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Editorial: Errors exacerbated mosquito problem

Original post made on Aug 23, 2012

Demonstrating that one never knows where danger lurks, an unprecedented mosquito infestation suddenly erupted across areas within a few miles of the Palo Alto Baylands early last week, signaling a significant problem with the flood-control equipment that protects us against flooding.

Read the full editorial here Web Link posted Thursday, August 23, 2012, 5:10 PM

Comments (21)

Posted by Itchy Red Bumps
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 23, 2012 at 5:22 pm

The Flood Basin was constructed in 1956 after the devastating Christmas flood of 1954.

See: Web Link

It is criminal that the SCVWD failed to notify the City of Palo Alto that a critical piece of flood mitigation infrastructure was in disrepair putting more than 600 residences at risk of flooding.

This should have been fixed at the time it was observed...not when we caught them asleep at the wheel.

Now...who are the SCVWD commissioners...and HOW MUCH do they get paid...and how can they be held responsible!

This may be a case of the mosquito (canary) in the mine. Had we not been bitten by those pesky mosquitoes...we never would have known that our homes and businesses were at risk.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 23, 2012 at 5:31 pm

Is this article saying that complaining on Town Square gets results?

Does this mean that if nobody had complained about not getting a reply from vector control on Town Square nothing would have happened?

Does this mean that if nobody had complained to vector control nothing would have complained.

As you say, this does not sound good enough. And it also sounds like complaining on Town Square gets results.

Thanks to whoever it was who complained once and then once again.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 23, 2012 at 5:50 pm

I guess it's time to begin complaining that our local government agencies are doing nothing about the 20 feet of sea level rise we are certain to experience in the next 50 years. Who are the commissioners and how much are they being paid?

Posted by Fed Up
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 23, 2012 at 8:53 pm

It is terrible that we are put at risk of flooding because highly paid people don't behave responsibly and do their job. I live very near Barron Creek, and I don't want to have to worry about being flooded, especially since there is a possible El Nino coming. They have done nothing since the last El Nino. How many years ago was that? It is criminal.

Posted by Flabergasted
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 23, 2012 at 10:15 pm

Thank you Palo Alto Weekly and your alert readers for getting to the leaky, messy, slimey bottom of this itchy fiasco.

But, Mr. and Ms. Editors! How about some names of the let's-roll-the-dice-with-public-safety "public" servants who botched their jobs! In my dreams, I have their home addresses and release plagues of bugs on them.

How about head lice? Locusts? Fleas? Clearly, floods and mosquitos they don't care about.... I await their sincere apologies to all of the communities harmed by their gross negligence. Until then, I send them itchy thoughts.

Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 24, 2012 at 12:16 am

How many bureaucrats will be held accountable for this screwup? I'll lay good odds that the number is zero.

In the private sector it would be a fire-able offense.

The public sector likes to pay ridiculous salaries to those with "responsibility" but there is actually no responsibility at all considering that there is zero accountability in the event of a failure of the core job mission.

Posted by I'm-From-The-Gov'ment-And-I'm-Here-To-Hep-Ya
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 24, 2012 at 7:13 am

This editorial contains more information, than opinion—which is rare for a Weekly Editorial. While there are still many unanswered questions, at least most of the high-level details are on the table. Unfortunately, the names/titles of those involved have not been identified. As it turns out, this situation is probably not life-threatening, although it’s interesting that none of the local papers have managed to publish any pictures of the damaged levee section, so that we all can see just how bad it is.

Levees are a huge problem for communities that have built too close to the water. Just this week, levees in Sacramento have failed to meet Federal Standards—

Web Link

Levees protecting most of the city of Sacramento and 15 other areas of the Central Valley were declared today to have failed federal maintenance criteria. As a result, they are no longer eligible for federal rebuilding funds in the event of a levee breach.

Property owners and business owners pay their taxes, hundreds of thousands of people are hired by the State/Local governments—and still the needed work does not get done.

The Weekly’s editorial identifies the SC Valley Water District as the responsible agency for this floodgate, which presumably means that all of the levee system is also under its authority. The levees on the San Francisquito are under the authority of the so-called San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority. With Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Palo Alto and Mountain View all neighbors on a five-mile stretch of shoreline, which also sees the San Fransisquito entering the Bay in the middle of this stretch of shoreline, this brings in the County of San Mateo, the County of Santa Clara, the State of California and the US Army Corps of Engineers (and no doubt the US EPA). Given all of this “government”, it’s doubtful that anything involving the levees can be done in a hurry.

The Bay has breached the levees at least twice before 1950—putting the airplanes parked at the Palo Alto Airport in danger. Since that time, this web of interlocking, and often confusing mass (or mess) of regulatory agencies have come on the scene to “help us”. This episode is an example of how effectively their “help” tends to be.

Posted by Grateful to the PA resident
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 24, 2012 at 10:52 am

When I told a neighbor I was bitten by a mosquito last week, she told me it was impossible. She hadn't seen a mosquito here, in years. But I knew it was a mosquito. When I swatted it as it bit me, it was filled with blood. News reports indicated the mosquitos travel up to 5 miles, and then return to the Baylands.

Talking with yet another neighbor, I learned she too, had been bitten. She had a reaction to it, her leg swelled & she called an advice nurse, for what to do about it - an obvious allergic reaction.

Since that time, I have two more bites that look like "Itchy Red Bumps" describes, but all 3 bites are getting better.

Is not this the agency whose Board of Advisors put a measure on the November ballot to extend a TAX to do levy work? Santa Clara Valley Water District -- perhaps they allowed this mosquito problem to get bad, in order to draw attention to needing money for tending to the work?

Please tell me if I just sound suspicious. The tax and the mosquito problem may be a coincidence. But I smell a connection, to $$$$$.

Posted by litebug
a resident of another community
on Aug 24, 2012 at 10:59 am

My late husband and I were among those flooded out of our houses in the middle of the night Feb.3,1998. It's a date I will never forget. We lived on Sierra Court where the water was the deepest. We had to go out in a neighbor's rowboat, the fire truck couldn't even get through. We had 2 feet of water inside the house. It was a life-changing event. From then until we moved in 08 it was high stress monitoring of the flood every time there was heavy rain and ongoing worry about future flooding. At one time in the early 2000s it came to within 3-4 inches of going over. From what I can tell, despite some work east of 101, the risk of a similar, or even worse, flood remains the same 14 years later. When we moved to another state in 2008 the first thing we checked about a property was whether it was in a flood zone. When I had bought the house on Sierra Court in 1974 I was not informed that the area had previously flooded. I do not think the Sierra Court area, which we learned at the time of the flood was the lowest spot in town, will survive the predicted rise of sea level. The slow progress in flood control in the past 14 years does not bode well for being prepared for an even worse situation with rising sea level. With the news of rising sea levels I would envision fish swimming through my submerged house and garden in the future.

Posted by West Nile?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 24, 2012 at 11:12 am

My kid came home covered in bites. I'm worried about the increased risk of West Nile virus with all of these mosquitos around.

Posted by Tom
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 24, 2012 at 11:55 am

Folks seem to be looking for some heads to roll. Want to know the names of agency officials and their office addresses? That's why we have Google:

Santa Clara Valley Water District:
Web Link
The home page has a prominent listing of Board members.

Santa Clara County Vector Control District:
Web Link
No board members, but there are some contact names and phone numbers.

Posted by train neighbor
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 24, 2012 at 12:10 pm

SCVWD Board members: Web Link

Beau Goldie, CEO
Web Link

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 24, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Thank you, PA Weekly, for this article.
We've lived here awhile and never had issues with mosquitoes before - it has been awful to get all those bites (I got the bites just befre learning it would be wise to stay away from the Baylands...)
Flood-related concerns should be high priority for PA city government if needed, to prod bureaucratic agencies into swifter action. We have a heckuva lot of valuable property here.
I live on the edge of the flood zone (definition of which apparently changes periodically) yet must pay flood insurance to FEMA - a racket since this property did not flood and the house is raised. Nevertheless, I am concerned in general about this area and flood control work is a mystery to me, an average citizen.
We came here after the well-publicized '98 flood and assumed major improvements would occur, yet from what I can discern from what I read, it is a morass of government red tape and delays. It is astonishing that discrete, significant steps have not been taken to clearly lessen our risk in Palo Alto by this time.

Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 24, 2012 at 12:19 pm

> It is astonishing that discrete, significant steps have not been
> taken to clearly lessen our risk in Palo Alto by this time.

A citizens group put together a fairly impressive analysis and proposal several years ago for the San Francisquito Creek. For the most part, it was ignored. The City had hired a Manager (or Director) to oversee the Creek refurbishment. She did virtually nothing but hire a family member, and go to a lot of meetings.

There still is not comprehensive Creek plan after all these years, and several significant "studies".

Posted by Fiscal Conservative
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm

"The City had hired a Manager (or Director) to oversee the Creek refurbishment. She did virtually nothing but hire a family member, and go to a lot of meetings."

Same old story. How much did the studies cost? It was Palo Alto residents that paid for it? Wouldn't be surprised if the studies cost as much (or more) than some common sense improvements would have cost.

Is the director now a highly compensated City retiree, double-dipping by working at yet another city?

Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 24, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Early September is the rough date that the SCVWD has proposed to fix/fill the tide gate void when there is a neutral tide (water levels match on each side of the structure so the grout material can set prior to being washed out).

Posted by Participant
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 25, 2012 at 11:10 am

It's alarming to read that nothing was done after the flood of 98 since I'd heard that improvements had been made since then to prevent a repeat. Who was this person who went to meetings, hired a relative and did nothing else? What was her title?

It's also remarkable to me that we have the luxury of being troubled by mosquito bites and expect our government to take care of it. Where I grew up, to go outdoors on a summer evening was to get mosquito bites. Awful ones. Nobody expected anything else. I'm very grateful that the bites I got last week were not the norm.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 25, 2012 at 11:38 am

I think it is important to note that while a few mosquito bites are not newsworthy the fact that we suddenly start getting bitten when this used to be an unusual occurrance is defintely worth investigating. The outcry about the bites brought to light a bigger problem and it seems to me that if we hadn't started complaining about our bites, nothing would have come to light about the flood gates. It even makes me wonder if any repairs would really have been done if it wasn't for the outcry about bites.

In this situation, a few bites was an indicator of a bigger problem. I can deal with a few bites if I have to (not that I like to) but I don't want to deal with the aftermath of a flood!

Posted by awesome money here
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 25, 2012 at 4:03 pm

I will do the investigation. Please send the money to me! I promise to have the investigation done in record time!

Posted by Elaine
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 26, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Should we be concerned about the affects of the spraying on the Baylands ecosystem?

Posted by Mike Alexander
a resident of another community
on Aug 27, 2012 at 6:33 am

to West Nile? The mosquito species in the current infestation are not associated with birds and do not carry West Nile virus.

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