the JPA board.