Cuesta flood basin treading waterIt is tempting to embrace the decision to drop a flood control plan that would have taken out 18 trees and dropped the floor of 4.5 acres at Cuesta Annex by 8-12 feet, but despite its obvious appeal, the new plan still leaves the door wide open for flooding at El Camino Hospital and 300-400 other properties near Permanante Creek.
Faced with wide displeasure over creating a basin out of one of the city's most rustic parks, a 12-acre remnant orchard, the Santa Clara Valley Water District voted 4-1 last week to drop the park from its plan to protect a large swath of the city from a so-called 100-year flood. But in doing so, the board left open the possibility that the board could come back later and use Annex property to protect an additional 300-400 homes and the hospital from flooding.
The board's decision was presumably based on hard science, although Afhsin Rouhani, project manager, attributed the decision to years of public opposition to the project and a $6 million cost overrun. What had started as protective flood basins at four area sites had dwindled to two — McKelvey Park in Mountain View and Rancho San Antonio park in unincorporated Los Altos.
Hydrologists had announced earlier that new calculations made the Cuesta Basin unnecessary to meet water district goals of protecting 1,664 properties north of El Camino Real, including four schools, plus another 1,000 properties south of El Camino in Mountain View and Los Altos. Projections show that some areas on the south side would get not get the full 100-year flood protection, Rouhani said. Another 50 properties would remain in FEMA flood zones and would have to buy flood insurance.
But while this decision may make a lot of Cuesta Annex fans happy, El Camino Hospital is decidedly nervous about not being protected if a major flood occurs in the Permanente Creek watershed. The vote to remove Cuesta did carry an order for water district staff members to look at other ways to protect the hospital and the 300-plus homes in the area that could face the threat of a catastrophic flood.
And the hospital's chief administrative services officer, Ken King, told the district in a letter, "The Cuesta Annex flood detention facility is vital to our ability to provide hospital and health care services."
"I am prepared to request the hospital board of directors to consider funding up to 50 percent of the cost of the Cuesta Annex flood detention facility," King said.
The flood basin projects at McKelvey and Rancho San Antonio parks are expected to use up the entire $40 million included in the Clean, Safe Creeks and Natural Flood Protection Act passed by voters in 2000. To fund the $6 million Cuesta project, the district would have to find other revenue sources, so the offer from El Camino would be more than welcome. Board member Brian Schmidt was impressed.
"This is money I've never heard of," he said, adding, "We really need to take a serious look at this."
And there are other indications that despite public opposition here, the Cuesta project could be back on the table. Water board member Patrick Kwok, whose district includes a portion of Mountain View, cast the lone dissenting vote when Cuesta Annex was dropped from the project list. Kwok was outspoken in his opposition.
"The majority of people really supported the Cuesta Park Annex" flood basin, he said, including the City Council.
"The voters supported this project. All of a sudden we change our minds. Was it because of revised technical data or pure political interference on the project?" Kwok asked.
It is easy for opponents of the project to cast doubt on the research. Los Altos resident Robert Schick said the district used "inflated flood predictions" to make its case.
But when it comes to protecting local neighborhoods and El Camino Hospital from even a 1 in 100 chance of flooding, most homeowners would cast a resounding "yes" vote for the Cuesta Annex project. We agree, and hope the water district can partner with El Camino Hospital to use Cuesta Annex for a second flood basin in Mountain View. It may not be the best solution for park lovers, but it would be in the best interests of the community.