Water District floats flood basin idea for McKelvey Park


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."

Bloated bureaucracy?

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.


Like this comment
Posted by CW
a resident of North Whisman
on Aug 20, 2009 at 3:00 pm

The kids get a new ball park facility. The homeowners gets flood control and avoids flood insurance. Why does Laura Macias attack the Water District on a win-win project?

Like this comment
Posted by T.M. Wong
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 20, 2009 at 5:08 pm

Why? Because Laura Macias has a do-nothing, NIMBY attitude that causes her knee to jerk for a "refuse first, ask no questions later" response to any kind of development in Mountain View. That's why.

Like this comment
Posted by marnie
a resident of Shoreline West
on Aug 20, 2009 at 9:04 pm

I think Laura Macias is generally clear thinking and grounded and I respect her opinion. She is not afraid to look at things from a broader perspective and consider an issue for it's longer term impact.

Like this comment
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 21, 2009 at 10:31 am

LM does usually have a NAMBY attitude - BUT - I recently visited the SCVWD in their rosewood? paneled board room and can see where she is coming from on the excess $$ angle. It is pretty amazing some of the "pet projects" (multi- million education pavilion next to a relative's mobile home park) that they spend our tax money on. On that aspect of LM's comments I can especially agree!

PS - I put in my $0.03 worth at the 3 min public comment portion of the SCVWD agenda item on the 'education' project. A lot of money to support a few metal signboards!

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Posted by Nelson
a resident of Whisman Station
on Aug 21, 2009 at 12:15 pm

I applaud Laura for asking the tough questions. We must remember that once park land is torn up & paved over & converted to other uses, it will never go back to its original state. Artificial turf? Aren't there some studies out there that question the wisdom of using it? I've read about cases of severe skin infections in athletes after they hurt/gouge themselves. I've read about the downside of all the chemicals in the artificial turf, both in its manufacturing and its offgassing after installation. Anyone studied its effects on global warming? Has there been any consideration of breaking up some of the concrete creek channels to let water soak back into the earth naturally? This could have a number of benefits.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 21, 2009 at 1:17 pm

A fifteen foot deep baseball field with artificial turf? Has anyone gone out to McKelvey and stood near home plate on an 85 degree day. The temperature in that area is much warmer than in the outfield. Now the plan is to sink the field 15 feet and put articicial turn on it. I can only imagine what it will be like down there in the summer heat.

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Posted by Paul
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 21, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Please excuse my spelling and lack of punctuation in the last post! My point is there will be no wind to cool things off down there. It will blow over the top, and that field below will get extremely hot.

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Posted by Matt Raschke
a resident of The Crossings
on Aug 21, 2009 at 5:08 pm

"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."

The Water District is in kind of a "catch 22" situation. They were given the responsibility for flood control in our area, but historically had no authority to control development. So new subdivisions and new "McMansions" that have an impact on stormwater runoff were allowed to drain freely to the local channels and nobody was concerned about capacity. Now the creek channels are too small and confined in narrow right-of-ways. There are no more easy answers to protect the downstream properties.

Floods do happen in this area. It is just a matter of time before a big rain hits and the statistics win. Please work with the Water District. Be glad they have money to offer such nice mitigations. I love McKelvey, but it could use a well-planned renovation. It seems like a win-win to protect life and property.

- Disclaimer: I'm a registered Professional Engineer and a former floodplain manager. I have also acted as a liason to the Water District at my current place of employment at another local municipality.

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Posted by SG
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 23, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Clearly a win-win. The artificial turfs of today are far better than astro turf. MVHS, LAHS, and GMS have artificial turf. The WD is not controlling the project and is not taking away public space. We still get to use the area and get new fields. Whats the loss here. The WD has worked with council, staff and the baseball people. unfortunately some NIMBY people like to draw attention to themselves to make it look like they are looking out for the neighborhood. As for sinking a baseball field, try stanford, A's or Giants games. It's very common.

Like this comment
Posted by MM
a resident of another community
on Aug 25, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Nelson, you raise some good questions, but-- as far as infections from artificial turf, could be. But not out of the question with natural turf, either. I worked with someone who cut his toe on a blade of real grass and it got so infected he walked around with an antibiotic drip for a couple of weeks. Artificial turf is in use on both high school football fields, I haven't heard of the football players having issues. Doesn't mean it doesn't happen, but it may not be much more risk than natural.

For tearing up the concrete creek channels -- this also sounds like a good idea, but do you remember when San Francisquito creek in Menlo Park/Palo Alto flooded in the early 90's? Lots of homes had flood damage. That creek is natural, and the Army Corps of Engineers recommended, to prevent a repeat, clearing them out and lining them with concrete. The creek was so choked with underbrush that it impeded the water, hence the flood. The residents didn't like that idea, they love their natural creek for its beauty. But, natural creeks often take lots of maintenance to keep them free-flowing, which would end up costing a lot of taxpayer money, so no one wants to pay for it.

No easy solutions to anything.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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