|In a surprise turnaround, Cuesta Park Annex supporters endorsed a plan last Tuesday night that they had previously strongly opposed: turning the front third of the Annex into a 13-foot-deep basin to help hold back major floods.
"It might actually add to the beauty of the Annex," said Kevin McBride, speaking for Save Open Space, a local group that has been involved in preserving the undeveloped 12-acre area adjacent to Cuesta Park.
The Santa Clara Valley Water District has been trying to gain support for a Permanente and Hale Creek flood protection plan since 2006. The goal is to protect more than 1,600 properties in the city from the "100-year flood," which has a 1 percent chance of happening each year and has yet to happen in Mountain View.
Also endorsing the plan was Bob Weaver, president of the Mountain View History Association, who had previously raised concerns about flooding near the rear portion of the Annex, where a history museum is planned.
Paul Donahue, parks and recreation commissioner, said he was "cautiously optimistic" about the plan, which would provide money the city does not current have for improvements to the Annex.
Water district representatives showed an artistic rendering of improvements at the Annex, including a possible dry creek bed and a lowered basin lush with vegetation and wildlife, all paid for by the district.
"If it turns out as nice as the drawing, I think it would be a good idea," Donahue said. "The downside is it might not."
The water district has whittled down a long list of alternatives for flood control projects to three, with its preference being "Option Z," a plan including flood basins at Cuesta Park and McKelvey Park in Mountain View and at Blach Intermediate School and Rancho San Antonio in Los Altos. It is estimated Option Z would protect 2,470 parcels and cost $34.2 million.
Some say that cost is no cheaper than the total amount property owners would pay in flood insurance. Still, owners in the 100-year flood plain would be spared the need for flood insurance under the plan <0x2014> and if the water district is right, their homes will be more secure as well.
While many residents have balked at the idea of turning two city parks into flood basins, the district argues that the alternatives could be much worse, and much more expensive. In one alternative, the Permanente Creek channel north of El Camino Real would have to be made twice as wide, with eight-foot walls on each side to hold the water back.
The water district's search for potential flood basin sites included the "Pumpkin Patch" site on Grant Road, which was "lost to a housing developer," joked a district representative. Consideration of a dam near the Hansen-Permanente Quarry was criticized by wildlife preservationists who had concerns about fish migration upstream.
While council members said the district had made quite a bit of progress with its plan, some members were still reticent, especially about McKelvey Park.
"I can't justify that," said council member Jac Siegel.
"It changes the whole nature of that park," said member Laura Macias.
But Mayor Tom Means said he didn't see what the problem was with turning the baseball field into a flood basin. The city would get a new field in the deal, and the lowered elevation would be more conducive to installing grandstands.
Council members also wanted the district to look at flooding other areas of Cuesta Park -- such as the parking lot and tennis courts -- before considering the Annex. In Mountain View, "the loss of open space is a big issue," Macias said.
In 2000, Santa Clara County voters passed the "Clean, Safe Creeks and Natural Flood Protection" measure, which promised that 1,667 parcels would be protected north of El Camino Real in Mountain View. The district says 69 percent of the city voted in favor of the measure, which would protect 160 businesses, 1,378 homes, and "four schools and institutions." Option Z would go a step further, protecting properties southward into Los Altos.
City manager Kevin Duggan said the city needs to advocate for itself and make sure Los Altos does its part to hold back the floodwaters. The district said one of the first areas to flood would be around Blach School, where the football field could be lowered to make a 15-foot-deep basin.
The district is ramping up efforts to have an environmental impact report approved this year. Construction could start in 2010 and be complete by 2016.
The water district says Mountain View has experienced 12 major floods since 1862, with the most damage occurring during the 1955 Christmas storm. On that occasion, 770 parcels were flooded, homes, businesses and agricultural land were damaged and 100 people had to be evacuated for a week.
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