This Tuesday, the City Council will take up a familiar debate: the idea of turning a local park into a 15-foot-deep flood basin to prevent property damage in case of a major flood.
This time, however, the council study session is concerned with McKelvey Park, rather than the Cuesta Annex.
The $9.1 million proposal from the Santa Clara Valley Water District has gained the support of local youth sports leagues because the park's main facilities -- two well-worn baseball fields -- would be replaced with brand new fields, including bleachers built into the banks and a snack shack above floodwater level.
Some local residents don't support such a change to their park, however, including council member Laura Macias, who lives nearby.
"Some neighbors are excited about it," Macias said, "but others shake their heads."
She said many people simply do not believe that Permanente Creek will ever overflow its banks to the extent predicted by the Water District: 3,170 Mountain View and Los Altos parcels, mostly homes, under water.
"Parkland is what we have less and less of," she said. "The idea of saying 'Sure, take our parkland,' is just wrong."
But after being shown conceptual plans in meetings with the Water District, some neighbors, and most everyone involved in youth sports, seems to think the plans will improve the park.
"It is a win-win situation for everyone," said Elaine Spence, president of Mountain View Babe Ruth baseball, one of at least four sports leagues that use the fields. "They will get their flood basin and we will get a new facility. They need to make sure we have a place to play (during construction). Other than that I just have no qualms about it. And no one in my organization has ever expressed any qualms about it. We're just getting a better facility for a facility that hasn't been upgraded in years."
The district proposes to install artificial turf, which means less maintenance and no mud to deal with in the winter. The park would also get a new playground and new field lights, "so we can actually see the ball" at night, Spence said. The parking lot area would be the only section to remain largely at grade, though portions would slope into the basin.
Last year the Water District was able to persuade much of the community and the City Council to support putting a flood basin in the front third of the Cuesta Annex. Along with flood basins in Los Altos at Blach Middle School and at Rancho San Antonio, 2,220 parcels in Mountain View and 250 parcels in Los Altos would be protected in a so-called "100-year flood" of Permanente Creek, the district says. By definition, such an extreme flood has a 1 percent chance of happening every year, and has yet to happen in Mountain View.
A main selling point is that the four flood basins will save many properties from having to buy flood insurance. McKelvey Park neighbor David Plum was shocked in May when he was told he would have to pay $1,120 per year for flood insurance after a new FEMA flood map put his home on one of the lower portions of the Permanente Creek flood plain.
"I was hoping for a flood control solution that would be implemented farther upstream," Plum said in an e-mail. But if a flood basin at McKelvey is "what it takes to reduce a flood disaster in Mountain View, I'll go along with it."
Council member Macias, however, believes the Water District has overstepped its bounds.
"How did we get to this point where the Water District is controlling the project?" she asked. "They've already redrawn our park," she said and city staff "haven't even looked at" the plans.
"Who gave them that right?" she continued. "It's pretty outrageous." She said the district has become skilled at lobbying interest groups and neighbors, and was using "basic psychology" to manufacture expectations among the public for its own ends.
After taking a seat on an advisory board for the Water District last year to begin observing its ways, Macias said she realized that "They have more money than sense in what they are spending it on."
For example, she says, FEMA flood maps show that the biggest flood threat to Mountain View is tidal flooding from the Bay, but the Water District is not developing a plan to address that problem. Meanwhile, she believes a major flood along Permanente Creek appears unlikely.
Macias said she's watched the Water District spend its large budget on unnecessary, luxurious projects, and employ what appears to be a bloated bureaucracy of 800 people while maintaining a huge cash reserve. At the same time, she wasn't sure if the district has budgeted enough money for the Permanente Creek flood project.
"My biggest fear is we do something and find the city has to come through to finish the project," she said.
Water District engineer Afshin Rouhani said that when voters passed Measure B in the 1990s, which called for "Clean Safe Creeks and Flood Protection," $27 million was allocated for the project in 1999 dollars. Today that equals $35 million, and could reach about $40 million by construction time, Rouhani said.
He said that according to preliminary estimates, the Water District has enough money for everything it has promised at both McKelvey and Cuesta.