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Residents raise issues with Pope-Chaucer bridge project

Original post made on Jan 30, 2014

Despite organizational difficulties and a gym with poor acoustics, Palo Alto and Menlo Park residents clearly voiced their opinion at a community meeting Wednesday night about the potential fate of flood-prone Pope-Chaucer Street Bridge: They're not happy with the options that have been presented to them, and they want more information.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, January 30, 2014, 9:44 AM

Comments (28)

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Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 10:00 am

I believe that most of the "heated" opposition came from Menlo Park residents who were not affected by the 1998 flood. There are thousands of Crescent Park and others who were severely affected by that flooding event, and who are also paying soon-to-get-even-more-expensive flood insurance, who want action now, and view the current opposition as rather selfish and uninformed. Human lives and property (i.e., homes that represent the major part of most peoples assets) are more valuable than a few dozen oak trees.


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Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 30, 2014 at 10:05 am

Sixteen years and counting. We will have that 100 year flood before this ever gets fixed, and this is the easy one every one agrees needs fixing as opposed to removal.


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Posted by Creek Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 10:58 am

Correct me if I'm wrong, but when we - ALL OF US - bought our homes, weren't we appraised of whether our properties were in a Flood Zone? That includes properties on both sides of the Creek. I feel for the Palo Alto residents whose properties were damaged, but sorry, they knew the risks - and that's exactly why Flood Insurance is necessary.


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Posted by why no fix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2014 at 11:02 am

This project must be done urgently, but at no impact to anyone and satisfy everyone's esthetic expectations, at no inconvenience to anyone. How does anything ever get done in this town?


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 30, 2014 at 11:16 am

"...Flood Insurance is necessary."

Floods are optional, especially those with a human cause. Why not just remove that bridge and be done with this mess?


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Posted by Garden Gnome
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 11:36 am

Creek Neighbor, re: "Correct me if I'm wrong, but when we - ALL OF US - bought our homes, weren't we appraised of whether our properties were in a Flood Zone?"

Why, no. No, we weren't. The area was designated a flood zone and flood insurance became (effectively) compulsory after the 1998 flood.

As Midtown writes, "Sixteen years and counting. We will have that 100 year flood before this ever gets fixed..."


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Posted by Tom Rindfleisch
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Two comments for now:

1) I agree with Norm Beamer that "Human lives and property (i.e., homes that represent the major part of most peoples assets) are more valuable than a few dozen oak trees." I like trees as much as anyone -- it's one of the things that makes Palo Alto special. Still, like a necessary surgery that may damage some tissues temporarily, trees will regrow following flood control interventions and re-establish the grown-in beauty of the creek.

2) My house was flooded in 1998 and yes, since moving in in 1985, I had to pay flood insurance as a condition of my mortgage. However, when we in the "Neighborhood Group" started doing hydraulic analyses in 2003, it became immediately clear that most of the flood threat comes from structures (like Pope-Chaucer bridge) put into the creek over the years by the cities of Palo Alto and Menlo Park, Caltrans, and residents along the creek, that hamper severely the natural flow capacity of the creek. Whether or not we decide we can afford a full 100-year flood protection (to eliminate the flood insurance requirement), we at least should re-establish a creek configuration that maximizes flow within the natural channel -- this would have almost eliminated the damage in 1998.

It HAS been 16 years and it's time to get on with the planning and repairs...


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Posted by Save The Oaks
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 1:16 pm

A no floodwalls "Alternative 3" bridge replacement flood solution is proposed here Web Link


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Posted by TheMountainViewGuy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 2:18 pm

>> to build a raised bridge that allows more water to flow underneath

Uh, take a look at this picture from a few years back .... the problem with the bridge is not its height, it is the small "conduit" through it that backs up water on the upstream side.

Web Link

One glance at this and you can see the problem ... that most of the riverbed is restricted to a cylindrical conduit that will back up water. If you look at what is proposed it appears to me that they will reinforce the riverbed and just put a flat roadbed across it. Makes perfect sense to me.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 3:11 pm

@ Garden Gnome - kind of yes, kind of no.

Most of Crescent Park was in a flood zone before the 98 flood. What the zone was rated before the FEMA map update in 1997 (before the flood actually) may have changed --- but everyone was in a flood zone of sorts. X100 for example.

When the FEMA map update came out - the zones were more accurately coded and the flood zones were expanded. The map update was part of the domino process of requiring flood insurance --- as everyone knows, the city made a deal with FEMA to get artificially low rates in exchange for agreeing on the expanded zones without protest. The "deal" is going away as we speak and the rates are going up!

The unspoken other issue about the 1998 flood was the significant rise in the water table throughout the area. If you had open sump pit in your basement at the time of the flood, you found 5 feet of water in your basement (most sump pumps were too small or just plain failed that night). Some basement floors (pre WWII concrete not reinforced) actually ruptured due to the water pressure from underground; flooding basements that way. Many neighbors were pumping out their basements for months after the flood due to the water table change.


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Posted by Save The Oaks
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 5:00 pm

There are also some interesting comments of this same story at the Almanac site. Web Link


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Posted by Wayne
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 30, 2014 at 5:32 pm

Let's hope that any agency doing future flood control work double-checks their math. After the massive flood control project near Gunn High that made Bol Park unusuable for years concluded, the Water District discovered that they had made flood insurance unnecessary for homeowners like me (yay!) but had created a flood threat where there had been none before at a bridge on Louis Road (boo!) A math error, they said. (What did they do, fail to carry the one?)

Since this is a cross-jurisdictional project, I'm not hopeful, but with any luck I will be long dead before this project even gets started.


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Posted by Jim Lyons
a resident of Los Altos
on Jan 30, 2014 at 6:20 pm

I wish they would show some figures showing how much greater the water flow in the creek would be with a new bridge. Would it increase 50%, 100%, what?


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 30, 2014 at 7:17 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

I grew up knowing that Crescent Park and the area around the creek were both flood zones, and it included many other areas around here as well - including Menlo. It's not a real head scratcher, as we are in a valley, and a number of us live close enough to the creek to be affected by its potential for flooding, as well as serious street flooding, as happened in '98.


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Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 7:45 pm

Let me start out by saying that I totally agree with those who are opposed to flood walls. Any 100 year flood solution to San Francisquito Creek must be done by using upstream flood retention basins, and/or underground conduits. It is too bad that the folks who showed up at Wednesday's meeting did not exert similar energy back when Stanford requested permission to expand the hospital. As you may recall, they had absolutely no right to carry out this project without Palo Alto's permission. It was, and is, the largest construction project in the area's history. At the hearings, I proposed that, as a condition for allowing the expansion, the city require Stanford to drop its opposition to making its land available for flood retention. At that time, and today, Stanford has categorically rejected the idea that any of its land could be used for that purpose. And there is no other land suitable for that purpose. But the City of Palo Alto did not push for that concession – an opportunity of a lifetime lost forever. So maybe we can now persuade Stanford to change its mind, but I'm not counting on it. As for underground conduits, I am not optimistic, because it is far more costly than flood walls, and the people that would come out of the woodwork opposing it would dwarf the current groundswell against floodwalls. So the bottom line is: we probably will never get 100-year flood protection.
But the Crescent Park Neighborhood Association (CPNA) has always had a more realistic view, to the effect that, at least for the present, we should concentrate on relieving the affected properties from the danger of 1998-level flooding – about a 50-year flood event. True, that will not get everyone out of the flood plain. But it will get quite a few people out, and it will protect everyone from the largest flood event so far in our recorded history. After years of inaction, the responsible officials (i.e., the Joint Powers Authority, etc.) are finally about to embark on what they call an "interim" solution to solve the 1998 flood problem. This is precisely what the CPNA has been pushing for over the past 15 years. Therefore, it is quite alarming and infuriating that folks who previously ignored this issue are suddenly trying to destroy this effort.
One argument posed by these Johnny-come-latelys is that homeowners were on notice that they were in a flood plain, and that therefore they have no ground for seeking flood control measures to protect them from floods, is a rather nasty and unwarranted position. In the first place, as has been pointed out, many people (including myself), were not in the flood plain when they bought their house. But aside from that, the universally accepted public policies of the federal and state government for at least the last 100 years of this nation's history have been to support public works projects to relieve folks from floods. Is it OK to say to the victims of Hurricane Katrina that it was tough luck for them because they knew that they were in a flood plain? Closer to home, is it ok to tell East Palo Alto that it is OK for them to drown when the next flood comes? Even closer to home, the homes in Palo Alto near 101 and Greer Road could easily be inundated with 6 feet of water during even a 50 or 70 year flood event. Lives could be lost as a result of that. And of course hundreds of millions of dollars damage would result from the next flood, which, despite the current drought, is inevitable. In light of this, how could anyone in good conscience try to block efforts to correct this situation just because some trees might have to be cut down?
I was astonished at the misinformed statements made Wednesday night by Menlo Park residents in their weak attempt to justify their positions. In the first place, they collapsed the issues regarding the interim solution with the issues regarding the 100-year solution. The interim solution does not require flood walls, unlike the non-retention-basin, non-underground-conduit, option for 100-year relief. But many of the participants at the meeting seemed to oppose everything based on the opposition to flood walls. Forget about flood walls. They will never happen, and have nothing to do with the solutions for 1998 level floods.
Others argued that we should leave the bridge alone until other projects, such as the 101 bridge renovation, are completed. This is just a delay tactic. There is absolutely no doubt that the Chaucer Avenue Bridge is a critical constriction that causes the most severe flooding problem. There is absolutely no doubt that the bridge must be rebuilt in order to solve 1998-level flooding. (Perhaps some are arguing that the upstream retention basins or underground conduits could solve 1998 level flooding, even if the bridge is left as is. But there is funding in place to renovate the bridge; there is no funding for these theoretical approaches. Plus, as mentioned above, Stanford will not allow retention basins, and the underground conduit idea is years away, if ever).
I was amused by arguments to the effect that we should mandate permeable driveways and parking lots, and that will absorb enough water to prevent floods. A related comment was to the effect that we should build reservoirs for drinking water, and that would solve flooding. It just ain't so. Take a look at the watershed for the creek. Web Link. It is almost entirely in undeveloped land in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Imposing regulations regarding permeable surfaces, while desirable for other reasons, have nothing whatsoever to do with the flooding problems of the creek. As for reservoirs, as discussed above, there is no practical way to construct flood retention basins, let alone the much larger basins need for reservoirs.
Some argued that we should just tear down the bridge. I personally would not be bothered if that were done. But politically there is simply no way, no how, that this could be accomplished. It is an absolute nonstarter. Quit wasting our time with that hopeless suggestion.
So we are left with the argument that the new bridge will require cutting down trees. Given that extensive mitigating measures will be taken to compensate this (new trees, measures to help the trout, etc.), I fail to understand how this argument could possible justify blocking the needed fix – rebuild the bridge now.


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Posted by john francisco
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 10:10 pm

if you have ever loded at that concrete monster. its a rub goldberg to start with. if you tear it out the creek will be 10 t0 20 ft. wider. cut the banks back on each side for the footings of the new bridge an raze it 2 or 3 ft. an it will flow real good; keep it simple an its right.keep adding an its wrong.


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon,.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 10:37 pm

>> One argument posed by these Johnny-come-latelys is that homeowners were on notice that they were in a flood plain, and that therefore they have no ground for seeking flood control measures to protect them from floods, is a rather nasty and unwarranted position.

I agree with that ... the "you knew about it when you bought it" argument is such a pile of you know what. Like people who have houses in the most expensive area in the country should have to endure flooding every once in while.

[Portion removed.]


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Posted by Jim Lyons
a resident of Los Altos
on Jan 30, 2014 at 11:25 pm

I grew up on Pope Street in the '40s and '50s and played in the creek as a boy (the large bay tree near the bridge was a "fort"). I remember when the previous bridge was removed and replaced with the current one in 1948. If you look you will see the rubble from the old bridge is still there.

Here's a thought: the Palo Alto side of the creek is rather steep in the area around the bridge. Perhaps ten or fifteen feet could be cut away from the slope on the Menlo Park side so a greater volume of water could pass through the creek at that point without effecting Woodland Avenue. I haven't seen that area of the creek in a few years, but if memory serves, it might work.


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Posted by bob@wenzlau.net
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 31, 2014 at 9:33 am

As the creek authority seeks ideas for the 100 year flood, and contemplates flood walls, I thought to throw one approach up - mind you, just an idea - creating an viaduct that is both roadway and flood channel.

The idea is to solve a few problems with one investment, in this case 100-year flood protection and traffic congestion with a focus on the Stanford/101 traffic flow. University Ave would return to more of a "neighborhood" boulevard instead of a congested mess.

A viaduct, or covered channel, could carry the flood flow when the creek capacity could not. The viaduct would be opened in rare instances, and at that time cars would have to abandon this as a "roadway". The flood channel would be needed .00001% of the time, and the 99.9999% would be used for below grade car traffic. This would allow a conduit for cars from Bayshore to El Camino.

Oh, the devil is in the details! Maybe it is costly, but when multiple benefits are stacked up, perhaps it is worthy of a look?

I have a link to a sketch that shows the flood walls, and the relative positioning of University Avenue.

Web Link

This was shared as a footnote in another post, and got an "at-a-boy" so I thought I might shine a bit more light on it.




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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 31, 2014 at 11:33 am

Questions:

If the bridge was removed and not replaced, would there be a need for flood walls if all else stays constant?

Recognizing some environmental issues - what is stopping the engineers from digging out the creek bed by 10 feet or more?


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Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 31, 2014 at 12:43 pm

@Norman Beamer - Your house was in a flood plain when you bought it, whether you knew it or not. And it is not like 1998 was the first time the creek has flooded.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 31, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Exactly, Mr. Recycle. When I rented in Crescent Park, the disclosure info we received stated that it was a flood plain, and this was well before 1998. Even earlier, when I rented in Old Palo Alto, my roommate, whose home we lived in, and had been in her family for generations, used to talk about it. We sandbagged a bit in the winter, too, during heavy rains. Prior to that, where I grew up, both in Menlo and PA, it was common knowledge. We also learned more about it, as school kids, during science class and trips to the USGS.


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2014 at 1:44 pm

> Any 100 year flood solution to San Francisquito Creek must be
> done by using upstream flood retention basins,
> and/or underground conduits

It's really hard to believe that either of these two solutions would be effective to preventing flooding when the creek decides to overflow in the worst case scenario. The underground conduits would prove to be very costly, and more likely a liability in the long term, than an asset.

The walls are probably the only cost-effective solution that can be achieved both politically, and financially.


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Posted by Jim Lyons
a resident of Los Altos
on Jan 31, 2014 at 1:56 pm

I find it surprising that no one has mentioned the flooding in December 1955, which flooded a good part of the area on the Palo Alto side of the creek, as well as washing away three or four bridges on the Stanford Golf Course (where I caddied on weekends while in high school). It's been a while so I only remember the flooding along Palo Alto Avenue and along Edgewood, but it could have been more.


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2014 at 2:17 pm


> If the bridge was removed and not replaced, would there
> be a need for flood walls if all else stays constant?

Probably. The group from Crescent Park that did the simulations some years ago might want to attempt to answer that question, as they used US Army Corps of Engineers software to simulate many different conditions.

The problem is that nothing stays constant. The flood of '98 was caused because a rain about a week before the big storm resulted in the ground around the creek being saturated with water—causing a much higher run-off into the creek than would have been expected from the rain associated with the storm. There was also a very high tide, that caused water from the bay to infill the creek—reducing the creek's capacity to carry as much water as it could during a lower tide situation.

Each flooding situation is different--making it difficult to speculate on "what ifs".


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Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 1, 2014 at 7:39 am

SteveU is a registered user.

Lets remove ALL the bridges crossing the San Francisquito Creek.
The we can protect Palo Alto from Menlo Park with the San Francisquito MOAT

Come on folks,. Why is every Menlo Park BORDER project a battle zone.
EVERY LAST ONE of them.


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Posted by undrgrndgirl
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2014 at 3:55 pm

i live in midtown now but grew up a few blocks from that bridge...my parents still live in that neighborhood so i have a long history with the creek and pope street bridge. yes, the bridge needs to be replaced, no question there.

the fence is another thing...trees or no, the reality is a wall will be nothing but an eyesore and magnet for ongoing problems with graffiti.

why not trench the creek like they did in the 60s and 70s when i was a kid?


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Posted by Save The Oaks
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 3, 2014 at 12:56 pm

The idea of dual-use underground tunnels (or culverts) for both floods and roadways is working well elsewhere. See Web Link


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